Artist Spotlight: Spirit of the Stairs
Formed nearly a decade ago in Wichita, Spirit of the Stairs has consistently evolved in unexpected but always fascinating ways. From its earliest days as a guitarless trio to its current incarnation as a guitar-heavy quintet, the all-instrumental ensemble has never disappointed.
Through a series of albums, beginning with 2004’s The Shape of Hope to the brand new Lambo Doors the group has consistently delivered albums that are each unique in character while remaining true to the unit’s musical originsa sound that brings together the weight of heavy rock, the atmospheric touches of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd, and the emotionally-charged qualities of fellow instrumental rock bands such as Mono and Explosions in the Sky.
Founded by bassists Jeremy Bennett and Josh Wilson plus drummer Aaron Fanning, the trio became a mainstay at Wichita’s Shamrock Lounge, performing a Monday night residency and frequently gigging with Solagget, a band that featured Fanning’s twin brother Sean on bass, and which also focused solely on instrumentals.
Spirit of the Stairs quickly gained a loyal following and its live shows quickly became must-see events. Guitarist Torin Andersen soon entered the picture, adding textural guitar lines to the dynamic bass-driven sound. Early live favorites included “Mantha,” “Nathan,” and “Imaginary Friends Are Better Than Imaginary Enemies.” By the time the band recorded 2005’s The Shape of Hope, Fanning had left for the drum chair in Solagget and was replaced by Kyle Hupp.
In 2006 Andersen was tapped to join a new project featuring drummer Kody Ramsey and Matthew Wiseman (both Ricky Fitts), plus guitarist Zack Roach (The Empress) and Georgia Sutton (later Andersen, formerly of This Great October). The result was You’ll Be A Torso (YBAT), a band that had a wide emotional palette to draw from thanks in no small part to Georgia Andersen’s keyboards and the new Andersen-Roach guitar duo. Wiseman eventually left the band to form Polar Opposite Bear.
Wilson joined YBAT for a brief tenure but before long the two bands had collapsed into a new lineup of Spirit of the Stairs. Bennett left before the recording of 2008’s Episodes and Georgia Andersen contributed keyboards to the record, which drew on the repertoire of both bands. The result was an exiting fusion that brought the Spirit of the Stairs sound into a new and bold dimension via songs such as “Jum Bennett Ramsey,” “Your Family Is Next,” and “Go Hang Asalami.”
With that record complete the band embarked on writing some of its most ambitious material to date, including the 15-minute-plus “Epoch,” a track that took listeners through a variety of moods and tonal colors and also examined the group’s disparate influences and evolution. Also included in that batch of new tunes was the piece that would become “Colemanation,” named after the band had taped an episode of Wichita Sessions for KPTS Channel 8 and KMUW. The resulting DVD captures the band playing at the abandoned Coleman factory site in Wichita on a late September afternoon in 2009.
The resulting album, Domesticated arrived in 2010 and was recorded by Paul Anop, Roach’s former bandmate in The Empress. Anop add some guitar lines in the studio and, by the time the record came out in 2010, he was in the ranks as a fulltime member.
Within a year, Wilson had left in order to relocate to Texas and was replaced by Ben Wells. Ramsey left around the time work began on the Domesticated‘s follow-up, Lambo Doors began, leaving Hupp once more as the sole drummer in the band.
Lambo Doors marks the debut of Wells as a recording member of the band and suggests that as the band moves closer to its 10-year-anniversary, it’s only begun to unravel its musical possibilities.
Here’s a quick look at ten of the band’s best songs to date:
1. “Goodbye Ol’ Crumbles” (The Shape of Hope): Named after a tooth a dentist forcibly separated from guitarist Torin Andersen, it remains one of the band’s most beautiful from its early period.
2. “This Song Smells Like You” (The Shape of Hope): An early live favorite, it also features some of Andersen’s best guitar work on the debut album.
3. “King of Cats” (Spirit of the Stairs): The stomping, aggressive version of Spirit of the Stairs marked the last time its twin-bass attack would be recorded but the Wilson-Bennett teams shines throughout.
4. “Condiment Dog” (Episodes): A song that began life as “Weimereiner Worcestshire,” it’s nearly nine minutes of epic intensity from the sextet version of the band. It’s also a fine example of the Roach-Andersen guitar duo.
5. “Your Family Is Next” (Episodes): Ten full minutes of brooding and building instrumental mayhem. A performance during theWichita Sessions was especially powerful.
6. “Epoch” (Domesticated): If one wanted to understand Spirit of the Stairs from the beginning to 2010, this is the perfect example. Dual drums, loads of heavy guitar, and passages that move from pastoral to heavy without flinching.
7. “Doq Doq Doq” (Domesticated): It’s hard to isolate tracks fromDomesticated as stand outs because the record works seamlessly but this is a long-time fan favorite and will certainly do.
8. “Delaware” (Domesticated): A deep cut but easily one of the best from SotS circa 2010.
9. “Cobbler” (Lambo Doors): The second cut in from the band’s fifth release, it’s one that exploits all of the current lineups strengths.
10. “Computer Falcon” (Lambo Doors): Here the band does the unthinkable and captures a studio version of a tune that is as powerful as the live performances of this epic number.