Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images Trace Adkins didn't show much emotion upon being…
- Posted on Mar 12th 2010 1:04PM by Nada Alic
If you're going to call yourself "God's favorite band," you better be prepared to deliver the kind of musical divinity required to start a soul-shaking musical revolution. If any band is up for the challenge, it's Austin's Asylum Street Spankers. Started in 1994 by Wammo and Christina Marrs, the band have been resurrecting the sounds of 1920's and '30s blues, gospel, swing and country with their unique multi-layered instrumentation, blazing humor, social commentary and 30-something member changes. Their ninth album, aptly titled 'God's Favorite Band,' described as an "agnostic Gospel album," is a rousing and funny exploration into the joys of sinning. Spinner caught up with lead vocalist Christina Marrs to talk about the joys of being the only reigning lady on the road, her deep affection for Tom Waits and their upcoming trip to SXSW.
Describe your sound in your own words.
I'm not trying to be coy; I've never known how to describe it, because the Spankers, we jump all over the place from genre to genre. One of the better descriptions of us would be genre-defying. But you know, we play American roots style for the most part and we're an acoustic band, driven by banjo, ukulele, washboard, harmonica and that kind of thing. I like the term, "post-modern jug band." We're not really afraid to approach any musical style. We've done songs by the Beastie Boys, Bob Dylan and B-52s, sometimes all in the same set. What the Spankers do is continually recreate ourselves in our own image.
How did your band form?
I was friends with Guy Forsithe and I took him to this party for artists and performers of all kinds and we met Wammo there. Wammo and Guy struck up a friendship that evening, talked about starting an acoustic band and he knew all the musicians that were originally together. I showed up for the first rehearsals and I really didn't know anybody besides Guy and I'd met Wammo. That's about it -- we had a couple of rehearsals and somebody said, "oh we've got a gig" and it went from there.
What is it like being the only female in the band?
I get a little disgusted with the boy talk every once and a while, but I wouldn't say that it's inherently more difficult than being out on the road with seven other women. Maybe it's just what I'm accustomed to, and I did have an all-girl band at one point and the drama, the passive aggressiveness, the insecurities and everything that went with that was extremely difficult to deal with and we weren't a touring band. I can't imagine piling into a band with seven other women to drive across the country. It would be the closest thing to hell, or at least purgatory for me.
What are your musical influences?
Probably the stuff that I first listened to as a little kid, that's the stuff that really sticks with me, and that's like Walt Disney, and the Beatles and Harry Nilsson and stuff like that. I have a real affection for melody and yeah, obviously more traditional styles of music.
What's your biggest vice?
Oh gosh, none that I want to give up anytime soon, except maybe smoking.
As SXSW veterans, what's in your SXSW survival kit?
We've only skipped South By once in our history, so that would make this year our 14th time, I think. So bring clothing for all types of weather, sunscreen, an umbrella, comfortable shoes -- you've gotta stand in line a lot. I just kind of avoid the whole thing. It's just gotten so big, there's always a handful of top-notch artists that everyone wants to see and only a few people get to see. There's just so much going on, we've played showcases where we've had a packed house and after we're done the place clears out and I just feel terrible for the band going on after us. "Oh, you guys drove all the way from L.A.? Well, now there are only five people watching you".
Your video for 'Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV' generated over a million YouTube views and garnered both praise and controversy. Were you prepared for that?
I guess I wasn't surprised that it went viral or whatever they call it these days. It was a great parody and a great video. Obviously it was a really topical thing at the time, so a lot of people could relate to it. I wasn't surprised at the level of outrage, I was kind of surprised that more people didn't get up in arms over it. But most people got it, they understood it and they thought it was funny. It certainly turned us on to a broader audience.
You've covered Tom Waits, Prince, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Black Flag -- who would you most love to cover one of your songs?
Wow. Hmm. Gosh, I've been thinking kind of along these lines lately, like who would I love to collaborate with, who would I most like to sit down a write a song with. I guess Tom Waits is one of my all-time favorites, Elvis Costello -- I have a real affection for singers who walk that fine line of being potentially really annoying but you know, like the Bob Dylans of the world, people who are into Tom Waits, some people can't stand his voice -- I love his voice -- so the voices that, when you hear it, you instantly know who it is. They have a character about their voice. I'd be honored if anyone recorded one of our songs, really. It's always neat to hear one of your songs interpreted by someone else. One example is a band from Barcelona recorded one of our songs and brought me a copy to listen to and I just love it. It's delightful, especially since their grasp of English isn't entirely, but the lyrics aren't the most important part. They had so much fun with it.
Your latest album is called 'God's Favorite Band.' As agnostics, are there religious undertones to it?
It was a gospel record made by people who were agnostic. For us, it was kind of like another kind of American roots music. It's the very first American roots music, it's what everything else springs from. We wouldn't have blues or jazz or rock 'n' roll without gospel music. The Spankers have been playing gospel music since the very beginning -- we did a Sunday gospel brunch here in town every Sunday for three years -- and it's just gospel music for the secular audience. I don't think you need to be religious or adhere to some particular dogma to get something out of gospel music. I really love Argentinean tango music -- I don't speak Spanish so I don't really know what they're talking about but I love it anyway.
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