As far as I know, I have the very proud distinction of being the very first North American to review “Wired to Earth,” the first release from the Tin Spirits. Greg Spawton had recommended it as a unique form of guitar prog, and I ordered it immediately. That Dave Gregory played on it didn’t hurt my decision, either. I had just written something about Alex Lifeson, Matt Stevens, and Dave Gregory being among my all-time favorite guitarists, and I was certainly elated to have more proof of the truth of this. So, yeah, I’m proud to have reviewed Wired to Earth immediately upon its release. It grabbed me from the moment I first heard it. And, as my wife can verify, I pretty much listen to it all of the time, especially when The Birzers are on the road. Which is quite often. And, because of some very personal family history, the fourth track on the album, “Broken,” means as much to me as any song. If you’re not religious, forgive me–but I can’t help but thank God for the health of Penny. You’ll see why in the interview.
When I heard that “Scorch” (forthcoming, September 15, from Esoteric Records) would be the second release from the Tin Spirits, I put away my very shy nature [for those of you who know me, you’re laughing] and ask Mark Kilminster about the album. Not surprisingly–after all, he’s an incredibly nice guy–he responded with enthusiasm. So, wonderful, say I! Thank you, Mark.
Progarchy: Mark, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. We know you have to be incredibly busy, and we’re honored [honoured for our English readers!] you’d spend some time with us. About half of our readership is North American, and, despite my best efforts, Tin Spirits is still not as well known on this side of the Atlantic as it should be. For our benefit, would you mind giving a bit of history of the band? How it came together? How you knew and recruited Dave Gregory? Where the name comes from?
Mark: No problem Brad, the honour is all mine. I’ll attempt the short version! Dan, Doug and I had been in a functioning band together since 2006, playing standard rock covers. Dan was already friends with Dave through Dan’s GigRig company (amazing guitar pedal switching systems) and through a bit of superfan stalking (sorry Dan!).
Our first meeting with the four of us came about when Dan wanted to create an “Amp Shootout” video to demonstrate the different tonal capabilities of different amps. He asked Doug and me to play drums and bass respectively in the video and as a long shot, he asked Dave if he’d like to take part, too. Much to our surprise and excitement, Dave happily agreed, and we spent the day jamming in a studio. It was clear to all that the four of us made a pretty decent racket so Dan suggested asking Dave if he would be interested in joining us to create a new band, initially playing covers we would normally not be able or allowed to play. Dave happily agreed, and Tin Spirits was born.
With regards to the name, it’s actually one of the hardest things to come up with. That and album titles. We spent weeks bouncing name ideas backwards and forwards via email. If no-one replies, you know it’s a duffer! Then, all of a sudden, Dave just turned up at rehearsal one day and said “What about Tin Spirits?” and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Incidentally, exactly the same thing happened with the album titles, “Wired To Earth” and “Scorch.”
Progarchy: Youtube is full of videos of the Tin Spirits covering great rock and prog songs. You cover XTC (naturally), Rush, Steely Dan, Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about this? Why these, and how much did they influence the style of original Tin Spirits music?
Mark: Well, the initial idea was “let’s play the songs we love and have always wanted to play but couldn’t.” Mainly because if you play Roundabout at a wedding, you won’t get paid! [The interviewer is laughing very, very hard at this—ed.] So we each went away and created a “dream setlist,” and it became clear very quickly that we were all big prog fans. So once we’d gone through everyone’s list and picked the ones we all agreed on, that’s what we ended up with.
We also covered Radiohead, Frank Zappa, Free, and Jellyfish to name a few. After we’d done a few local gigs we decided to have a go at writing our own stuff and see how far it went. That’s basically what “Wired To Earth” became, an experiment to see if we could write songs as a band. There was no agenda as far as whether it should be prog or rock or whatever, but I guess because we all have a penchant for that genre, “Wired to Earth” naturally leans towards it (without keyboards).
Progarchy: In the end, you chose to cover a Genesis song for “Wired to Earth.” Was this a hard pick?
Mark: In hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have included a cover but as we’d spent such a long time rehearsing the songs, we thought it would be worthwhile sticking one in. I think we chose “Back in NYC” as it was the one we could knock out fairly quickly.
Progarchy: Mark, as you know, my favorite [again, favourite for our English readers!] song on the first album is “Broken.” The lyrics are much more than lyrics. They really reach toward poetry. Can you give us the background to that song?
Mark: Thank you very much Brad.
It was the last song written for “Wired To Earth” and nearly didn’t make it, to be honest.
We had a deadline of early March 2011 to finish the album and were still working on it up to the Christmas 2010 break. We recorded a rough demo without vocals so I could work on the lyrics over the holidays.
My wife was pregnant at the time so the lyrics were initially about my second chance in life, essentially going from being single at 32 to having a family at 35. She was due in May 2011, so the album would be all done by then. However, on 6th Feb our daughter was born 14 weeks premature, weighing just 785 grams [1.73lbs.] and everything turned upside down.
As I remember it, the lyrics were written around the end of February and convey what we were going through at the time. It was a 50-mile round trip to the hospital each day, hoping our little girl was doing ok. So the song was recorded right up to the wire and, in fact, Dan and Dave recorded the twin guitar parts in a freezing, converted church hall one night until 3AM in order to meet the deadline.
Penny is now 3, by the way, and you’d never know to look at her what a tough start to life she had.
Progarchy: We’re in the middle of a glorious moment for prog and for rock—despite what the doomsayers claim. How do you see the Tin Spirits? That is, when someone is looking back at 2014, twenty years from now, how do you want the Tin Spirits to be placed and remembered?
Mark: You know what? It would just be nice to be remembered. There is so much new music out there these days that it’s very difficult to hold anyone’s attention before they move on. I’m as guilty as anyone of that. Ooh, great album. Next! It would be great to think that in 20 years, someone will see a Tin Spirits album in their collection and think “Ah, I think I’ll listen to that today.”
The Tin Spirits are: Mark Kilminster (vocals; bass); Dave Gregory (guitar); Daniel Steinhardt (guitar; vocals); and Doug Mussard (drums; vocals). “Scorch” is produced by Tin Spirits and Mitch Keen; mixed by Paul Stacey (Oasis).
The tracks for “Scorch”: Carnivore; Summer Now; Old Hands; Binary Man; Little Eyes; Wrapped And Tied; She Moves Among Us; Garden State.
Progarchy will let you know as soon as it’s available for preorder. Or, of course, go straight to the official website: http://tinspirits.co.uk
You can order “Wired to Earth” from amazon.com and other outlets, including directly from the record company: http://www.cherryred.co.uk/esoteric-exd.asp?id=3598. Please do. Not only do I give the Tin Spirits my highest recommendation in 2014, but I think I’ll still be promoting them in 2034, should I still be wired to this earth.
3 thoughts on “A Pretty Decent Racket: An Interview with Mark Kilminster of Tin Spirits”
Sounds good, Brad. I’ll have to check them out. I love the idea of two guitars–Allman Bros. meets prog? 🙂
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Brian, thanks for replying! No doubt. Elsewhere, I’ve said exactly that! Allman Brothers if British and fully prog!
This is better than a prog Allman brothers, it’s sheer dual guitar genius – love this band. Check out scorched !! http://wp.me/p273TC-gH being the latest blog post from pureambient.com’s dave stafford, this is a discussion about ex-XTC guitarist Dave Gregory, and his new band, “Tin Spirits” – it’s a combination review of “Scorch”, the band’s second album, released just a few days ago, and, a potted history of XTC (and how Dave Gregory worked through that experience) only to come out on the other side as a profoundly brilliant player, and “Tin Spirits” has given Dave the showcase he needs for his amazing talent – a great new band, with a great new second album – Scorch.