Forged in late summer nights surrounding a dying bonfire at Camp 1538, the Atlanta-based sextet Spirits and the Melchizedek Children began as Jason Elliott’s acoustic rambling. SATMC has since grown to include keyboardist Chris Case (Samadha, Adron, Little Tybee), drummer Bryan Fielden (San Agustin, Oryx and Crake), guitarist Andrew Burnes (San Agustin), bassist Joe McNeill and the newest addition of guitarist Ryan Odom (Iron Jayne, Damon Moon). The band will be releasing a new album titled So Happy, It’s Sad March 4, 2014.
SATMC, or Spirits as both are commonly used abbreviations, first released We Are Here to Save YOU!. Recorded in 2010 with Ed Rawls at The Living Room and mixed by Jason McCullough, it was released in 2011. Afterwards, SATMC membership went through changes including a brief materialization made up of only Elliott’s vocals and guitar alongside keys. This span of controlled burning provided renewed vision and purpose for the project and the current lineup emerged.
Moving from a tumultuous place to a strangely peaceful one, the band ventured forth releasing LOOK!, a single that debuted and embodied this new “spirit”. Recorded by Ryan Peoples (Oryx and Crake), mixed by Jonathan Rhum and mastered by Joel Hatstat, LOOK! was released in 2012 as a split 7” with Atlanta’s Order of the Owl. Continuing to build their Atlanta tribe, SATMC honed their sound and received praise from Creative Loafing Music Editor Chad Radford, who wrote of the band as “[creating] a sparse, ghostly, art-folk din that moves from a 4 a.m. whisper of distant, lonely strumming and moaning to a roar of tape hiss.”
So Happy, It’s Sad was recorded at Benjamin Price’s Studilaroche, where Ben engineered and produced the collection, boasts a new and boldly refined, yet deeply primal and organic sound from the group. So Happy, It’s Sad bears the weight of life in all of its trials, tribulations, and wonder, but undeniably imbues a feeling of completeness and unity. Evolving from crackling static into sonorous melody and back again, SATMC has a melodic sensibility woven into the chaotic fabric of their haunting arrangements.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Elliott to chat about the record. This is what he told us about it.
When did you begin writing the material for So Happy, It’s Sad?
I started writing the majority of the material shortly after our 7-inch split “Look!” we did with fellow mates, Order of the Owl.. I knew that that song was a bit of a gateway to a newer and more mature sound we all wanted and had developed. However, “Lullabies For War” was written well before we released our first album We Are Here To Save YOU!. I had recorded the main melody with guitar and vocals on a simple handheld recorder. Once I felt like it was time to revisit the song with the new members of Spirits, it just worked a lot better. I always knew that that the song would be something bigger than how it originally started, and wanted it to open up an album someday. I’m really happy with what it’s become!
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
“Land Tied”, for sure. I really wanted to create a sense of space and loneliness though out the song, but uplifting. I’ve always admired music that has patience, and offers a sense of “loudness” even though it’s super quiet and soft. Adding hidden head phone treats, is all about deliberate finite details. There has to be a purpose to it all. Our engineer, Ben Price, gets that. He was able to capture what I was asking, and take what We were doing and really help us make it into something panoramic.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Song Bird’s Grave!” Writing to a Slow Burn is really what we love..so when I presented “Song Bird’s Grave” to Bryan, first things first, let’s start with a slow song. As Bryan started writing a drum part, it just got progressively faster. We recorded a simple demo of it, with just the two of us and listened back..without knowing it, I had the tape speed turned up. Hearing it play back faster was a no brainier. So Bryan and I presented it to the band as both versions, slow and fast, and we decided on the more up beat tempo. It just had more of a 4 to floor vibe to it…as we all started playing it live, all we heard from people was “NEVER UNDER ESTIMATE 4 TO THE FLOOR” And we agree!
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Yes we do!!! We are very fortunate to live in such a musically talented city, such as Atlanta. Knowing beforehand that I wanted to have pieces of our friends though out the record. We had MLny Parsonz (Royal Thunder) contribute vocals, Matt Jarrard (Oryx and Crake, Book Club) play Cello and Space Echo, Ryan Gregory (Christ, Lord) play Viola and Violin, and Taylor Mummford played Trombone. Like I said, we are extremely lucky to have these beautiful people share their talents. So Happy, It’s Sad wouldn’t be what it is today without them, and for that we are very grateful.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
Ben Price at his studio Studilaroche. Ben really figured what we needed and wanted very quickly. And that is very important to us. I can’t stand going into X studio and working with Y producer and making Z product. This shit means a lot to us, so we want someone that feels the same way. Ben offered, not only his extreme and undivided attention to detail, but also a ”be who you are” environment for us. When the rapport with the producer and the musician is close, it’s easy to suggest and make decisions without hesitation. The trust of each other’s vision is clear. Ben also has the same taste in music that we do. We were constantly listening to records after all day sessions together. Feeling excited about sharing new music with each other and hearing details that we both thought were the hi-light of the track being played.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
The entire album is essentially three parts. It starts out with the “past” tracks- “Lullabies For War”, “Song Bird’s Grave”, and “Land Tied”. Then the “present” tracks- “Throw Me To My Knees”, “Lost and Found” and “So Happy, It’s Sad”. Finally, closing with the “future” tracks- “Copper Feather” and “Past, Present Future”. In general, the song “Past, Present, Future” is a recap of the entire album as well, with its three distinct parts. The future is always crazy and undetermined, but always exciting!
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We have been playing these songs live for a minute now. We like to get peoples’ reaction for things as soon as we feel a certain song is done being written. For example, a few weeks ago we played a brand new track that we had just finished writing earlier that day, live. We had a very exciting response! As time plays on, we also find new ways to play things, adding little parts to existing parts. Our first album, We Are Here To Save YOU! is almost entirely different with new members and new attitudes. Our music constantly evolves into something better. It’s important to us to keep things interesting for us.
(Visit the band here: https://www.facebook.com/Spirits.and.the.Melchizedek.Children.)