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Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


Party Animals: N.Y.’s Spirit Animal Swoops Into the Royal American

Unlike some of the modern-day, shoegazin’ hipster indie bands in their home borough, New York-based rock quartet Spirit Animal aren’t shy about creating freak-out enjoyment on stage. Anchored by an edgy mix of guitar-based rock, modern soul, and fucked-up funk, the band defies easy categorization. Fronted by the genuinely enthusiastic and often spazzy singer/keyboardist Steve Cooper, Spirit Animal also disregard rules and expectations.

“The cool thing about our type of rock ‘n’ roll is there’s more of a roll part of it than a rock part,” Cooper says. “We look at it as dance music and a party, even though it’s guitar-driven and can get heavy with big riffs at times.”

“If you really talking about rock ‘n’ roll, you’re talking about Chuck Berry at some point in that conversation. Or even the Ramones. When I think of the iconic idea of rock ‘n’ roll, I think about high-energy, fun-time music that gets you moving. We focus on that, regardless of the genre. That’s often where the funk comparisons come in.”

Cooper formed Spirit Animal in Brooklyn in 2010 with drummer Ronen Evron, guitarist Cal Stamp, and bassist Paul Michel. The foursome wasted little time recording and self-releasing a 30-minute, 10-song groove fest titled The Cost of Living. It was a flamboyant blend of stripped-down funk-rock with extra elements of synthy New Wave and a hint of the weirdness of the Clash’s Sandinista album.


Spirit Animal released the meaty EP This is a Test in the fall of 2012, earning positive reviews and praise from rock critics and fans within the indie underground. While a handful of the more straightforward tunes on the EP resembled some of the later-era anthems of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the kookiest tracks leaned into the jaggedy side of more contemporary indie rockstuff. More than a few writers compared their ruckus to LCD Soundsystem, the Black Keys, and the Electric Six.

“Fortunately for us, most of the the comparisons have been pretty positive,” Cooper says. “We usually like the bands that people mention. The strangest one was a recent comparison to Muse. We like Muse, and they have a unique sound, but I don’t think we sound too much like them. Sometimes, I think people compare the idea of us as a band to other bands more than the details of the music.”

The current Spirit Animal lineup has been together for more than two years. Cooper and Michel played in bands and wrote music together for years in the Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia scenes in the 2000s before they relocated to New York. Cooper “ran down the dream” as a solo artists in L.A. before returning to the Big Apple a few years ago.

“I was making music with my best bud for quite a while before Spirit Animal materialized in 2010,” Cooper says. “Ronen and Cal both played in various indie bands and toured a lot before this, so we all have different experiences. Musically, it all fit well right away.”

“In the practice room and on stage, I’m basically spectating like anyone else most of the time,” he adds. “I’m just coasting on top a lot of the time. It’s very collaborative, though, and I do get off on the fact that I’m surrounded by great players. It’s a real privilege. It opens up all sorts of doors for musical opportunity.”


Spirit Animal, 2013 (provided)

During their winter and spring road trio across the U.S. in support of This is a Test and a new single titled “I’m Around,” Cooper and his bandmates occasionally laughed off the inevitable association with the skinny-jean, smirky-faced “Brooklyn hipster” phenomenon.

“Personally, I tend to purposefully tell people we’re from New York, rather than Brooklyn,” Cooper says. “There’s not a hard rule about it. We’re pretty accessable and very inclusive, and we’re really not interested in the hipster aesthetic, I mean, I like clothes and showmanship, but I’d rather get dressed up for the Grammys or something. Some bands get tagged as hipster when they really have nothing to do with that stuff. It’s kind of like calling a band ‘alternative’ these days.”

As far as their live shows go this summer, Cooper believes the performances are as tight and energetic as ever and demonstrate a balance between the gritty side of rock and excitement of modern rave-up dance music. His aggressive singing and spoken-word delivery steers the musical direction and dynamic at every show.

“People are sometimes taken aback by how far we take it,” he says. “We’re not trying to go over the top in a ridiculous way, but there is a relentlessness about it. When you look over after the fifth song and notice that your bass player hadn’t stopped dancing yet, you realize that you’re all in it together. We don’t want to give anyone any reasons to stop enjoying themselves. We try to express that, and I think it’s refreshing for some people.”

Spirit Animal’s summer tour brings them to Charleston and the Carolinas for the first time. Cooper’s glad to make it this far down South. “We’re actually getting to spend the Fourth of July there, too, so we’re excited to see what happens and how things go,” he says. “We’ll be looking for good local barbecue for sure. Tell folks to recommend the best place down there for mustard-based pulled pork.”

And that would be J.B.’s Smoke Shack on Johns Island (go for the buffet).

Spirit Animal shares the Royal American stage with Lock Out/Tag Out at 9 p.m. on Wed. July 3. Admission is $5. Visit spiritanimal.us for more.




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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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