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NewCityNet Singular Spinane

A preview of the new Spinanes disc.

By Dave Chamberlain

JUNE 22, 1998:  Chicago is often tagged as a city that loses its talented artists to the coasts. but last year, the roles were reversed when exceptional young singer Rebecca Gates - half of the Portland indie-rock duo the Spinanes - pulled up stakes for Chicago.

Having split up with Spinanes bandmate Scott Plouf (who went off to drum in Built to Spill), and after having spent quite a few years on the west coast, Gates simply "needed to get away." So she dropped into Chicago, where her profile has been growing steadily.

Why Chicago? Sitting at a crowded Mexican restaurant on the fringes of Ukrainian Village, Gates says, "It could have been anywhere. I knew a lot of people here already, and that's one of the benefits of what I do. I have pockets of people I enjoy seeing in quite a few cities. Everywhere I could have gone would have been cool."

On June 23, Gates releases her third as a Spinane, "Arches and Aisles" (Sub Pop). Why the name Spinanes? Gates just made it up, she says. "Arches," Gates' first record without Plouf, is the third Spinanes record on Seattle's uber-label, Sub Pop. Like the first three Spinanes records, "Arches" is punctuated by Gates' trademark vocals, low and breathy, tinged with undercurrents of soul and melancholy melody.

The spareness that people have come to associate with the Spinanes - an impression created by the band's first release, "Manos" featuring just Gates and drummer Plouf - actually came about by accident. "I wanted to put a lot more stuff on the first record," says Gates. "I wanted to have a piano, but our studio got screwed up, so we ended up in a studio without a piano. We brought in a keyboard, but it sounded like shit. But on one song there's a keyboard that's buried."

Still, for many listeners, the impression of a skeletal sound persists. "It's really interesting to me when people say, 'You were this,' but actually the whole time we anticipated going for more instrumentation."

Instrumentation, as much as Gates' near-perfect voice, rules "Aisles and Arches." Gates employed a veritable Who's Who of Chicago musicians. Among those who appear on the record are Tortoise's John McEntire, local jazzist Josh Abrahms and Isotope player Sam Prekop. In addition to playing guitar, Gates also pitches in by playing piano, organ, mellotron, keyboards and bass. Various percussion instruments rear their heads throughout, as well as a moog and a Casio. Each instrument is subtly integrated into the fold, creating a richer, more textured final product.

Though Gates has remained focused on making music since her arrival in Chicago, she didn't feel compelled to start a new band. "When I came here everything was still up in the air. I knew if I did a band, it would be called the Spinanes. When Scott and I decided to quit working together, we had already taken a big group of people on the road. The identity of the band had become this other thing than what a lot of people [thought]."

After a smattering of solo performances, mostly at the Empty Bottle and Lounge Ax, Gates slowly assembled a group of players for "Aisles and Arches." "The thing I'm enjoying right now is that I have this incredible opportunity to work with whomever I want," she says. "And I've been really fortunate that a lot of people have said yes. That's how I learn, being able to play with other people. And the band that's coming together [still undisclosed pending confirmation by all the members] are all incredible players - and even better, incredible people."

Gearing up for a fall tour to support the record, Gates just returned from a solo, six-city tour she embarked on mainly to keep in practice while waiting for "Aisles and Arches" - originally slated for release April 7, but delayed until June 23. "I've been out of the record for six months, so I'm curious to see what it does," she says. "It's frustrating because you have this thing, and you don't know what people will think. If everyone thinks your album sucks, then you have your little tour, go back and get a day job. If everyone's like 'yeaaaaah,' then they start calling you to go on tour. It's very difficult to be up in the air." Fortunately for Gates, "Aisles and Arches" may be the strongest Spinanes record to date, eleven songs of perfect unity and broad appeal. And with her three-record Sub Pop deal now complete, there's no telling what this disc could do for her career. Her eyes are on the immediate future. She's not worried about the outcome, she says, but "I have to be a little more Zen about it than I'd like."

My bad: Last week I called the producer of the Black Family's forthcoming record Eric "Roscoe" Campbell. In real life, the illustrious producer's name is Eric "Roscoe" Ambel.

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