Burning Down the House

The Spinto Band sparks a buzz brush-fire

At a time when Modest Mouse has a song in the Top 40 and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sells out whole tours in mere minutes, it's clear that indie-rock singers with odd vocal inflections are increasingly welcome in the mainstream. As far as Philly-based bands with David Byrne- worshipping frontmen go, though, CYHSY may be getting all the notoriety, but a little-known sextet of pranksters called the Spinto Band deserves some applause of its own.

The Spinto Band's bio details an elaborate (bullshit) yarn behind the group's name, but the real story is the music, which is catchy, bouncy, and undeniably fun. Spinning a pleasant web between the pillars of '60s pop and '90s lo-fi, the Spinto sound combines Nick Krill's Byrne-meets-Malkmus vocals with a hint of Kink-y handclaps, a dash of Flaming Lips quirk, and some strategically placed kazoos.

The interest in Spinto was kindled by much-trafficked blogger Ultragrrrl (real name: Sarah Lewitinn), who'd heard the band's first single, "Oh Mandy." Lewitinn, who proclaims the song "possibly one of the sweetest and catchiest songs I've ever heard," did a small pressing of the track on her Stolen Transmission label. Within a few months the band had inked a deal with Bar/None to release a full-length. Spinto's 10-track debut, Nice and Nicely Done, caught on with college radio thanks to its infectious melodies, weirdo instrumentation (mandolins, theremins, xylophones, Atari sound effects), and idiosyncratic lyrics like "Japan is an island way across the sea/ I've never been there but I've heard of the scenery/ They assimilate the cultures to make their stuff/ And Cornelius is a pop star" ("Japan Is an Island").

Since the album's release last summer, the band's sold-out shows have proved its burgeoning popularity -- especially the U.K. stints. "We'd show up in Nottingham or Bristol and sell out a venue," says Krill, who at 23 speaks with unselfconscious modesty. "It was a small venue, but still it was like, 'Why do people in Bristol, England, even know about us?'"

For that Krill can thank the British press, which threw around phrases like "stone-cold classic" and "one of America's best new bands." Meanwhile, important people in Sheffield, England, were becoming Spinto fans too. Scouting support acts for their U.S. tour, the Arctic Monkeys, another buzz band du jour -- and the U.K. altrock group Chris Martin called the "greatest band in the world" -- tapped Spinto.

Sold-out shows, a growing stack of fawning press clippings, and now an opening slot for one of the most deliriously media-hyped tours of 2006 ... just when it seems the momentum is overwhelming, you realize Krill's group hasn't quite hit the big time when he starts talking about grifting his way through last summer's tour. "A lot of restaurants, when they close up shop, they have to throw out all of their [extra food]. In Rhode Island we got a huge trash bag full of bagels, which fed us for a while," he explains of the band's road grub.

What's next for the Spinto Band -- world domination, or another summer dumpster diving? No one can foretell the future ... except, of course, the Spintos.

"We started learning how to be fortunetellers recently," says Krill, whose first prediction is that "it'll be a big deal when Castro dies."

Sounds like a safe bet, Nick. And as far as next big things go, the smart money's on the Spinto Band, at least until the next aspiring Talking Head comes along.

 
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