Friday, March 21, 2008

The Spacebird Takes Flight - Seventy Spacebird Unreleased Album from 1999

(Marcus Lowe giving us the 'Lakemonster' at the Living Room in 1999)

Here is the unreleased “album” by Seventy Spacebird that we recorded at the Living Room in 1999:
Seventy Spacebird Unreleased Album from 1999

The lineup for the session includes myself on drums and guitar, Marcus Lowe on drums, percussion and I believe some keyboards, Justin McNeight on guitar and bass, Mathis Hunter on drums, guitar and percussion, Rich Morris on keyboards and Ed Rawls on bass. There are no overdubs for this music – it was all created and improvised live in the studio as it happened, with all the noise, rough edges, etc. as part of the package. Here is some background information on Seventy Spacebird to read while you listen to the music:

(Mathis Hunter and the Seventy Spacebird setup during the 1999 recording session - notice the equipment spreads across two rooms with keyboards, drums, and amps everywhere)

Seventy Spacebird was the first band that I played in which relied almost entirely on improvisation. My introduction to playing music in an improvised manner came from the late nights playing music in the movie theater where I worked in the 1990s. My friend Josh Bohannon was great improviser on the guitar and especially keyboard, and we would set up in the theater after closing time (around 1:00 or so), and play whatever we felt and came out of us until dawn. I have no recordings from these sessions, but I remember them being extremely long freak-outs or spacey, droney pieces, in which we would run movies on the screen above us, providing our only source of light for the room, and jam on essentially one piece the entire length of the movie. Many times Mathis Hunter would also join us, and every once in awhile we would have Justin McNeight and Rich Morris (who are both amazingly creative musicians) playing along. After Josh moved back to San Diego in 1997, Rich, Mathis and I started playing at the Good Friday Experiment practice space on Armour Drive, once again from around 1 to 5 or 6 in the morning. As I am usually asleep at that time, playing whatever comes out of you that early in the morning can be a surreal experience, and one in which very interesting and unique things can happen. These jams were so primal and rudimentary, but would have moments of something that for me truly approached transcendence. You forget what time it is, where you are, what you are doing, and just let your body take over playing without any connection to your mind. It was like playing music as a religious experience.

(Outside the Living Room in 1999)

Over time we started honing our skills and making things happen musically on the fly, this eventually led to what I would consider a musical collective that ran from the late 90’s until the mid 00’s under the name Seventy Spacebird. I believe it was Marcus Lowe that came up with the name, as it seemed to describe our music in literal terms, and was also intentionally hilarious. The first incarnation of Seventy Spacebird was myself, Rich Morris, Justin McNeight, Marcus Lowe, Mathis Hunter and Ed Rawls. I would trade off on drums and guitar or percussion with Mathis and Marcus (but always 2 drumsets going), Justin would normally play guitar or bass, Ed on bass or guitar, and Rich on keyboards. This was more or less the improvisational arm of The Good Friday Experiment, and we even played some GFE shows when the situation necessitated it.

Seventy Spacebird played probably less than 10 shows in its lifetime, but they were always an event. Just setting up the equipment took longer than the show itself. We played our first show at the Yin Yang Café in Midtown in 1999 I believe, where we brought so much equipment that we had problems fitting the audience in the room. My favorite memory of that show is Marcus playing a hand drum and dancing around the room like something out of the jungle, completely tweaking the crowd. We played a party at the U-Haul warehouses in the West End with the Flakes (another Atlanta improvisational band), and the bass cabinet died right at the beginning of our set, reducing the entire performance to drums, guitars and keyboards. However, my memory of that show was us playing this amazing drone/dub jam that went on well into the morning. People were literally sleeping on couches in the audience while we played – for us that was the best compliment. We played Album 88 on the air once, which I will include in a later post, as well as a Live at WREK session which I do not have in my recordings, but have heard played on WREK since then. That show is interesting, because I remember driving in my car years afterwards and listening to WREK, and thinking that the drummer in the song was playing just like me, and then realized that it actually was me playing on the radio as a re-broadcast of that session! Also, for that Live at WREK show we used Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies in the performance of our “songs”. Basically, Brian Eno created these small phrases to help inspire his musicians during recording sessions, and we transcribed each of these phrases on separate pieces of paper and put them into a hat, and at the beginning of the songs each of us would pull a new Oblique Strategy out of the hat and let these statements guide our playing for the song. I believe I pulled one like “play everything backwards”, which helped me step outside of my normal habits during the session and really loosen up even though we were playing live on the air. I highly recommend techniques such as this when playing this kind of music. We played the main floor of Eyedrum when it was on Trinity Street (not in the basement), as well as the Caledonia lounge in Athens, and at the Engine Room in Athens during Athfest. For that show, we supplemented the band with Aaron from Ocelot and Craig Dempsey from At the Price of the Union, etc. both on guitar and called it Seventy Spacebird Psychedelic Orchestra. So for that show we had two drumsets, keyboards, bass, and 3 guitars. I have pictures from that show where Aaron, Craig and Justin are all soloing above the 12th frets of their guitars at the same time, which must have sounded awesome.

Eventually, the desire for us to create improvised music channeled its way into Noot d’ Noot, which brings a great deal of magic into that band (some would call it goofer dust), and helps to stretch the music further and create new and interesting songs and sounds to experiment with. Seventy Spacebird was like my music school. I probably learned more about playing music in that band than any other in my life, and had a great time doing it.


  1. any song titles for these?
    hail spacebird! reunion show!

  2. I'm not sure if there were ever song titles. I know track 3 had "Hottentot" on it, which starts a few minutes into the track, and there is also an ambient jam, which we called "Ambient Jam" in Track 3, but nothing official. If we had Marcus Lakemonster in town, I think we should definitely do a Spacebird-type event again.