The sort of magic that happens somewhere deep in the wet woods, misty and witchy without being ethereal, dark without being heavy or threatening -- that’s the sound of Spencer Yenson & the Squatters. And come Thursday, April 27, at the Holding Company, San Diego joins the band in experiencing it all for the first time ever at their premiere show.
The concert doubles as release party for “In Fever,” a five-track EP (available for free download for a limited time here). It’s named in part, says Yenson, to capture the essence of that sort of disorienting, psychedelic experience of a fever -- the same you’ll hear on the record. “But at the same time, it seems urgent or confused in a way,” he adds. “And I think that fit with a lot of the themes and lyrics in the songs. It was a good summary of the tunes.”
While it may be the band’s first live performance as Spencer Yenson & the Squatters, the group carries some familiar faces. Aside from frontman Yenson (AJ Perkins, Saint Diego), the Squatters are rounded out by bassist Brian Vilven (all of the above, plus Grizzly Business), drummer Matthew Craig Burke (Grizzly Business, and SoundDiego contributor), and guitarist Jano Aste-Nieto (also of Grizzly Business) -- while Sequoia Steen makes her stage debut on guitar, banjo, and lending vocals.
The result is a swirly haze of tunes, the four original tracks on the EP joined by an unexpected but welcome cover. The result sweeps listeners away in a river of deep bass, hypnotic synth, and melting vocals -- and right into the Holding Company come Thursday.
Here, established songwriter and aspiring novelist Yenson -- he’s currently penning a work of sci-fi that follows the life of a young Norwegian immigrant in the ’20s -- talks about the Squatters’ beginnings, creativity crossover, and pre-show nerves (of which there are plenty).
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: How did this project begin?
Spencer Yenson: I collaborate with Alex Dauchst -- he runs a studio out of his house called Studio Studios -- and he’s worked with me on pretty much every project I've done. AJ Perkins probably six years ago now, and then Saint Diego, both of which I was in with [Squatters bassist] Brian as well. I just had ideas for songs and went directly to Alex, and we just worked them out and recorded them at his studio. I didn't know exactly where it was going at the time. The first one I worked on was that cover, “I Put a Spell on You” [originally recorded in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins]. I’d never recorded a cover before, but we played it live with Saint Diego a few times, and I thought it suited my voice. And I had an idea for “Wicked Ones,” and we just pounded it out, and it turned out pretty cool. So from there I just kept writing. But it was a really long process [laughs], a really long process. I'm still excited about them -- I'm excited to share them with people.
HLS: Do you find that one endeavor -- writing a novel and writing songs -- pours over into the other?
SY: That’s a really interesting question. You know, they’re separate. But in general, the creative process bleeds together in some way. Writing a novel is a lot harder, at least for me. I’ve been working on music for so long that I don't really try -- they just come to me. For a novel you have to kind of get into the flow after writing for a while. Whereas music, I could just be walking or taking a shower -- and then boom, I have an idea for a chorus, and then I can get GarageBand out on my phone and cook up a demo in one sitting.
HLS: You’ve got some of the Grizzly Business boys, and Jonah, another established musician. But Sequoia is new to the stage entirely. How did she end up being a part of this? Any hints of nervousness or stage fright?
SY: So Sequoia's always been around in our group of friends. We've always seen that she's musical -- she has a really cool voice; she plays guitar; it just kind of happened. It was natural. It's exciting because this is her first time sort of putting herself out there.
HLS: Any nerves ahead of the show? It’s a first for everyone in some ways.
SY: For me personally, I get very nervous -- I’m not particularly nervous right now, but just right before the show I get butterflies. I can talk myself out of it mentally, and once I start playing, it goes away. When I was in bands in high school, I couldn’t talk to anyone before. I just had to be by myself -- it was that intense. I don't think I've played a show in a year, which is crazy. But I definitely think there will be some butterflies there. But the excitement is way more than the nerves -- nerves are a biproduct of that, and your body just doesn’t really know how to handle everything.
HLS: I saw that Sarah McAllister did the album art -- you've got a lot of local fingers touching this project. Was that a deliberate move, or are these all just people in your circle who you trusted?
SY: A mix of both. it sort of worked out that way, but at the same time, it worked out the best way it could have. With Sarah, that was something I'd thought about for a while because she's been around for a while too and I was aware of her work for a long time. That photo shoot was just awesome.
HLS: Plans to hit the road, or are you guys happy just to keep it local?
SY: Absolutely, absolutely. We're going to go up and down California, probably further up as well. We'd love to go all around. Everywhere.
Spencer Yenson & the Squatters play the Holding Company on Thursday, April 27. The show is free.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.