Victoria’s Spaceport Union describe themselves as a progressive art rock band, but if you think that means they play retro 70’s dinosaur music then you are very mistaken. Their music is, in fact, fresh and contemporary, and they take the term “progressive” in its literal sense.
“Sure, there are stereotypes in prog — like bands that sound so much like early Genesis they are almost a tribute act without calling themselves one,” explains vocalist/rhythm guitarist Spence, “We see ourselves fitting under a bigger umbrella of progressive music that welcomes creative exploration while still fitting within the rock milieu.”
“To us ‘progressive’ means open,” adds Adam Basterfield, vocalist/lead guitarist. “We are adventurous, open to new ideas. We like to challenge our audience, to make our performance a moving, inclusive experience.”
Spaceport Union started out with the nucleus of Spence and Basterfield, with the latter joining the prog folk group Caroline Spence Band in 2006. After a line-up change the band was renamed Crimson Star, but it was still centred on Spence as the front-person.
“I was getting tired of being the lead songwriter and focus of the band,” says Spence. “I just got really stifled by that role and developed writer’s block. I really wanted to be part of something more collaborative, where I could explore other instrumentation and be more creative. I started getting ‘outside the box’ with my playing, using multiple capos and tunings, getting super ‘out there’. I remember listening back to my recordings thinking, ‘how am I ever going to figure out these chords to play this again?’ Adam and I live together, and he’d often jam on what I was creating, and he is blessed with perfect pitch and some genius musical skills. I remember the moment I realized I had the perfect songwriting partner right there.”
And so began the couple’s songwriting collaboration, which eventually led to the formation of the most epic band name they could think of and their life’s work, Spaceport Union.
With drummer Taylor Charles and original bass player Mike Ross they first released an EP ‘Lark’, followed in 2012 by their full-length debut ‘Flirting with the Queen’, which was produced by Michael Jack (Bono, Jann Arden, Rush).
“Michael helps sculpt the sonic tapestry of our recorded work,” says Spence. “I’d worked with him in the past on my more ‘pop-focused’ work, so I gave him fair warning that we were doing these super long songs, and not the typical three-minute-long radio-friendly stuff anymore, and he wasn’t daunted in the slightest. He really helped us take our performance-focused music and sculpt it into an album, without losing the integrity of what we were doing.”
Although the group often embark on wild musical excursions (the song ‘Minnow’ provides an excellent example) they do so from a solid base, even though that base is an amalgam of rock, folk, jazz, and even R&B. The band attributes this eclecticism to the synergy generated by the four individual members.
“The band is a unit of four very capable musicians,” says Basterfield, who is an honours graduate in Jazz Studies from the Victoria Conservatory of Music, “and we all bring our creative influences to the mix.”
“We have four people with different backgrounds,” agrees Charles. “We each bring something weird or new.”
Spence and Basterfield are both multi-instrumentalists and they remain the primary writers in the band. However, no one is shut out of the creative process involved in bringing the songs to life.
“It’s a group thing,” states Spence. “There isn’t a set way to create a song. Everyone in the band brings something to it. I remember we were half way to Toronto to record the first album and I was still struggling to get the lyrics right for ‘Writing’s on the Wall’. I had a panic attack in Medicine Hat because I just felt the lyrics just didn’t resonate, so the guys all sat down with me and we just told stories about what ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ meant to us in our lives.”
“I had just broken up with my girlfriend and we hadn’t spoken for a few months,” pipes in Charles. “That’s what really resonated for me, when I was thinking about the song.”
“They all shared what the song meant to them,” says Spence. “It was important to dig deeper, to find the truth in the song, the soul of it.”
The track ‘Fueled by Consequence’ was named Song of the Year at the 2013 Vancouver Island Music Awards, and the album itself has received positive reviews, particularly in the UK where progressive rock has enjoyed something of a resurgence.
“The reviewers are more into it,” says Spence, commenting on the response they get in England. “They seem to really revel in all of the influences that make up our sound.”
Spaceport Union intends to build on that response as they head into the studio to record their second album. In doing so they welcome a new dimension to their sound in the form of bassist Aaron St. Arnault who joined the group following the departure of Ross in 2012.
“There’s definitely a new sound with Aaron,” says Charles, “different tones, complex patterns.”
“I am happy to find a group where I can be challenged,” says St. Arnault, “and feel free to express myself emotionally and musically.”
As excited as she is about working with producer Michael Jack again, Spence remembers the trepidation she felt when working on the first album.
“It’s kinda hard to be brave and just ‘let it be’,” she says. “I worry whether people are going to like our brand of insanity. But sometimes you just have to let your ‘freak flag’ fly, you know? Just let the song live.”
As otherworldly as Spaceport Union can sound at times, they are certainly down-to-earth and practical when it comes to planning their future.
“The band is a creative expression, both in music and how we think about the business side to some extent,” explains Spence. “We’re building a solid foundation and a great team to help us take this where we want to go, so we can do this for a living.”
They are a group with a big creative vision, thinking long-term and planning far ahead to bolster their fan base and to keep those fans delighted with their music. It keeps them moving forever forward. To quote the song ‘Fueled by Consequence’:
The consequences get me moving
The repercussions keep me going
Spaceport Union: http://www.spaceportunion.com