Interview: Boots With Spurs

Boots With Spurs really are quite fantastic, but it wasn’t until we had a chance to chat to them that we realised how fantastical they are as well. Their debut album is a brilliant piece of work, seemingly concocted out of a recipe of 30 years worth of science fiction films and The Mars Volta. You can read a review of that here. As the band sat in smoking jackets drinking a bottle of wine they found at one in the afternoon, we spoke to them about pretty much everything. Warning: the following transcript is not for the faint of heart.

The Only Thing I Know For Sure: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time out to chat, and thanks for the album as well, it was really good.
Clay Bail (Guitars): Thanks for the awesome review.
TOTIKFS: Yeah, I do apologise for making it sound as if you lot were a bunch of mental cases, starting it off with mentioning the asylum!
CB: We couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I think we all decided that it was a pretty alright thing. We can be mental cases.
David Finch (Bass): That’s why we’re wearing smoking jackets!
TOTIKFS: At one in the afternoon! I really enjoyed it; I thought it was really refreshing. Normally when you get sent unsolicited stuff like that and you listen to it, it’s like some 14 year old kid sitting in his bedroom crying with an acoustic guitar and having a wank at the same time.
CB: We all do that to. We don’t record it though!
TOTIKFS: I’ll start by asking a massive question – how did the band form, and why?
CB: Well that was the two of us (Matt Gonzalez, drums). We’d been around eachother for a while and we were just hanging out one night. We’d never really made music together at all.
Matt Gonzalez (Drums): We weren’t even friends!
CB: [Laughs] Yeah. His roommate plays in a band with my roommate. And so, we just started messing around on an acoustic guitar and we decided it sounded cool, which is kinda funny because you wouldn’t guess it listening to our music. So the two of us started hanging around in my basement and we started composing music that was just for us to have fun playing it. It was just going to be guitar and drums and then after we got into the studio we decided we should fill it out a bit. We took three months off and Matt wrote some lyrics, I wrote some basslines and we got our good buddy Vince from High School to sing for us.

TOTIKFS: So why did you choose the name Boots With Spurs?
CB: It really amounted to us sitting in a room writing down all of the cool words we could think of. Then we decided that Boots With Spurs best fit what we were going for. We’d already written ‘These Boots Were Made For Moonwalking’ and we’d just started ‘The Sun Never Sets On Andy Griffith’ so I think we were in that zone and it seemed appropriate.
TOTIKFS: Are you all big Western fans?
CB: Absolutely.
MG: I think the main dichotomy is that I am the band’s resident Native American. Clay is the band’s cowboy, and when the two of us were in the lab writing everything out that’s how everything panned out. We’re huge fans of cowboys vs Indians.
DF: And astronauts!
CB: I’m a big fan of all the scores for all of the Leone, Eastwood movies. Those definitely had some inspiration. On ‘The Sun Never Sets On Andy Griffith’ you can hear a little bit of that in the melodies, particularly the intro to the whole record I think is a pretty good homage to that.

TOTIKFS: What were your initial inspirations when you were setting out? Who did you want to be like?
MG: We wrote ‘These Boots Are Made For Moonwalking’ first, and at that time I was really under the influence of Jon Theodore from The Mars Volta. His drumming took me to new heights I think; I started studying a lot of his drum parts, a lot of the grooves and a lot of the wacky time signatures they did but by the time we were wrapping up ‘These Boots’ we were reaching out to all different types of places. I started getting a lot more into Frank Zappa and The Mahavishnu Orchestra and a lot more jazz-fusion groups that we tried to incorporate into this post-punk bubble. When people ask us what we sound like, most often we’ll say psychedelic post-punk.
TOTIKFS: That really came through; the whole Mars Volta thing was an obvious influence.
MG: The stuff that we’re working on now for future recordings…I mean we’ve moved on a lot since then already. So you can expect some very different sounding stuff to come out from us on our next recording.
CB: If you take our record and reverse the order of it so that ‘These Boots Are Made For Moonwalking’ is first, you’ll see a lot more pop structure in that; there’s a lot more of us using recurring themes and composing one big half-hour piece. Whereas ‘The Sun Never Sets On Andy Griffith’ we ended up doing it like it was a movie, where every part is a different scene. It jumps around a whole lot and the parts don’t necessarily match up one next to the other if you were to put the tracks out of order. We started to go into different styles and write some parts that just sounded like nothing that we’d written before, and we’re still doing that now.

TOTIKFS: Has music been something that you’ve been doing for a while?
MG: Yeah. I remember I got my first drum kit when I was 14 years old.
Vince DeSantiago (Vocals): Me, Clay and Matt all went to High School together and we all went to the Chicago Academy for the Arts. Clay and Matt were both in the music department and I was in the musical theatre department, so I sang everyday for four years straight and Matt played drums and Clay played guitar.
CB: That amounted to about six hours a day of practice while we were there.
MG: I don’t like to admit that though. Because, if anyone asks me how many hours I’ve practiced in high school and they hear six hours a day, they would be like ‘why the hell aren’t you better?’ Now if I practiced for six hours a day I’d probably be a very disgusting drummer!
CB: It’s a matter of what we were playing to I think. I’d been playing guitar since I was six years old. I did years of classical training before I ever picked up an electric guitar. I started playing electric when I was twelve and then got into Kiss and AC/DC and stuff like that. That would turn into Led Zeppelin and it just kinda grew from there. We’ve been practicing for years but we’ve been dabbling in different styles. Matt played punk rock drums for…forever!
DF: I think this is the first time we’ve ever encountered this type of musical experience and performance. I’ve never played in a band like this, and we’ve all played in many bands prior.

TOTIKFS: You’re still a young band at the moment. How long have you been at it?
MG: We’ve played two shows so far. [Laughs]. We’re brand new but we’ve already got a lot of attention from the people who have come to our shows. You can tell that it’s going to be a very cult-like atmosphere coming to a Boots With Spurs show. We want everyone to dress up like Indians, and instead of clapping do Indian calls.
TOTIKFS: You could have half the people come as cowboys and half come as Indians, and instead of a wall of death you could have a wall of cowboys and Indians attacking eachother.
MG: At our first show, I put on the invite that I sent out to everybody, that if they showed up dressed as an astronaut I’d make sure they got in for free. But nobody came dressed as an astronaut!

TOTIKFS: Let’s talk about the album for a bit. Put it in your own words – what is the whole thing all about?
CB: It’s a fusion of Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The concept is that there’s this one human being out in space by himself, driven a little bit mad by solitude and he sees all sorts of things on the way that no human being has ever seen before. So, whilst he’s cooped up, he’s also being let out of the basic human lifestyle and by the time he reaches the final destination ‘Goldilocks’ which is…y’know, the porridge isn’t too cold, it isn’t too hot, he finds the planet that’s right for humans, a place that could support human life. Then he thinks ‘what do I do from here? I’ve found this pristine planet, and I could save the human race, bring them here and we could expand and move to new frontiers or I could preserve the sanctity of this planet that I’ve just found’. And that’s the dual ending thing we’ve got at the end of the record. Ending A, it’s supposed to be the arrival of all the world’s ships to colonise the planet which is now essentially fucked. Then on ending B he decides that he doesn’t want to let the rest of the human race know about it, and it’s him just releasing himself out of the ship to float aimlessly.
MG: We all wrote lyrics, but I think especially on ‘The Sun Never Sets’ I wrote the majority of them and then because of that I was the one who had to set the story out scene by scene with the lyrics I wrote. Basically, the major themes of Andy Griffith are…what I think of it as is the story of the boomerang. What goes around comes around; it’s this story of redemption, it’s this story of second chances and it’s this story of finding things within this world that you didn’t think existed and using them to play the part of your life.
CB: We kinda wrote the stories as we went. It was something that right off the bat we got about through ‘Space Heater’ and then we said ‘what’s that song about?’. We started talking about ideas for what it would be setting up for the rest of the record. Once we’d sorted out the basic story there, we just built on it as we wrote the music. Every track was a new section, a new scene, and by the time we got to Andy Griffith it was just ‘ok, what happens next’ or ‘hey, I have this part’ and we’d practise it and then say ‘what scene in the story was that?’ So we just wrote it as we wrote the music and the stories changed over time from what they started out as. We’d write a new part and then that music would inspire us to take a completely new turn with the plot. ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ was always going to be a sort of sci-fi-esque thing.
MG: The way I could probably quickest sum up the plot of ‘These Boots’ is that it is the story of imperialism in outer space. It’s written much in the same vein as Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now. It’s set up with the same structure: this man is on his imperialist voyage, stopping at these hubs on his way, until he gets to the place where he finally realises what he’s supposed to do there, and by the time he does his prerogative has changed along the way.
TOTIKFS: I think a lot of people will read this and not know whether you guys are absolutely barmy or complete geniuses!
MG: We wanted to avoid the whole pop structure thing from the beginning. It’s just so dull to me. You have your intro, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, out. I’m done with that; I think musicians can start being more creative than the same thing every time.  There are a lot of bands who are now and have been doing things similar to what we’re doing, and that’s just the way I prefer to listen to a record. I want to put a record in and listen to it from start to end.
DF: I think it’s almost a difference of sitting down and reading a good novel or reading a book of short stories. Either approach can be done, and be very meaningful, but I think I enjoy an entire album as opposed to flicking track from track.
CB: I like when albums avoid silence whenever possible, unless it’s to achieve an effect. There’s an interview with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez that I read: he said ‘I’ve just never liked hearing pauses between songs – you put on a record and it gives you two minutes of energy and then cuts you off, starts you over and then cuts you off, rather than just taking you for this long ride’. Rather than a whole bunch of different paintings, it’s a series of paintings that will tell a story together.
TOTIKFS: Will there be any extensions to the stories?
MB: ‘The Sun Never Sets’ is only the first part of this story. Andy Griffith has a lot more to do before his story is over.

TOTIKFS: It’s pretty all over the place what you do. What’s the music scene like in Chicago?
CB: There are some good venues for sure. It’s hard to get people to come out in Chicago it seems. People are more into going out to bars with jukeboxes than bars with bands I think.
MG: I left Chicago, and went to Florida for three months around this time last year. I started noticing that the thing with Chicago is, when you have your childhood friends here and you leave then you come back, and you see that everybody is still up to the same shit that they were doing 20 years ago, it’s a bit disconcerting. People in this town aren’t ready to move on. I’ll try to phrase this without sounding conceited but we’re doing something musically that people in Chicago aren’t willing to try. People in Chicago want to hear punk rock, and metal and pop music, and there are great blues bars but people aren’t ready to elevate music here. Everybody just wants to do the same thing they’ve been doing, forever. It’s a little bit annoying.
CB: There are some fantastic blues and jazz musicians in Chicago for sure, but as far as the rock scene goes I think stylistically it’s a little bit limited.
DF: I think moreso, there are a lot of great acts that come through Chicago. Everybody wants to play Chicago because once you have the following I think everybody follows very closely. Trying something different doesn’t often happen with bands that come out of Chicago.
CB: Yeah, it’s a huge place for big bands that are touring. We have some enormous venues here, and the Rolling Stones come through and they’ll play three nights sold out. People are going out to concerts but there’s not that much local attention.

TOTIKFS: As a band you obviously want to grow your audience and succeed. But does the nature of the music industry contradict your music style in some respects?
DF: Absolutely. If we’re going to compete with any other original pieces that are being compiled, we have to be a whole three steps ahead of them. I think we’re a very diverse group of individuals with different influences.
CB: If the four of us were to write down individually which bands influenced us the most we’d have a page of a thousand bands.
DF: It would be comparable to the Rolling Stone’s top 500 articles. We try and know and understand everything that has come before us so that we know where to take things to the next level.
CB: The fact that we’ve been taking Latin lessons is us just trying to take that a little bit farther and learn some better communications skills, because I think they’ve got some of the best communication skills out there musically.
DF: I think communication verbally is something as well that we’re all getting together with. We like to have a good time and joke around, but we’re also working really hard to be able to communicate with one another and get our ideas down without having any arguments or taking anything personally.
CB: We bicker like a 40 year old married couple but we love eachother! But that’s what happens when you’re writing music with eachother for a whole year.
MG: Think of it as if me and Clay were locked into a room for four months with only eachother.
CB: Practising every day with one other person, you learn to have productive bickering!

TOTIKFS: Just to close off, try to explain your sound to an alien visitor who would have never heard of you guys.
DF: I think we feel that the aliens already know what we’re talking about! I think we could play giant arenas in outer space whilst no-one here would be following us.
MG: We’re trying to make Boots With Spurs the most fun you’ll ever have at a rock show. You can come out, you can dress up, and it’ll be like Halloween. Everyone’s hootin’ and hollerin’, jumping around, participating with us. It’s a dual thing going on: we’re up there playing for you, but we need you to come out and have the most fun you’ve ever had.
VD: As the audience relies on us to entertain them, we rely on the audience to entertain us as well.
DF: We want the theatre to not just be us on stage performing; we want the entire theatre to be a part of the show. Everybody that stepped in there is a supporting role in the cast.

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