You don’t see a great deal of civility in the world these days, so it tends to stand out prominently when it’s present. As Sacred Spirits bassist Ben Lehman and I pick out a table in the back room of Sidewinder Coffee in Northside for our interview, Lehman quickly checks with our table neighbor, who is working intently on her laptop, to make sure our conversation won’t interfere with her concentration.
That same civility was in place last summer when guitarist Josh Kufeldt felt the pull of a very different creative muse and parted company with his bandmates in nationally acclaimed local Indie Pop faves Pomegranates to begin working on a project he christened Sacred Spirits. After doing some recording in Brooklyn with Nick Stumpf, Kufeldt returned to Cincinnati and assembled Sacred Spirits as an actual band, starting with Lehman, who Kufeldt had met on his last Pomegranates tour.
“I was in the van with them on the road, but just as a friend,” Lehman says. “Josh and I had a number of conversations about starting up projects then.”
Kufeldt enlisted Lehman, the pair learned the songs from the New York demos and Sacred Spirits began playing shows in the area. The addition of drummer Sam Cowan solidified not just the lineup but also the very nature of the band.
“I met Sam after I’d started playing with Josh and we’d started writing songs,” Lehman says. “Sam came in and we booked a show … as soon as we started playing in one room together, we stopped becoming a recording project.”
With new songs in hand, as well as a desire to revisit the demos, Sacred Spirits hit Ric Hordinski’s Monastery Studio in Walnut Hills to record their debut album, Some Stay, a swirling slab of Punk-fueled Psychedelia that suggests a cross between Talking Heads and My Morning Jacket.
“It’s funny, because I think we come out with a different product than we think we’re going to,” Lehman says.
“Conceptually, I think we’re really into the idea of a lot of early Punk and New Wave music. And I think some of the time we can pull off sounding like a New Wave revival group, but live it comes out a lot more like The Stooges or The Cramps. We all really love the French Kicks a lot … so Punk and New Wave and French Kicks — it’s a huge melting pot.”
Naturally enough, with Sacred Spirits’ first anniversary still months away, the trio’s sonic identity is still evolving, giving the band plenty of latitude to experiment in the studio and on stage.
“It’s come a long way,” Lehman says. “When we first started, Josh and I wrote a song that was a minimalistic, sort of Daniel Johnston-type piece, and he recorded (an EP) after that and it was very lo-fi, minimalistic Psychedelic music. But I think the more we play together, the more we start becoming a Post Punk band, which is very far from where it started.”
Beyond the cool sound of Some Stay (a good deal of which Lehman credits to Chad Wahlbrink, who recorded and mixed the album), one of the distinctive aspects of the recording is that it’s available for free download as the first release on The Recording Label (www.therecordinglabel.com ), the new free music label/site established by former Sheds/current Pop Empire member Cameron Cochran. (Pop Empire’s The Devil’s Party just came out as the label’s second release; see Spill It for a review.)
“Josh and I just love Pop Empire, and we finally played with them at the (Northside) Tavern for the BRINK (new bands) showcase,” Lehman recalls. “Josh and I were like, ‘We’ve got to get Cam to watch us,’ so he did and he dug it and so he approached Josh about releasing our album as the first album through The Recording Label, which we’re all pumped about.”
The band’s next unorthodox move involves its involvement with Sad Rad, another soon-to-launch boutique label spearheaded by Vacation’s Peyton Copes that will carry Sacred Spirits music in a slightly more conventional fashion.
“It’s going to be tape and vinyl only,” Lehman says. “So, The Recording Label will release everything digitally for free and Sad Rad will do the tapes and vinyl. No CDs. It’s quickly becoming a community and we're excited about that.”
Sacred Spirits’ plans for the coming year include recording their new material, working as many local gigs and as much regional touring as its members' schedules allow and continuing to push the boundaries of their creative expression.“Josh and Sam and I are always thinking about the motives behind sounding this way or that way or doing this or that,” Lehman says. “Our whole idea for the band is not to be this pretty, packaged Indie Pop band. In fact, we want to be the opposite. So when we get into the room, we tend to write a Punk song, even if we’re just messing around at first. Sam will play a really quick beat and I’ll think Fugazi or some Post Punk thing and Josh is great at making noise. Josh still writes a lot of songs by himself, so we’re not going to quickly morph into ‘Surprise-we’re-a-Punk-band,’ but I think live that’s what we want, just to have the energy.”
SACRED SPIRITS and Pop Empire present a joint release show (and launch party for The Recording Label) Friday, Feb. 4 at the Southgate House with guests We Are Hex and The Kickaways. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.