On the fence outside of the East Vancouver house in which the four members of Sprïng all live, a small laminated sign advertises the Mt. Pleasant Music Teachers Co-op. It promises lessons from “qualified, professional, experienced” teachers in piano, guitar, bass, saxophone, and drums, and this is evidence of the band’s extensive musical expertise.
“We all went to jazz school,” frontman Joseph Hirabayashi explains. “Me and [guitarist] Elliot [Langford] are degree-holders.”
The four friends are gathered around their kitchen table on a snowy Saturday afternoon, and Hirabayashi nods toward bassist Ridley Bishop and drummer Kevin Romain and adds, “These guys are dropouts.” This prompts laughter and mock celebration from the rhythm section, and Romain facetiously flashes the devil horns.
Despite Sprïng’s advanced training, the members haven’t always flaunted their musical proficiency. Hirabayashi and Langford previously headed up the post-hardcore outfit SSRIs, a band that favoured frantic noisemaking over melodic clarity.
“There was a lot of ‘fuck you’ in that band and a lot of rejection of musicianship and being abrasive and confrontational to the audience, which sometimes felt really good,” Langford reflects. “But if it was the wrong place, it felt bad—like you’re the guy coming to the party that no one invited and barfing everywhere.”
Once Romain and Bishop joined the lineup, the new material began to take on a textured, more tunefully psychedelic style. The overhauled sound was so different that SSRIs opted to change their name to Sprïng—with an umlaut to help make their online presence more distinctive.
Hirabayashi notes that, while SSRIs were known for their blistering tempos and hairpin structural shifts, the new songs are far more technically demanding despite being slower-paced. “We have fingerpicking parts,” he notes. “It’s one thing to play complex time signatures with a math-rock band, and it’s another thing trying to do a little bit of that, but also have nice tone on the guitar.”
This combination of complex musicianship and sonic beauty is at the heart of Sprïng’s debut album, the self-produced Celebrations. Cuts like “In the Morning” and “You’re the One” mix perky folk grooves with layered acoustic textures and lush vocal harmonies. Elsewhere, the seven-minute “Loretta” swells from pastoral balladry to a pummelling crescendo of heavy-metal megariffs, while opener “To Accuse” showcases Langford’s guitar heroics by culminating in a solo of frenzied six-string shredding.
SSRIs never played solos, but Langford admits, “The fact is that I’m a guitar dork and I think solos are awesome. I got over my punk-rock self.”
The album’s ’60s-inflected sound was inspired in part by the musicians’ past work in a Beatles cover band called the Taxmen. That project dates back a few years to when SSRIs decided to stage a house show for Hirabayashi’s 25th birthday.
Romain remembers, “We were like, ‘Let’s learn the White Album and have a party for Jo’s birthday. We’ll just throw it together.’ Then we realized, if we were going to do this, we should do it note-for-note as much as we could. So we went and got transcriptions of the harmonies and spent a lot of time learning to do weird things that they do on the record.”
In the Taxmen, Langford played the role of George Harrison, Romain was Ringo Starr, SSRIs member Aaron McKinney was John Lennon, and Hirabayashi was Paul McCartney. Hirabayashi notes that Sir Paul’s style of storytelling inspired him when he was writing for Celebrations.
“Each song is just a scene, with descriptions of events happening in the scene,” he says about his lyrics. “I don’t think there’s any definitive moral stance in any of them. That’s the whole thing about people debating the Bible so much, or what you take from the story of Abraham and Isaac. Oftentimes, when people are looking at these stories and they’re looking for the moral or the meaning, it’s very much dependent on the people who are looking at the stories, not necessarily the story itself.”
The group has been touring in the lead-up to Celebrations, and more trips are planned for after the LP’s release. This jam-packed schedule has meant that the busy musicians, all of whom have played in numerous bands in recent years, have had to scale back some of their other projects. Bishop tells Romain, “There was a point two years ago where you said you were in 14 regularly rehearsing bands.”
With the guys now focused primarily on Sprïng—although still making time for a select few other endeavours—they’re looking forward to packing into a van and heading across Western Canada this month. Since they’re housemates, they’re used to spending long hours together in close quarters. This personal rapport, Langford says, is the real key to the ensemble’s chemistry.
“To have a band, I feel like the most important thing, more so than people’s abilities on an instrument, is getting along and being friends,” he reflects. “It’s a good vibe, it’s fun. We get together and we hang out afterwards and everyone’s good friends.”