This Saturday, the Black Cat is hosting an unofficial welcome home party. Steve Cooper and the rest of Spirit Animal have deep ties to the district, and the excitement over having these funky, bluesy boys come back to show us a good time is positively palpable. I was lucky enough to chat with Steve about their show, their sound and their future recently, and by the time we were done talking, I immediately sent a mass email to all of my friends alerting them that we had to attend this show–dancing shoes required.
While Steve is quick to admit that he calls both DC and New York City home, bassist Paul Michel was once an employee of Black Cat–as well as Saint Ex, Bar Pilar, and Tabard Inn– so it’s easy to recognize how much it means for them to headline the main stage and why Steve considers it a “sweet personal milestone.”
STREAM: Spirit Animal – “Lead!”
The band’s sound is best described through a refrigerator-magnet jumble of buzzwords like psychedelic-funk and cliché comparisons to bands like Talking Heads, The Black Keys, Faith No More and 90’s-era Red hot Chili Peppers, yet Steve insists that “anytime those are the references, I’m not complaining,” which is probably a good thing since I’m guilty of using those comparisons when articulating their style. He goes on to say, “It’s very easy to see those comparisons, and those bands have all done things that we want to do…the bottom line is that people understand what they know already; if [those comparisons] can bring out a shred of sentiment that a fan has for a band like Talking Heads, then that’s all good things.”
Stemming from a multitude of musical backgrounds ranging from hardcore to hip-hop to classical training at the Berklee School of Music, the band somehow manages to carve out a cohesive, yet varied, sound. Cooper explains it as “a point ahead with four lines going towards it,” thanking the lack of ego for the band’s “fluid, fast and fun” writing process. This selflessness may be rooted in the most essential and inspiring aspect of the band that I gleaned from my conversation with Steve: their belief that “doing your thing and being yourself is the most fun thing you can do.” Maybe it’s still my Bonnaroo high talking, but Steve seemed to be on that same wavelength when it comes to an individual’s responsibility to not only others but themselves as well. And that kind of intellectualized notion of what a real good time is comes across in everything–from lyrics to live performance.
DOWNLOAD: Spirit Animal – “Crocodile Skins”
Avid listeners have noticed that some of Spirit Animal’s songs seem built for the dance floor, yet their lyrical content is still relatively high-minded and occasionally quite witty. Steve responded by conceding that he is “often confused when [hearing] songs that don’t have any meaning,” relating that, “there is a way to have a good time while saying something’s that relevant,” which is refreshing to hear after having just screened Miley Cyrus’ new video for the first time right before our chat.
In terms of the band’s performance, multiple trustworthy sources claim that Steve is one of the best showmen in “the game” and that the band’s carefree exertion onstage is legendary. When I relayed that to him, he modestly accepted the title while also emphasizing his belief that a good show’s energy is “supposed to be infectious,” and that he takes a “lead by example kind of approach to that.” I then mentioned to him that I had heard him describe dancing as “a brutally honest thing to do” and asked him how that plays into what they do on stage. He compared it to a wedding where everyone is wondering “who’s going to be the first person to get on the dance floor…it’s a total social proof.” To make sure everyone knows they’re supposed to be there, the band recognizes that it “starts with them and goes from the top down.” From there, it’s a sense of community. “I’ve seen it,” Steve narrates, “they look to their right and see someone dancing and they begin dancing themselves…it becomes some kind of team effort.”
DOWNLOAD: Spirit Animal – “Love Crime”
We’ve all been there, in those great crowds where the energy bounces from the band to the crowd and back again; a self-sustaining cycle of excitement and freedom of expression. It’s magical, and it’s something that continues to drive Spirit Animal to do what they do. To avoid the low hanging fruit by discovering their spirit animals, I instead asked Steve to use one phrase to describe the band’s essence.
“All or nothing,” said Cooper.
So while we then chatted about goofier subjects like TV shows–he’d love for the band to have made a musical cameo on The Wire–and Street Fighter character pros and cons–we both agree that Vega was pretty badass–I was already consumed with the desire to give this band everything that I knew it would give to me come Saturday.