Following the release of a string of new projects through a tumultuous 2020, we caught up with long-time alt-rock creatives The John Spignesi Band to find out more about their music, their journey so far as a band, and their hopes for the future. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi guys – thanks for the chat! For those who don’t know, who plays what in the band, and how long have you been jamming together?
Happy to be here. So as of right now it is myself (John Spignesi) on Guitar, Joe Jeffery on Bass, and Matt Alling on Drums. We just unfortunately parted ways with our Keys player, Chris Mitchell, but wish him all the best and luck in his future endeavors.
The band has been together since January 2015, so we’ll be celebrating 6 years next month. Crazy times we’re living in, but we’re thankful for the music which has kept us sane.
How might you otherwise describe or explain what music for the soul is?
Music For the Soul is well, exactly that. We like to play tunes that make you think, songs that maybe don’t necessarily follow the “usual” pattern. I am primarily the writer and I love using odd keys and chords. We touch on so many genres, it’s hard to categorize, so I vote we create our own path.
In terms of the live show, anybody who attends a JSB show immediately feels welcome. We don’t roll with setlists, so everything is off the cuff and in the moment. You’re not getting a pre-packaged experience out of us. It’s very much in the now and more importantly, honest. If we can take you out of the chaos of the world for even a brief moment, we’ve done our job.
What prompted you to record and release the creatively free project Just The Jams?
A lot of improvising obviously happens in this band. As a matter of fact, it’s the bread and butter of our shows. I think it was Joe who had came up with the idea since he heard Phish’s “Siket” Disc. I must’ve sifted through 6-7 hours of just improvisational moments in the band and sent it to him. He then listened and combined the tracks to create a seamless musical experience – One track, all improvisational moments from various shows.
The first volume came out on August 24, 2020 and the second was released on November 23, 2020. I’m very proud of how it came out.
What have you kept yourself busy with as a band during a locked-down, limited-live-shows 2020?
Honestly, we were lucky. I purchased a MEVO live streaming camera right when everything started to shut down back in March of 2020, and we were able to perform some no-crowd live streams throughout the summer. Joe and I were even able to do some socially distanced duo gigs at a few spots.
On top of that, we were able to release four projects – three, our most successful release to date, Nameless, our take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and both instalments of Just The Jams.
We knew we had to stay busy throughout all of the chaos. As I said earlier, it kept us sane. There was so much going on in the world and it felt like music was one constant thing in our lives that gave us pure happiness and joy.
What’s the live scene generally like for rock music in New Haven of late?
Well due to COVID it’s pretty non-existent at the moment. Beforehand? Man it was the place to be; and I’m not even just talking about New Haven. The New England area and Connecticut alone is such a solid community. There’s no “I’m better than you,” “I’ve got better gigs.” etc. Everyone supports each other and everybody wants each other to succeed.
I could list the numerously talented bands that exist in our state, but we’d be here all night. The point is it’s such an extremely supportive scene and we’re truly thankful to be a part of it.
Your project Nameless offers a unique adaptation of the infamous Edgar Allen Poe work The Raven – why did this poem inspire you in such a way, and is poetry a common source of inspiration for you?
I think it was Matt’s idea? Or Joe’s? I know it wasn’t mine, so I’ll give both of them credit. But anyway like I said, we wanted to keep busy during 2020 so it was someone’s idea to take something that was in the Public Domain and turn it into music. Poe was a lyrical genius and The Raven is no doubt one of his best contributions. As it was approaching Halloween, it was only fitting.
Joe’s a teacher, (as am I) and he teaches the story every year to his students, so he was obviously very familiar with the poem. He sent the band a lecture of him reading and explaining it, and then followed up by emailing me the poem broken up into “songs.” He even went as far as titling the tracks for me. I think I was up until 3 AM multiple nights working on ideas for tunes. I had the basic structure down and sent them to the guys to review.
We didn’t rehearse any of these songs. We recorded at Joe’s studio so there was no time limit and nobody breathing down our neck. I literally showed the rest of the band the songs moments before we hit the record button. I couldn’t believe the end result. Joe did such an incredible job mixing and mastering it. People seemed to really dig it too. So many of these songs were out of our usual zone, but at the same time, they weren’t.
I love the heavy riffs and intensity of Night and Silence. How do you decide as a band which direction to take a song in, and do you ever disagree creatively?
We may disagree creatively, but it’s never out of a need to show off or anything like that. It’s usually because we feel that we can serve the song better or in a more unique way.
Matt, Joe and I love metal. We love heavy breakdowns and all that “in your face” kind of stuff. Matt comes from a huge Prog-Rock background so there was no hesitation when I brought Night And Silence to him. I think that’s his favorite track off the release, actually.
I’m constantly writing. Sometimes a song will hit me like a ton of bricks, other times it will be more of a slow burn. The Voice Memos App on my phone features hundreds of ideas and concepts, some dating back to 4-5 years ago! Things develop, things change.
We also have a private Facebook Group in which I share “skeleton” ideas of songs and the guys comment with their thoughts and ideas. Nobody in this group is ever told exactly what to play. I think that’s why we have lasted as long as we had. There’s a level of freedom and creativity that everyone brings to the table.
Does your creativity manifest itself in any other ways?
So many things inspire me. I’m constantly looking for new music. I listen to everything, and I’m influenced from everything from Metal to Bluegrass.
Beyond music though, I love poetry and art and more importantly – I love people. I love talking to people and seeing their perspective on things. But I also love to observe. I’m very much a proponent of listening and watching. So many different things inspire me to be creative. I think it’s important.
Is there a big ambition behind what you do, or are you happy just to play and make music for the love of doing so?
I’d love to tour during the Summer and then spend my Fall/Winter at home with my family and friends. I always admired artists like Dave Matthews for that. You wouldn’t hear too much from him during the Fall/Winter months, but then when he came to town, that was a tell-tale sign that Summer was here.
We’re very much a “Summer Band” so I’d love to be exploring this country and traveling with my friends during that time. Being a teacher doesn’t hurt either because that’s when I’m off.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given in life?
I wanted to quit playing Guitar when I was 13 or 14. It was too hard and I wasn’t progressing at the rate I wanted. It wasn’t so much advice, but rather encouragement from my Father. He told me that I could “step back if I wanted to, but there’s no point in quitting all together.”
I’ve taken that advice and applied it to so many aspects of my life. Sometimes you get too wrapped up in the chaos and you’re too close to something, it’s important to step back, re-assess and then dive back in. Of course, all this is way easier said than done. You know how it goes…
My bass player, Joe Jeffery, said something to me in 2020 that really stuck with me too. “Everything is fixable.” It really is true. There usually is a way around things, and sometimes the fixable thing is to walk away. Again, easier said than done.
I’m thankful to have so many great, positive, people in my life. We lift each other up.
What can we look out for from you in 2021?
I don’t stop working. Right now as I type this, we’re getting ready for rehearsal this upcoming Saturday for our Six Year Anniversary Show. Obviously things are a little different right now with COVID, so we’re not doing an actual show, but rather a pre-recorded video and documentary to release as a Live Album/DVD combo.
I spent most of 2020 writing for an acoustic album, so there’s a lot of material that needs to be rehearsed and recorded with the band. Joe and I played a number of duo gigs over the Summer, so he’s pretty familiar with the new songs. The plan as of right now is to hopefully record the acoustic tunes for the next JSB studio release.
I’ve also got two electric albums worth of material to get out as well, and then there is a ton of live recordings we also have to work with. Joe and I played with some other great musicians around Christmas time, and we just put out a live album of that session. We also are planning on releasing a session we did as a Duo back in November.
Is there anything else we should know?
We’re always looking towards the “next thing.” We’re hungry and willing to take the necessary steps to move forward. But beyond all that, we’d really like to thank everyone who has helped get us to this point. Their support and kind words fuel the fire. Thank you all.
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