Interview with the Spill Canvas: Yeah, Still Doing Good

The youthful, pop-sweetened rock outfit The Spill Canvas is the brainchild of Nick Thomas, who like many budding songwriters of his generation found he needed a band for his vision, though there weren’t many like-minded players in his chilly South Dakota environs. Started almost a decade ago, the band has grown through four proper full-lengths but there was a period of silence after 2007’s No Really, I’m Fine that was finally broken early this year with the release of two EPs; Abnormalities in January and Realities just last month.

After a headlining tour that just stopped at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony, the band announced a support slot for the Goo Goo Dolls on a big amphitheatre tour and then plan to lay out their fifth full-length, still slated to be released this year. As Thomas illuminates, a bout of writer’s block hampered his creative output, but through some co-writing sessions, the soundtrack-ready “Our Song” single as well as a few others came through on the Realities EP and it would appear there are once again drippings on the Spill Canvas.

Did you guys decide you hadn’t been on tour long enough? It looks like it’s going to be a very long summer for you.

Yes. Well, you know, we had been off the road for quite some time writing and we had taken a break after our last record, No Really, I’m Fine. After that was out, we toured that extensively for a year plus. We took some time off and started the writing process again and it just ended up being quite a while since we were on the road.

You came out with two EPs, Abnormalities in January and then Realities just last month, but it seems you’re looking to have a full length out later this year. Is that done? Is the record complete?

It’s not. It’s still kind of a work in progress. What we wanted to was we had so much time to write and we had so much material, just to get to have everybody with us and management and label kind of powwow and get together, it took a lot longer than we anticipated. We wanted to get something out at least, cause we had all this new material and I was beginning to do my first co-writing sessions with other songwriters in California. We had a lot of material from those sessions. Just stuff. We were thinking the full-length would take a little longer, and the two EPs were kind of to fill that silence that we were kind of having and really get some music out to listeners and the fans as well because it had been so long.

Do you write on the road?

The writing is definitely a little more difficult while you’re touring but it’s still going on. You still have a little downtime here or there before or after load-in or sound check. Pull out a guitar. We have little recording devices along and we just get little ideas down. I’m always kind of scribbling down notes, lyrics and whatnot. It’s difficult but it still happens. We have some material that’s still unreleased from the sessions of the two EPs, but we’re still kind of waiting on that and we’re going to start to get things finished up soon. We will see. It’s definitely a work in progress. Soon. We hope.

You said you had started co-writing work. Are you bringing in other songwriters for Spill Canvas material?

Yeah. I went through maybe a little bit of a block after writing for a while and talking with management, it was a little suggestion if I’d want to try co-writing. I do write with the guys, but as far as just songwriting and lyrical content and from that actual standpoint I’m kind of the main person for that. It was for Spill Canvas but at the same time also for me as a songwriter also to try that stuff out because I had never tried it before. It was an amazing experience, just to be able to bounce ideas off of another songwriter and another mind, as opposed to just me sitting alone and then bringing it to the guys. Much different. Very cool process, I dug it a lot.

Who did you work with?

I did a lot of writing with a guy named David Bassett, who is a producer and a writer. I wrote the single off Realities, a song called ‘Our Song,’ I wrote that with David Bassett. That was one of my first experiences with co-writing. I wrote with Matt Squier, who is a songwriting/producers who has worked with so many amazing people. The list goes on and on. We still have a few co-writes that were just demoed out, and we’re hoping to maybe record those. Just a lot of new ideas and new people, which was kind of the point for me.

I guess the new album is going to include your Kesha cover too?

Maybe (laughs). I dunno. We didn’t know what to expect as far as response. We just did it because we thought it was funny, get a little kick out of it, but jeez, that would be a treat to get into the actual studio and do it. We just did a ourselves, a little demo, but man, the response was a lot crazier than we thought it would be. We had a blast.

Tell me about the video for ‘Our Song.’ Did someone come in with a treatment for that or did you already have the idea?

It was kind of bizarre. We had just gotten a treatment from it from the directors, and it was the first treatment we had gotten, and it fit so perfectly, because we didn’t even talk with the people doing the video prior to their treatment delivery, but in the studio while we were doing the song, we were saying ‘It would be funny if it was a take on this movie or a take on this movie.’ Because the whole song and the content of the lyrics has to do with that love song that goes awry and the blue collar working class kind of reality of the whole thing, that it’s not always really like the movies. It seemed so perfect and we had such a fun time working on it. The actors that were in it that played out all those little movie spoofs, they were so good and convincing.

You had a little game online for your tour; you were hiding tickets?

Yes. The scavenger hunt. It was basically these clues we would put up on Twitter, and the fans would have to go find them in the area now. It sometimes has to do with our lyrics or our songs, little things like that, but the scavenger hunt was kind of a cool things, we wanted to get fans enticed to come out and see us again since we hadn’t been on the road in so long. New ways to get real people in and excited to come see us. It’s had a good response so far, we’ve had a lot of kids get tickets via that way and it’s just fun for them and cool to see how many people will go looking for them (laughs).

You’ve been a musician and a recording musician for a long time; I’ve talked to people who have been in the business forever like all the social networking and others say ‘I used to just be able to record music and that was enough.’ Do you find that to be a drain on your creative time or is that something that you really enjoy doing?

I had started playing and writing music and just barely started recording before MySpace was really a thing, it was right at the beginning of that whole thing. I think Friendster was before that even. iTunes wasn’t a big deal at that point, iPods, the whole music revolution in that aspect when I started that wasn’t really in full force. I still have that little memory when—as you said—I used to just write music and that was enough. I like getting in touch with the fans—it doesn’t drain my creative energy but it does seem like it takes that extra bit of work. It’s such an instant information kind of age now, and the music industry has changed dramatically. Things changed but I find that it’s still a good thing. But I definitely have had times where I just want to play the music and write the music and be the musician. But it’s necessary at this point, it’s such a big part of the music industry now. We have embraced it recently. It took us a bit.

The plan is you’re touring until the middle of August, something like that, and the idea is to see if there’s a record after that?

Yeah, pretty much. We’re going to be doing that tour, we’ve got a little local show at our local fair, which is kind of nice because we don’t get to play locally too much, and that’s our last show after the tour that we already have booked. Then after that it’s going to be figuring out what we’re going to be doing for our new record. Taking those steps. It’s all kind of evolved a little slower than we anticipated, but definitely we needed the time off, we needed the time to grow as individuals and musicians. We’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.

Realities is out now. The Spill Canvas performs at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, on July 27 and the Nikon At Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, NY, on July 30.