By: Dennis Cook
The True Spokes kick off their first West Coast tour on Tuesday, March 6th, at Cozmic Pizza in Eugene, Oregon before heading to San Francisco, Hollywood and more. Full schedule here.
A confession: The first time I saw Flowmotion perform live – right in the bosom of their hardcore Pacific Northwest fan base at their wonderful annual Summer Meltdown Festival a few hours outside of their Seattle home – I was struck by how much they didn’t sound like their name, which in the absence of their music had conjured up images of white kids with dreadlocks, endless noodling, New Age self-help courses and the like. What I encountered in 2009 was a rock band of resounding solidity, a modern answer to classics like Supertramp, 70s Journey and the Doobie Brothers, where each and every element – musicianship, songwriting, vocals, presentation – was on the money. This was a group of pros that deserved a MUCH bigger audience outside of their established flock, which they’d earned with over a decade of steady gigging and recording.
|The True Spokes|
While 2010’s Ghost Pepper hinted at the band I’d witnessed live, there were still Latin breaks, funk elements and African touches to the rock core. Jump to 2012 and the band that was Flowmotion is now The True Spokes, as together, refined and melodic a rock band as one could want. Everything about this evolutionary step is focused with songs offered up with lean intensity and warmly philosophical reverberations. The True Spokes’ self-titled debut (released February 4) was captured at San Francisco’s Mission Bells Studios with the helping hand of another pro, Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips, who co-produced the album with the band (with engineering wizardy from the great David Simon-Baker). Invitingly melodic and filled with verses that address the world as it is and still comes out the other side smiling – sometimes weary but always a touch wiser - this debut is an exciting first step for some of the most talented West Coast players far too few people outside their converted inner circle know, a rock unit ready to rub shoulders with their obvious influences like Tom Petty and Wilco. With this name change and a kickass new calling card, Josh Clauson (vocals, guitar), RL Heyer (vocals, guitar), Scott Goodwin (drums, backup vocals), Erik Bryson (bass) and Bob Rees (percussion, keyboards) are letting go of the past and living for a brighter today.
“We discussed [the name change] before recording Ghost Pepper. We talked about keeping Flowmotion as the party band playing the funk-Latin-reggae stuff that everybody expects when they come to a Flowmotion show, and then creating a new band that was more the direction we were going, which is concise songs,” says Heyer. “We hadn’t talked about changing our name in a long while when we went in to record [what became the True Spokes’ debut]. We were going around and around trying to pick an album title. But what really brought it around was at last year’s [Summer] Meltdown, Bob drove Marco Benevento to the airport and they got into a conversation about the name Flowmotion. Marco said he didn’t expect us to sound like we did with the name. So, Bob got convinced by Marco that it was no big deal to change our name, and if we wanted to we should.”
|The True Spokes’ Eponymous Debut|
“There’s been a lot of different takes on the decision,” says Clauson, the founder and one constant in Flowmotion’s history. “Some people want to empower me on the change, and others are like, ‘How could you give up after all these years?’ They see it kind of skewed like that, but I know exactly where I sit with it and it’s perfect. It comes at a time of a lot of transitions within the band and the Meltdown. The band has formed a more equal alliance where everyone is taking on more in the writing, direction and just workload of it. It’s a very relieving thing to not have it all on my shoulders. I’m surrounded by guys who are ready to step up whatever comes our way.”
“As far as the existing fan base, the ones who were dead set on Flowmotion being what it was in say 2002 aren’t really around anymore after Ghost Pepper. However, when we announced we were changing the name, those people spoke up and called it bullshit,” says Heyer. “It’s not their fault – they like what they like – but they aren’t likely to be our fans whether we change our name or not. We’re not playing that stuff, and even if we play certain songs, we don’t play them like they did in 2000 when the band was comprised of 19-21 year olds. We’re in our thirties now and we’re not going to play the same music. Even when we play the older material, it sounds different – it sounds like us [today].”
|The True Spokes|
The times in which most of us live are close to the bone, where folks are figuring out how they’re going to keep real basics – food, shelter, health care – going and still prosper and build on their dreams. The True Spokes actively grapple with this stuff, and what hope they wring from these rough stones is legit and nourishing. While their potent music doesn’t offer many solutions, it does engage with core ideas that many people are wrestling with, and in so doing helps one find new holds and stances to help them in the fight.
“It is a wild time in the world. There’s no escaping that everywhere you go, and at some point you have to deal with these things,” says Clauson. “Where we find our root in music is in just dealing with these issues. If there’s hope it’s real because we’re incapable of faking it. We don’t discount the true reality we have to deal with, but we take these moments and try to make something hopeful out of them. It’s not solutions but it cuts right to it and offers an air of hope. That’s what music is for – to cut right to it AND get one through it.”
|Josh Clauson by Sara Soko|
“I agree with the term ‘potent.’ A lot of people’s first take might even be it’s too much, but over time it just soaks in. It has some real depth to it,” says Clauson of the life experience filled pieces on The True Spokes’ debut. “It’s been really fun to develop songs in that way – really look at them and take each measure and make sure it makes sense. Instead of stretching everything out and making an adventure of it that way, we’re making an adventure of honing in on things.”
While Flowmotion was known as a powerhouse blender of styles, The True Spokes pull off an equally impressive trick – playing strong songs with controlled strength and concise execution. There’s no flab or meandering to the new material, which harnesses their group strengths in a really effective, immediately appealing way.
“That’s part of the reason we brought in an external producer on the album,” explains Heyer. “Tim had heard [Flowmotion] once at Meltdown and he knew a bit but not much about the band. He offered fresh ears on our sound. It solidified what we were doing. We’d sent him a demo CD with around 25 tracks all over the map. One cut was just me with an acoustic and three vocal tracks, and then other stuff sounded like total prog-rock. He really helped shape all that into a sound by seeing what each person contributes and drawing out their strengths.”
|RL Heyer by Sara Soko|
“Another factor that’s come into play with [The True Spokes] is The Beatles. As a band, we performed Rubber Soul last Halloween, and even though this was after the album was recorded, it got us thinking in the mindset that a song doesn’t have to be super long to go a lot of places,” says Heyer. “You can have short sections, especially these days with the short attention spans of many people it serves us better to tighten everything up. You don’t have to play something four ways instrumentally before the vocals come in or other things like that which come up when you’re jamming. Those things don’t need to be on a record. With a lot of art, the more you limit yourself, the cooler your stuff becomes. Even stylistically, if you don’t have the option to go into a Latin groove or funk section you have to use other resources to get your point across, and that makes the music more interesting.”
For whatever recognition the name Flowmotion gave these guys on the West Coast and elsewhere, the name change (and attitude that comes with it and hums in the new music) offers a clean slate for these gifted musicians. Anything is possible in such a state of newness. One is taking a new trip and yesterday’s baggage is left behind.
“It feels like that, especially now that we can play these new tunes live and really dig into them. It just has a whole fresh perspective that makes each show exciting,” says Clauson. “We had to write these tunes, develop them, record them, and now learn them. We’re just really learning now what these songs are capable of.”
|The True Spokes|
There is the matter of the Flowmotion back catalog, which the band is still figuring out how to handle in this new era.
“It’s something I’m dealing with maybe more than anyone else,” says Clauson. “I think we’re going to have to cherry pick through what we have that resonates with the new material and just let go of the others, which is fine. I’m looking forward to this time of transition, where it’s a little all over the map [laughs]. We can’t just stick it to the fan base that has been so loyal over the years and dismiss what they want and like. I notice this transitional thing a lot both live and in my personal life. It’s confusing and we don’t know everything yet, but it’s clear something major is happening.”
“It’s a natural evolution the way this has happened,” continues Clauson. “I really wasn’t available due to what I was going through during Ghost Pepper, and that’s what really sparked this whole change. Everyone needed to really step up and they did. I’m really excited about how this is going. We’re writing new material already. Scott, for example, is just writing and writing and ready to sing more on top of his epic drumming. His tunes are just stuck in my head constantly. This change has inspired the entire group and created a sense of friendly competition. I love it, and this band needed that fuel to spread the role of songwriting out. In making that dynamic cohesive, it just naturally led to a new name and a common direction.”
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