Interview: Jordan West of the Spinning Whips

The Spinning Whips‘Jordan West is one of my favorite musicians. I saw him first when he was 1/3rd of Seattle’s Iceage Cobra, a band that won my heart effortlessly with their overwhelming racket and joyful ways. West is always entertaining to see perform live, whether he’s hanging from a venue’s ceiling or straightforwardly playing his guitar and singing. When Iceage Cobra split up, West got working on another band in 2009, a project he explains in our interview that would be his, one he’d have primary creative responsibility for. The band decided on the name the Spinning Whips, and they’re building up momentum in the Seattle scene quickly, playing a variety of venues in the area. They’re looking at recording in May 2011 – for now you can hear some demos on their facebook profile and MySpace page. The music is rock; it freaks out and asks you to join in. Every show I’ve seen involving West has been an awesome experience – and I’ve seen him a lot – Iceage Cobra remains my most covered band, and I expect the Spinning Whips to surpass them soon. The Spinning Whips play Columbia City Theater this Thursday, March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day! Get your tix now.

How did you get involved in music – was it as kid?

Jordan West: I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. I remember I saw the music video for [Soundgarden’s] “Black Hole Sun”and I thought Chris Cornell was so cool, and I thought, that’s what I want to do for a living. That’s what made me want to start playing guitar, and my older brother had already tried it and quit, so we had a guitar in the house.

Why did he quit?

JW: My brother’s very business-minded. I think we’re kind of opposites that way. I think he probably got the guitar to meet girls. I know he tried violin for that reason. There was a girl that he liked a lot [when he was in elementary school] that played violin, so he took violin lessons to get in closer with her.

Who came up with the name, the Spinning Whips?

JW: There were six of us, and there are names I came up with that I liked better. And there were some names where some of us were like, I love that, (or) no, I hate it. Spinning Whips is a name that nobody was really like, that’s awesome! It was the name where six people said, that’s a good name.

I love the name. I remember it. . . There are five of you in the band now. Who did you find first? Nate [Pierce, bassist] and Scott [Minnich, guitarist]?

JW: No, there were actually a different bass player and guitarist before Nate and Scott. Nate and Scott have pretty much been there from beginning. It was Colin [Faddis] and I that were the first two that started playing together and the other guitarist and bass player, and then we found Amanda [Schmahl] on keyboards – she’s no longer in the band. She had a baby and she’s doing fine, she’s having fun being a mom.

Jordan West @ the Comet – November 2010 – photo by Dagmar

I’m always looking at the relationship between guitarists. How do the three of you work together?

JW: What’s been really cool is that they kind of got each other in the band. First I was looking for a guitarist and so I sent an email out to all these bands that I knew. Scott, who’s in the Magic Mirrors, said I don’t know any guitarists right now but I know a great bass player who’s looking for a band. I was like, sorry, I don’t need a bass player. The next week our bass player quit so I was like, what’s the name of that bass player again? And that was Nate. He fit in perfectly. I had about four or five songs already written and Nate came along and learned them really quick. Colin and I loved him from the beginning. And Nate told Scott, thank you for referring me to this band, it’s great and it’s going really well and I like the songs, and Jordan’s a cool guy . . . Scott realized that everybody else in the Magic Mirrors was also in another band except him. So he thought he’d check it out. What Scott really loved about it is that he writes the music for the Magic Mirrors, and so this band he’s totally free from songwriting obligations. He gets to show up and play, so it’s a fun outlet for him. He loves playing guitar. I’ve been meaning to have a band where it’s my focus, where I know I’m not going to quit the band. I loved Iceage Cobra. It was awesome, but we were a three-piece and the other two guys quit and I was left there helpless. This time it was like, this is my band, I know I’m not going to quit, therefore I need to write all the music, I’ve got to be making the main decisions. I’ve been writing all the music and Nate and Scott write their parts to go with it. They still have creativity and add a lot to it.

So you’re pretty much writing everything?

JW: Yeah, it’s fun. New ideas were always really slow going for me, but with this band for some reason there’s just a plethora of ideas. We have an album’s worth of ideas. I have a chalkboard downstairs in our practice space with about seventeen more song ideas that need to be hashed out.

What are some bands you’ve liked seeing live?

JW: I love being a parent [West and his wife Sarah, the band’s booker, have two beautiful daughters], but I don’t get to see too many bands – lately. I just discover a lot of new music online and in the record store. Bands I’ve seen that influence me? There’s a band from Milwaukee called Call Me Lightning that’s amazing. They’re one of my favorite current bands. Another band that I absolutely love is from Minneapolis and they’re called the Slats. They’ve probably been around for ten years. They are absolutely teeming with originality. It’s so hard to say there are any truly original ideas still out there, but the Slats do it. I describe it to people that they sound like Devo, Guided by Voices and Beastie Boys. And if that sounds original, then it is. [For] live showmanship there’s a band from Detroit called Friends of Dennis Wilson. Their singer is an absolute showman to the bone. Monotonix. Everybody in Seattle already knows about that. People told me their show is amazing – the music not so good – I actually loved the music.

I agree. I listened to the music before I saw them and liked it. . . What kind of shows did you see while growing up?

JW: I mainly started going to the local shows when I was in junior high and high school. What little music scene Spokane had, it was not so much local bands that were really catching my eye. It was small, from out of town shows. There was a Seattle band called Ambitious Career Woman that would play in Spokane a lot, and I loved them. They’re still one of my very favorites. I’ve got their demos. I think the guitar player works at Sonic Boom now. They always had the greatest song titles ever – like “Nuclear Winter Olympics”.

What are some highlights for the Spinning Whips so far?

JW: So far, hearing some of the ideas. We’ve got a couple new songs we’ve just written. We got to play them live for the first time at the 2 Bit a couple weeks ago. Hearing the progression in song quality has been awesome. Not running around onstage – just playing a song and seeing a smile from ear to ear on everybody’s face. That was a good feeling. The addition of Kaitlin [Morrison] to the band – she started playing keys the day she joined the band. She primarily plays flute. She’s kind of a Jill of all trades member of the band. It’s been great hearing a lot of people say it’s a huge, full sound. Iceage Cobra was great, but this is an even bigger sound.

Have you had any serious injuries onstage?

JW: The one that comes to mind immediately, it wasn’t so much during the show but loading into a show. One night we were playing an instore at Bop Street Records in Ballard and playing at the Funhouse later that night. I dropped my amplifier on my foot and it landed with the metal piece that protects the corner straight down on my big toe of my left foot. That was so bad. Basically I broke my toe and had to play two shows, hopping on one foot. I’ve been bruised and bloodied but no real serious injury. The first time we ever played with Thee Emergency was at Bop Street Records. We were still living in Spokane but playing in Seattle. I had just ripped my index finger really bad on my guitar strings and then started squirting the blood all over my face. That was their first impression of Iceage Cobra.

A couple bands I know you like are Queen and Captain Beefheart. What about them do you like?

JW: Firstly Queen – Brian May is my favorite guitar player of all time. When you talk about guitar solos people think Jimi Hendri, Jimmy Page or Van Halen, and it always sounds like when it’s time for the guitar solo in the song it’s just a chance for them to showboat. If you listen to every single guitar solo that Brian May ever plays, he’s thinking about what’s going to make the song better. That’s amazing. Also their creativity in the recording studio – it can sound like there’s an amazing choir in some their choruses. How is it that loud? It’s because you hear them not just singing the chorus over and over. It’s not a wall of sound thing where they’re doing it, like a Phil Spector thing, all stacked up. Roger, Brian and Freddie are singing the root, the third and the fifth of the chord three times. So you’re hearing nine voices, but they’re singing all three notes of the chord. That’s really creative, and they’re amazing songwriters. Captain Beefheart – I wish he would have gotten more recognition before he passed away last year. He passed away in December. I wish the mainstream would have acknowledged him. He was daring, a risk taker. You hear a lot of his stuff and it sounds absolutely commercial, but for some reason he swipes some mud across it so there’s no way it’s gonna get played on the radio.

interview by Dagmar