The funk/rock band talks about performing live, songwriting, and making party rock for smart people.
[Updated] Steve Cooper, frontman for the NYC-based funk-rock band, Spirit Animal, has gotten on to the subject of dance music, his most recent obsession. After listing some of his favorite artists like Burial and Jon Hopkins, Cooper adds, “We find a lot of this new music to be dance music too, like St. Lucia. We’re trying to make that whole idea of dance music not be reserved for just electronic instruments because that’s not how it used to be. It’s cool to think of yourself as part of a dance music community even if you’re not a house DJ. Bands like Ghost Beach and Chvrches, the way they’re playing, those are bands that we commiserate with.” Spirit Animal performs tonight at Gasa Gasa.
The band has made great strides since releasing its first full-length album, The Cost of Living, in 2010, adding two successful EPs to their catalogue and a handful of popular singles, including their latest dance hit, “The Black Jack White.” That track has performed well on Spotify, but Cooper says that the band owes much of its success to platforms like Soundcloud, which helped "Radio Brain" - from the Kingdom Phylum EP - rack in more views in just one week than other music-sharing communities like Spotify.
“There’s music on Soundcloud that you can’t find in other places. That’s just the bottom line,” Cooper says. “It’s definitely influencing what we’re listening to and there’s a real motivational aspect about wanting to be a part of this community too because that may be the only way you get to access a certain fan. You have to be everywhere, all the time or else someone’s not going to hear you.”
It’s no surprise that Spirit Animal places a high priority on dancing and crowd participation. For one, their onstage energy and Cooper’s unique set of dance moves, which he describes as “freaking the fuck out,” have earned the band a reputation similar to '90s funk and hip-hop groups like The Red Hot Chili Peppers. “It’s about seeing this onslaught, this constant action,” says Cooper, “because you to lead by example. You can’t expect anyone to dance if you aren’t dancing. It doesn’t make sense.”
And for Cooper, getting fans involved isn’t solely about jumping around onstage; it's also determined by the structure of the songs themselves. “Crowd involvement starts with the songs,” says Cooper. “There are sing-along parts, call-and-response sections, clap-along parts. Or I’ll just point at people and smile. It’s that kind of vibe.” Sometimes, Cooper admits, the vibe can get weird, but it’s all just part of the fun. “Last night, some guy came up to us and told us that he wishes he had come to the show with just a sock on his dick and nothing else.” Laughing, Cooper continues, “I’m not sure what he meant by that, but these are the kind of things that you can’t predict. You’re not going to blame the band if someone comes to the show with only a sock on his dick so you might as well just roll with it.”
Although the group focuses on creating high energy songs, they are careful not to substitute heavy riffs for intelligent songwriting and lyrics. In another interview, Cooper says that one of the group’s goals is to create party rock music for smart people, writing lyrics that actually have something to say. “It’s about making a song that will be easily relatable to people without losing any of the edge, the inventiveness, this new charisma and sound that is hopefully ours. From a lyrics writing standpoint, the bigger challenge than just saying something cool is saying something that people will understand and to do that without writing strictly clichés. It’s not us trying to sound smart when talking about writing intelligent music; it’s about doing it intelligently.”
Cooper claims that the band has shown the most growth over the past four years, up to their latest release, Kingdom Phylum, by learning to write together. “We’re writing together almost exclusively now, as opposed to putting some ideas down into the computer and sharing them and working stuff out individually,” says Cooper. “From the outset you can’t really move forward without it being something real. You can’t wedge something in there later, after the fact, to cover up something that’s missing in the song itself. We’re not purists, like if you can’t play it on acoustic guitar it’s not a song, but it is nice to know that we’re writing together because we’re so committed to making every song a great song at its core.” And although the band has yet to release a second full album, Cooper claims that they are in no hurry. “We don’t rush into getting it all out because we want to bring in other artists or producers or other ways of taking things to the next level. We’re not in a hurry to check it all off and make sure everyone who hears it will think it’s going to change their life tomorrow. We’re figuring out how to get the most out of everything.”
November 20, 3:43 p.m.
The story wrongly reported that "The Black Jack White" was performing well on Soundcloud, when the song that was being discussed was "Radio Brain." The text has been changed to reflect this correction.