I met up Sean Woods of The Spits at Grey Gallery after he had spent three days partying in Portland before, during and after the Scion Garage Festival. Somewhere in between him spinning me a yarn about having met the Queen of England in ’95 and a glass of wine we got down to talking about the intense rock his band delivers, their new album, out after a long period silence from this very loud and outspoken band, and how the festival delivered what has come to be considered garage music – something he doesn’t feel The Spits fit under the heading of.
TIG: So you guys had your fourth album out in July, right?
Sean Woods: Actually it’s our fifth. We didn’t have any new material but we found a bunch of old, unreleased songs and put out a record called 19 Million AC with 16-20 songs on it . But no one really considered it a release. But, yeah this is a brand new ten songs. We’ve always done nine songs, self-titled, so we decided to do ten this time. Like a come back thing.
TIG: And you guys put it out on Thrift Store Records?
SW: Thrift Store Records is our record label that we started. There’s big independent labels and then there’s major labels and unless you get on a big independent label like In The Red or Matador or something like that, you’re not going to make any money and you’re not going to get a lot done for you. So we decided to just put it ourselves. It’s a lot of hard work to put out your own record. You have to borrow money from all these different people, but we’ll see a profit and it’s our record. We found a guy Todd from Recess Records who wanted to buy the record but he does distribution of the CD’s and we get all the digital, vinyl, and all the rights.
TIG: So you started the label just for this release. But do you have any plans for it?
SW: We have a lot of friends who are out there in bands that we’ve seen come and go. We’ve got a really good booking agent right now and we’re trying to help our friends that no one gives two shits about. What happens is, if bands don’t get help, they end up breaking up and going away. So we’re trying to help out our friends and put them out on record. Also we’d like to do some re-issues. The record label just seemed like the next step. Basically either you go with a major label, make a lot of freakin’ money and get world famous or put it out yourself. It’s a lot of work but I think that’s the way to go.
TIG: It seems like there’s an overwhelming shift in the industry towards the self-release.
SW: Yeah. Well if you look at a lot of the biggest names, especially in punk rock, you got Plan 9, came from The Misfits, SST came from Black Flag. They started their own labels cause they weren’t getting what they wanted.
TIG: So the new album has been out for a little while now.
SW: It came out on July 4th but it’s just now getting attention since we just started touring for it. We’re about to go down the West Coast and then do some one-offs in the winter and spring as well. We’re also working on a new album right now and we have a brand new four song single that just came out on Slovenly Records. It’s two songs recorded in France and two songs recorded in Swami studios in San Diego and I’m really happy with it. Also we’re flying to New York in three weeks to do a single with Scion and Vice records. Kind of like the old Sub-Pop single series. So we’re just poppin’ ‘em out now.
TIG: Right, well how long were you guys on hiatus?
SW: We’ve been The Spits for fifteen years. It’s pretty much me and my brother [Erin Wood] and everyone else has come and gone. Right now our original drummer who quit back in ’97 or something like that, he’s back and he’s been helping us write new songs. We’ve had fourteen different keyboard players too.
TIG: How do you feel that taking a long break has changed or reinvigorated your sound?
SW: You know, I think that’s why The Spits are still around. It’s because we really haven’t changed. I say we’re the David Lee Roth of punk rock. We’re entertainers and we like to party.
TIG: Well, when you guys came together again after all this time, did you have it as a plan to make another Spits record?
SW: We really wanted to do another new record. We needed one. We were still touring. I don’t know how many bands can not have a new album for four years but still tour. People still wanted to see us. But we were getting sick of playing all these old songs. When our old drummer came back into the picture we had that old Spits team and it started happening. I would say we’re more professional now than we used to be. I think being a little bit older helped us focus more on the new record.
TIG: I guess it says something about your live show that you don’t make a record for so long and still get asked to tour. Do you think that the live show is essential to what you guys are?
SW: Yeah. We’re a rock ‘n roll party band. People come see us to have fun, hear good music, see their friends, and rock out. Now you’d think that’s what you go to any concert for, but no. It’s not. I swear, we play a show and people are doing things I haven’t seen since the 80s. People are stage diving and tearin’ it up, getting bruised. I love playing in The Spits. I haven’t seen anything change in our live show. You know, one of the reasons I moved to Seattle was the band Mudhoney. I saw them play back in the day and I see them today and I see no difference. They’re still rippin’ ‘n rockin’. That’s hard to do if you’re a band. Especially for fifteen years.
TIG: You and your brother are from Kalamazoo, Michigan right?
SW: Yeah, he moved out here in 1990 and I came in ’92. We didn’t come because we had a band and we thought we could make it if we were in Seattle. We just came to have fun and ended up making music. I’m still here 16-20 years later and I still live on Capitol Hill, what’s wrong with me?
TIG: After fifteen years would you say that The Spits stand for something?
SW: Stay real? Stay true, have fun, and uh—Support your fellow man. No, I don’t know, man, we stand for no bullshit. We have a song called “I Hate Pussies,” and that’s just what we do. I guess, just be yourself and rock out.
TIG: So how do you feel the heading of Scion Garage Festival fits with The Spits? Do you think of The Spits as garage rock?
SW: I don’t know. I’m really glad we got to play it. Here’s the thing, we’re a rock band. The big thing now is garage music but we’re not that, we play heavy rock but we get roped in to that. In other words, out of 42 bands we’re the only ones who had distortion. But there’s nowhere else for us to go. I mean, where we are we going to go? On a hardcore punk rock tour? No, cause they’d hate us.
TIG: I feel like a lot of people would say that The Spits are punk rock.
SW: You know we started the band cause we grew up listening to Van Halen, Twisted Sister, shit like that. It’s party music, good times. That’s what we wanted. We didn’t want people standing around acting cool, we wanted to par-tay! And that’s what we do. People come, they have a great fucking time, leave after 25 minutes and feel like they just blew their mind out. So we’re labeled punk rock, but I consider us rock and roll. If you take most of our songs and slow them down, you’re going to hear rock. It’s intense rock.
TIG: What do you think garage rock is considered these days?
SW: I think it would be hard to come up with that many garage bands so the festival threw The Spits in there. I think it was a collaboration of different people asking what bands they think are really good right now. I think it’s cool that they did that rather than saying that a good band can’t play because they’re not “garage.” I’d say Black Lips are garage and King Khan a
nd the BBQ show. When you play through an amp with no distortion, you’re garage. You ask me, if you play through a Fender, you’re garage. We play through Peavey’s–we’re Peavey-powered. In the 90’s there was a huge boom of garage all up and down the West coast with The Mummies and The Rip Offs–just shit-loads. That was straight-up garage with the three chords and everybody dressed up from the 60s and danced. We didn’t fit in there. Do I hear that now? Not really. I hear a folky-rock.
TIG: I hear some 50s infusion.
SW: Yeah and King Khan really started that. Covering the 50s tunes and playing it simply. I like to hear people sing. With a lot of the garage music you hear more shouting than singing. Even Black Flag you hear singing. The term garage came from the 50s and 60s, bands playing out their garage. But it’s like “indie” these days. If you’re touring on a tour bus, it’s not very indie. I think there’s not enough creativity with these labels for bands these days.
TIG: So you guys have a busy year ahead of you.
SW: Our ultimate goal is to conquer the world. We’re going to be the biggest band ever. And we will last forever. That’s our agenda. And, also, we want to be the most fun you’ve ever had. That’s on the big list. But in the immediate future we got a European tour in the springtime and then over to Israel. And we’re working on Japan.