Words by David C. Obenour
Leave it to a Spencer Seim project to be recorded in 2012 but still sound as fresh as anything else coming out in 2020.
As one of the two main driving forces behind Hella, Seim has kept impressively busy and innovative as a member of The Advantage, Byre with Rob Crow of Pinback, through his solo recordings as sBACH and much more. Putting in his time own with Hella, folk singer-songwriter Aaron Ross proved a creative foil and the duo’s collaboration grew to take on a shape of its own as SoloS.
Unleashing energy and music, following the release of SoloS’s 2012 debut full length, Beast of Both Worlds, the duo went back and recorded a self-titled EP. Unfortunately after banging out the songs for this session, Seim and Ross went on a hiatus as they pursued other projects – indefinitely shelving it.
Eight years later, Dowd Records has unearthed this recording and are set to release it with the blessing – and some new recordings – from the both Seim and Ross.
Off Shelf: How did you start working with Dowd Records?
Spencer Seim: Dowd Records is the brain child of Jay Clark who grew up near my hometown of Nevada City, CA. He originally started the label to help put out previously unreleased music from within our close circle of musician friends but it soon branched out to release a ton of new material from bands everywhere. It is now a sort of co-op of sorts with Jay at the helm and the rest of us contributing to each others projects both musically and visually. I first put out an album with Dowd in 2019 called BYRE.
OS: Did you feel part of the Nevada City/Grass Valley scene back when this was recorded? Can you describe the local/regional atmosphere of the time?
SS: Back in 2012 when we recorded this EP, I don’t really remember there being any specific “scene”. Here in Nevada City, there are always a ton of active bands at any given time but with each following their own creative path.
OS: Some artists have a hard time revisiting their own material, so I was curious after 8 years from their recording, how do the songs on this self-titled EP stand up to you?
SS: I have always loved this recording. The only reason it was not released back in 2012 was because Aaron and I took an extended break after finding it hard to do much touring with our busy schedules. The record just kind of got shelved but I always dreamed about being able to put it out someday. Jay to the rescue!
OS: Did you hear anything new listening again? Maybe something that you’d forgotten that excited you again?
SS: Yes, there was one unfinished song from the sessions – “Painted Vail” – that I had always wanted to put bass on but had not tackled yet. In 2019 once we had solid plans to release the EP, I finally put bass on it!
OS: The synthesizers on this are just lush and amazing – and work perfectly with some very complicated and changing melodies and rhythms. How did you all write songs together?
SS: Aaron had this old Ensoniq keyboard in his garage that had some great sounds on it so I brought my drum set over and we started writing with just drums and keys. Musically, the record is primarily just one drum track, one keyboard track and one baritone track.
OS: How do you approach music differently when you’re at that role as opposed to playing guitar?
SS: It is much easier for me to express my self on drums than it is on guitar. Since I am self taught on guitar and never learned anything about notes or theory etc, it makes it much harder to play along side other melodic instruments because I have no idea what key everyone is or what the hell is going on. With drums, I just have to hit stuff.
OS: You’ve worked with a lot of different lineups for a lot of different projects. What excited you about performing with Aaron?
SS: Because he is Aaron Fucking Ross! Best singer/lyricist I know. Period.
OS: As a duo, what do you feel you were able to do with SoloS that you weren’t able to explore with the time Aaron spent in Hella? What made you want to have this additional outlet?
SS: “666 Era” Hella was a totally crazy beast. We were playing songs that we had written in our teens under the moniker Legs On Earth but now performing them as Hella with Aaron singing over the top. It was 5 dudes in a room assembling an extremely complex piece of music that would accurately represent the lyrical content. SoloS was a way of slowing down and expressing totally different emotions.
OS: With the reissue, do you think there’s any chance that the two of you would want to perform together again or maybe go back to record?
SS: Totally! We are currently working on a new body of work which will either be released as SoloS or possibly something brand new if we add additional members.
OS: Apologies as you’re a little harder, though always rewarding, to follow with a number of projects – can you catch us up on any current acts you’re working with or on? Byre, Hella and beyond?
SS: Thanks for asking! Yes I am working on a couple of other music projects, including the above mentioned project with Aaron, all to be announced soon…