The Spells: Bat Vs. Bird
In the late 1990s, my friend Mary Timony and I started a side project called The Spells. We put out one EP, played one show in Olympia and never did much else. Except that we had plans. We always talked about writing a full-length record, sending song ideas back and forth via computer and recording the album in chunks when we had time -- when we weren't on tour with our other bands. But that never happened.
We did, however, manage to start the process. In the summer of 2000, we recorded four songs in a couple of hours, the same amount of time in which we'd written them a few months earlier. If nothing else, making these songs available now is The Spells' way of finally acknowledging that we aren't going to get around to finishing the album.
We're streaming four previously unreleased songs and making two of them available as free downloads. (They'll be available for two weeks.)
Recently, I chatted with Mary about the project:
Carrie Brownstein: What was the year 2000 like?
Mary Timony: Here are the first things that come to mind about the year 2000:
1. When we recorded these songs, it was right before the Gore/Bush election. I think we recorded them in August and Bush was elected a few months later.
2. A random memory about 2000 I have is the whole Y2K thing. You were supposed to buy a bunch of gallons of water and canned provisions in case all the computers shut down and the s--- hit the fan. I remember not doing any of this stuff, but I had a friend who drove out to the country just in case. In case of what, I'm not sure, but then nothing happened.
3. I think 2000 is when I started being aware of electroclash. I'm not sure why I think this is important, but maybe it's because, looking back on it, it was music that felt unrelated to the indie-rock of the '90s that I felt like I came from, and was a part of. It felt like new things were replacing it. What do you remember about the year 2000?
CB: It was my last full year in Olympia, though I didn't know it then. And, honestly, the first thing I think of when I see the year 2000 is that it's the year before Sept. 11. There was this crazy festival called Ladyfest that happened right before we recorded these songs, which was why you were already in town. I remember feeling hung over from the week, though not literally -- just exhausted from Olympia being so swollen with people. What were your impressions of Olympia?
MT: Well, I remember visiting Olympia from cold, crowded, expensive Boston. It felt like I was coming to some kind of utopian land; it was small and beautiful, everyone was friendly, there was really cool/hip music happening... What was going on in Olympia at this point for you, Carrie?
CB: I think I was touring a lot during that time, so Olympia was partly an escape for me, as well. I had a really great house there with a huge yard, almost an acre. I spent most of the summer reading and hanging out on a hammock under a triad of maple trees. It was rare for me to be home during the warm months, so I always tried to make the most of it.
MT: I remember we recorded these songs right after a Sleater-Kinney tour in Europe -- and then playing the Original Ladyfest in Olympia, right?
CB: Exactly. Our bands had just toured Europe together for the second time. I recall that we wrote the songs in your apartment in Jamaica Plain. I think I came up from D.C. to visit you after I finished a tour. How was writing for The Spells different from writing for your solo material?
MT: I think writing for The Spells was different from doing solo stuff, because it was collaborative with you, and totally fun, and seemed to be like a natural extension of our friendship. Also, it was interesting, because as I remember it, I think we wrote and recorded these songs in less than a week. Is that right? How was writing for The Spells different from writing for S-K?
CB: I think we wrote them over the span of two days in Boston and recorded them in the same amount of time in Olympia. Writing with you was not totally dissimilar from writing with S-K, but you have such a different playing style, so it was challenging, but really great. I liked how freeing the experience was -- songs just sort of ended, or drifted off into a new part, never to return. And in spite of all the weirdness, the songs still had a stubborn poppiness to them. I also remember us being really obsessive about our guitar parts; both of us are playing lead melodies nearly the entire time. Have you thought much about these recordings in the eight years since we made them?
MT: I've always liked the songs a lot, and wanted to release them, but wasn't sure if we would since we only had four, and that's not enough for a traditional EP or record. What about you? Did you forget that we had these songs?
CB: I didn't forget about them at all. Every few years, I would take out the CD I had of the songs and listen to it for a few days straight. It felt like a secret. Not too many people knew we had recorded anything other than our first EP. I remember we kept thinking we'd eventually record more and put out a full-length. I don't even know if all of these songs would have made it on there. What is the main reason for you wanting to release these songs?
MT: I'm just glad we have the opportunity to do it, I guess. I don't know. What about you, Carrie? What do you think is your main reason for wanting to release them?
CB: It bothers me too much not to. Like a dog that needs to go out on a walk and you just keep putting it off. They need fresh air. A shorter answer would just be, why not?
"Bat Vs. Bird":
Download "Bat Vs. Bird" (PC users right-click, Mac users control-click and save/download to your computer)
Download "Antarctica" (PC users right-click, Mac users control-click and save/download to your computer)
Bat Vs. Bird credits:
Recorded by Justin Trosper at MagRecOne. Olympia, WA. August 2000.
Rachel Carns played drums.
Artwork by Curtis Pachunka.
Special thanks to Christina Files.