An interview with Spinto Band members Thomas Hughes ’06 and Sam Hughes ’08
Young Nick Krill was poking around the attic in search of rookie baseball cards when he found a treasure of a different sort: original song lyrics his grandfather, Roy Spinto, had composed on Crackerjack boxes.
Meanwhile, in Wilmington, Delaware, Thomas Hughes '06 and Samuel Hughes '08—then 15 and 13 years old, respectively— were hanging out in the basement with four of their friends, testing the limits of newly acquired musical instruments.
Eventually Krill joined the band, bringing the Crackerjack lyrics with him. The Hughes brothers' stepdad gave them a four-track recorder. Songs that might have disappeared into the ether were preserved and reworked. The Spinto lyrics were lovingly left behind as the boys launched into their own musical territory. So began the Spinto Band.
It could have ended as a high school hobby, but the Hughes brothers weren't ready to give up Spinto Band when they began attending Bennington. The band reunited on college breaks to write new songs—and, after producer Robin Eaton heard their song about a psychedelic carrot and invited them to his studios in Nashville, record them as well. Thomas joined the band committee on Bennington's Campus Activities Board, in part to help book gigs for the Spinto Band at Sunfest and in the Downstairs Café. Other band members attending Syracuse and American University followed suit, and they soon had an ongoing East Coast tour established.
Ten years after the original discovery of those Crackerjack boxes, the Spinto Band has released an album (Nice and Nicely Done) on Bar/None Records and toured throughout Europe and the United States. They've also popped up in several media outlets, including NPR, and had their single "Oh Mandy" picked up as the soundtrack for a Sears commercial. In May 2006, their success in Europe led to a performance alongside Pearl Jam and Jamie Foxx on the BBC music show Later...with Jools Holland.
In a two-day break between their European tour and leaving to play at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Thomas and Sam took a moment for an interview.
OK, indulge me in some analogies. If your music was a food, what would it be?
- Thomas: A fresh tomato eaten on the Fourth of July.
If it were a vehicle?
- Sam: A Prius. No, probably not a Prius.
- Thomas: A mini-van, maybe.
- Sam: It's not that attractive but it gets the job done. It would need to hold six guys.
- Thomas: It's function over form.
- Sam: Like mildew, but that nice sort of mildew. Like at your grandparents' attic, or the laundry room.
If you came across it in a fabric shop, what would it feel like?
- Thomas: Maybe a nice crochet. A yarn of six different colors that you can drape around you on a cold winter's night.
Moving onward? You've got some unusual instruments on your album-the kazoo, for one. What else?
- Thomas: I collect old synthesizers, so there's a lot of those.
- Sam: We've used half-drunk water bottles.
- Thomas: And there's a singing saw on the album. I played that. "Oh Mandy" is based around a mandolin. We try to create an interesting musical palette, so all the instruments are game.
How do you think your Bennington experience influenced or informed your music? Were there things you learned or were exposed to at Bennington that worked their way into the music?
- Sam: I studied literature, but I also took piano lessons.
- Thomas: I studied photography and video, but I always made an effort to take at least one musical class, whether a tutorial or a lesson. I think those tutorials helped me musically, because I became informed about music in a more academic sense, along with the more intuitive sense. In my sophomore year I collaborated with Jonathan Mann '04 on something called The Nympho Leprechauns, a stage performance with a storyline portrayed through song. And then the following year some friends and I created a tutorial with Kitty Brazelton, doing something we called the Guerrilla Musical, which was a typical musical except that it was performed unannounced at everyday occasions-like in the Dining Hall and Commons Lawn-setting up a developing storyline throughout the term.
You collaborated on a lot of different projects while studying at Bennington. Do you hope to do any kind of multimedia or collaborative stuff through the Spinto Band?
- Sam: We already like to explore other forms of media. We have a community online called Spintonic [spintonic.net] and we invite artists and writers to contribute their work. It was mainly to get little magazines or DVDs or videos we could sell at shows, but it's something we've always thought about doing.
- Thomas: We've made movies together, put out publications together. We're in the process of making a movie we're going to post on the internet in two-to-three-minute webisodes, probably on YouTube.com. That came out of trying to take advantage of all the traveling we've been doing and all the people we're meeting in the process. We try to get famous people and force them to be in our movies.
Force famous people to be in your movies?
- Sam: (laughs) Uh, "nicely pressure."
- Thomas: We politely ask them to be in our movies.