by Lizzie Morelli
Photo by Tara Gracer Design & Photography
Jordan Fairless plays the bass for the band Spafford. We live together. One Saturday morning he spoke to me on the record for the very first time. I remember when I first met Jordan I traveled to Arizona and he and Brian (Moss) shared stories of the trials and tribulations of a band starting out. I loved these stories-I held onto these stories. They made me laugh and left me inspired. It was a unique experience to interview someone I know so well, to still learn from that conversation. Here, is that Saturday morning.
How did you find music?
In my mother’s womb I guess. I grew up doing church music and so it was just a part of me from an early age. When my mom was pregnant with me she would sing in the church choir and then I grew up singing in the church choir. Then I learned how to play in the church band and it just kind of went on from there.
Did you grow up really religious?
I can’t say I was religious but I grew up in a religious household. I did take part in the services early on and I was a part of it. Then I started to drift away but was always brought back by the music.
Were you exposed to music outside of church music at a young age?
It was mostly church music until I was about eight years old and I started listening to oldies (40’s-50’s). Then I discovered Michael Jackson. I went on a huge Michael Jackson kick for a while. After that I think it was a blend of eighties music. I discovered Ace of Bass from my babysitter. I had two babysitters that would make me cassette tapes with copies of Michael Jackson and Ace of Bass and other acts ranging from the oldies to the eighties, I suppose some nineties new wave if you count Ace of Bass.
What influenced your sound?
If you take all of that stuff and combine it with the music I found over the years and all the different things and bands that I’ve done…I’ve played in gospel bands, and reggae bands, country bands and nineties cover bands, and acoustic singer songwriter bands, I got really into electronic music for a while. A lot of different varieties over the years that have come to form a jumbled sound that sounds like all that stuff.
Spafford has found some serious success recently; Did you always know you guys would get there?
I always believed in the music and the community and everything else about Spafford but there was always the question of whether something like Spafford could find its place in society. You can have a really great band that never really finds success because people weren’t into it at the time. So I always knew we had the ability to achieve success but what that success would come to I have never really known, or if I did, I never… I still don’t know where that success caps off or where the growth stops.
Have you had any life changing musical experiences?
Yeah, when I was eleven or twelve years old and I moved back to Nashville after living in Michigan for two years. I was in middle school and I met a friend and I went over to his house one day after school and he gave me the Blue CD by Weezer and told me that if I hadn’t listened to it I needed to because it would change my life. So I took it home and listened to it for three months and it changed my life.
When did you pick up your first instrument?
I picked up my first serious instrument when I was probably nine or ten. I started on the violin. Then I moved around through some of the orchestral and band instruments, I played trumpet and French horn. Then I picked up my first guitar and then I started to play the drums, I also marched various instruments in marching band and did drumline, but I didn’t find the bass until I was twenty five years old.
Wow. So you have only been playing bass for seven years?
Crazy. How did you end up playing the bass in Spafford?
Cause it’s hard to find a good bass player (laughs). We went through different people and I started playing bass in another band out of necessity. I have had to play bass in several different times in my life just out of necessity and lack of a bass player. Rather than searching for another bass player we started searching for a another drummer. I hung up the drums and started playing the bass. Then I fell in love and found my instrument.
Interesting. Can you tell us any funny Spafford tour stories?
In 2015 we were doing a little winter thing up through the mountains heading to a little music festival in northern California. We were in our old bus, which had already given us trouble. We say “bus” but it was really an eighteen person passenger shuttle bus that we threw bunks in. So we are in this thing driving and we saw a sign and we couldn’t really read it or rather didn’t really know or care what it said until we saw another one later when our transmission broke going over a mountain. It said “All trucks over x amount of weight should not take this way” and us with our intelligence and all our weight broke down on top the mountain with no cell phone signal. Brian (guitar) and I, we walked to the top of the hill and as we arrived a young couple with two small children pulls up and offers us a ride after seeing our plight. We went all the way to Marleyville, or Markleyville, California (something like that) where we found a visitors center. A lady let us use the only phone. We figured out that we needed to go to the next town to meet the guy who could tow us. So we got a ride with a man and his son and they drove us to get our bus towed. Somehow the guy wiggled our van/bus thing on to his rig and his son pulled our trailer with his truck and took us to get it fixed somewhere in Nevada. We rented a U-Haul and a car to make it to this music festival. When we arrived we found out that the festival was being shut down because the promoter didn’t have the money to pay the sound guy and all the talent he booked. Steve Kimock was there and so was Jerry Joseph. Moon Alice had already called it. So Brian went and sat down with the promoter of the festival and somehow came back out and all the power turned back on and he said, “Come on man we are going on stage” and we played. We never got paid but the show went on. We got to hang out with Steve Kimock and Jerry Joseph. It wasn’t that bad until everyone flew home for work except Chuck (Johnson) and I, we drove the U-Haul sixteen hours home and ate instant coffee to stay awake. There were some interesting conversations to say the least.
Have there been any “fuck yeah” moments this year?
Every moment. Cause this year way crazy. Well last year if you are talking 2017 the whole year was kind of a mind explosion. I guess the ultimate moment was finding out we were playing Red Rocks in 2018. That was kind of a big deal having to keep that a secret.
Where did you learn to lay down those funky bass lines?
I grew up listening to funky bass lines, I suppose. Some of my favorite bass players, like the first bass player in Incubus, Dirk Lance (Alex Katunich), he was a pretty funky bass player if you go back and listen to the bass tracks. He did a lot of cool slapping stuff and cool fretless work and cool effects. Of course Flea. Victor Wooten is like… an oddity.
You play bass differently than other bass players sometimes. You do things that aren’t necessarily normal for most bass players, is there a reason for that?
Yeah. Sometimes I like to play something other than what I “should be playing.” It’s a thing. It’s a rule I figured out. If you have a really good reason and there is space, sometimes there is a good reason for anyone to play any note or just to really do anything. Some new techniques are born because someone had an instinct and followed it and it turned into something that people recreate later. So there is no reason to get stuck in one box of “this is the role.” However, it is important to first know your role in your instrument so that you can step outside of it when you realize there is space. That’s the biggest thing. If there is space then it’s okay to play the note. Don’t play the note if you are fighting someone else for it.
Now what makes Spafford different in that you allow each other to do that stuff?
We listen and everyone does each other’s jobs sometimes because it is fun to get out of your role and break into something else. Just take a risk on a part that may not necessarily be usually played by your instrument. It’s like “I want to play a percussive thing” and the drums give me the space or if the guitar is going to do this then the keys and the bass give the space. What if the guitar player wants to play a bass line? “Alright, well have fun” and I switch up and play up on the neck a little bit or do something different. And he can play those lower frequencies., it’s really fun down there.
What do you say to the people who say you guys are doing the “Phish thing”?
If that’s what they hear then that’s what they hear. We sound like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Might as well take it as a compliment Phish is a great band.
When I first listened to you guys I heard Incubus.
Incubus is my favorite band. I didn’t grow up on Phish or any sort of jam music, I listened to mostly nineties alternative music, Michael Jackson, old church music, and some other weird stuff. I loved Incubus especially with their early bass player he was an asset to their band, a particular sound.
Are you guys working on new music?
How long does it take you to write a song?
Three years, three minutes, three days, three months. There are some songs we have been working on for years that are just hard to finish and then others that just happen. Sometimes people just have ideas and bring them to the table. We brought out four songs over New Years that had kind of just been laying in wait or came about recently.
What was it like getting to play an acoustic set in Colorado in front of some of your biggest fans?
It was really cool because it was always something I had wanted to do and I had never had the chance to. Hopefully we can do more of those in the future and make them better. It is a cool approach to the music. It also lends itself to some cool improvisation because its all acoustic driven.
What inspired the “crew jam” in Colorado?
They were all setting up and they all just started line checking and playing our instruments and it sounded really good so we told them they were opening the second set. We decided we would just take over their groove. It saved us the work of having to play “nose goes” for who had to start.
Why is music important?
It’s the balance to life. Music is what everyone needs to have their life make sense. Whether you are listening to it or going to a concert- anything- it just helps us get through.
As a band starting out what is the most difficult obstacle to over come?
Breaking out of the title “Local Band,” that is the hardest thing. Trying to make a name for yourself and trying to tour. Trying to become a “national touring act,” I say that in quotations.
What has been your favorite gig so far?
My favorite gig so far, still, is New Years Eve 2009. Our first show.