The West Coast has a reputation for being laid back, a breeding ground for easy going folks happy to roll with the tides. Santa Barbara natives Clean Spill learned the hard way that such patience is an asset when trying to break into the demanding music industry.
Though the musicians are still relatively young, the journey to their debut studio EP, Nothing’s on My Mind, took them a good while longer than they’d hoped.
It all started back when vocalist/guitarist Pat Curren met drummer Charlie Fawcett at the tender age of 10 while participating in surfing competitions. Later high school beach days led Pat to bump into Cameron Crabtree, who joined the jamming pals on guitar. In need of a bassist, a mutual friend put Cam onto Geoff Shea, a local barber who was into the same music as the burgeoning band. “I decided to get a haircut from him and talk to him over the haircut about [playing with us],” Cam recalls. “If he would have farmed the haircut, I wouldn’t have given him the position. But it was a great haircut, so it worked out.”
That was nearly five years ago, and Clean Spill were already dreaming of the Cali rocker lifestyle. In 2014, they recorded an album of demos dubbed Dear, Anger, soon after utilizing Charlie’s connections with surf company Hurley to log their first professional studio time. What was meant to be a jam session turned into their first professionally engineered and mixed EP, 2015’s XO.
Back then, they were generally gunning for a vibe befitting their surfing culture (or, in the case of their barber bassist, boogie boarding). As they continued discovering themselves through more shows -- including playing with Kitten and touring France with Betty the Shark (which featured Pat’s half-sister) -- they realized a desire to turn their raw sound towards indie garage rock. Indebted to the likes of early The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys as much as The Growlers and Allah Las, Clean Spill began refining their style on singles like “Sid”, with its “jangling guitar... perfect for a sunset bonfire” (Consequence of Sound), and the “memorable chords and a semi-psychedelic sound” of “Come Around” (PureVolume).
Simultaneously, the budding band was picking up lessons from tourmates about the hustle and the gear needed to make it. “All these artists were so hard working, knew exactly what it took for sound,” Cam explains. “We didn’t really know much about music gear in general. We’ve played with such a wide variety of bands, we gained such a unique perspective on fans of music, too, in that it was very rewarding to see that people still liked rock music in general.”
After attempting to explore their sonic growth with a producer who took things too far into overproduced pop territory, the group’s then-manager hooked them up with a mainstay of California rock, Hanni El Khatib. They entered Jonny Bell’s Jazzcats Studio with Hanni in the fall of 2016, intent on recording a new single, and were instantly taken by the wealth of vintage gear in the unassuming garage space. Experimenting with equipment they’d never dreamed of and leaning on Hanni and Bell’s expertise, Clean Spill finally began sharpening the sound they were always meant to have. “Hanni’s style has a lot of radical, outrageous noise,” Pat says. “We went a little bit down that way.”
One session turned into many as they worked towards what became Nothing’s on My Mind. Tracks like single “Rolling” may have been one of the first songs Pat and Cam had ever penned years prior, but now it was fully realized with breezy drumming laced through ringing guitar notes to add pep to the heartbreak. “Doctor”, a mid-afternoon haze of toe-tapping bass and bouncy strums, reveals Clean Spill’s lighthearted introspection, using the perspective of Geoff’s dog to reflect on modern consumerism’s superficiality. “Gator Golf” rips with considerate garage chugging, while opener “Far Out!” keeps the band’s original surf-y spirit at the forefront of its thematic paranoia.
Distilling their sound to closer match their stage presence by recording live with largely analog gear, Clean Spill felt they were truly on to something. They finished the EP and then… nothing.
For nearly two years, they pitched the effort to labels and waited for any sort of response. Communication breakdowns left them largely in the dark, wondering who if anyone was even hearing the music they’d so sedulously created. Then, early into a tour with Hanni, Geoff broke his arm, forcing the band to stop their forward momentum. With no record release and no tour, they were stuck.
Years of carefully assimilating knowledge and honing their craft had left the band members unaccustomed to impatience. Being immobile and forced to rely on major labels’ timelines wasn’t sitting right, so they finally decided to take control of their own destiny. Step one was determining to self-release Nothing’s on My Mind on July 27th -- and that day will mark the true beginning of Clean Spill.
At this point, the two-year-old EP is something of a post-graduation high school scrapbook. It’s a look back at the musical education the quartet have received, with the awkward stages cut out so what’s left acts as an audio memento of highlights from a developing band. While not always of their own accord, the band took their time getting here, and that perseverance has led to seven tracks harnessing all the colorful, chilled sounds of these SoCal rockers. But now it’s time to get to work.
“I think this will actually be the start of us hustling,” says an invigorated Cam, noting the band has written multiple albums worth of music in the downtime. “Because we went through all that, we learned so much. Once this comes out we’re going to be on fire. Recording, shows -- everything.