CWMAs: Spell Talk 

Smooth Sailin’: 2010 CWMA winners Spell Talk talk about their year in the spotlight.

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The lineup for the 2010 CWMA finals was eclectic, to say the least. Death-metal Bird Eater’s sonic bricks knocked dust from The Depot’s nooks and crannies, while Paul Jacobsen & The Madison Arm strummed out their roots-rock prowess. But the middle act, the little-known Salt Lake City-via-Ogden band, Spell Talk (then The Naked Eyes), stole the show for the 800-plus in attendance.

The psych-rock band formed in Ogden in 2007 with Jared Phelps on vocals and bass, Andrew Milne on vocals and guitar and Sammy Harper on drums. They added guitarist Dylan Roe in September 2009 after relocating to Salt Lake City to join the more-happening music scene.

That year, at the 2009 CWMAs, Phelps had a Wayne’s World moment: “[This] will be mine. Oh yes, [this] will be mine.” The rockers were later nominated for the 2010 CWMA showcase and tied for third. Squeaking into the finals, their practice and goals paid off.

“It was a pretty magical night. We fucking killed it,” Phelps says, looking back on the wildly productive year since. “It really gave us a lot of exposure; people wouldn’t have known us otherwise.” The $2,000 winners’ purse probably wasn’t so bad, either.

The exposure, along with booking more gigs, necessitated higher-quality recordings. During the past year, Spell Talk produced two albums. The first, Ghost Rider, recorded at KRCL studios, offered a stripped-down look at the band showing off their bluesy side. “There’s something spiritual that happens live, and we like to record live to encapsulate that,” Phelps says.

Then, in late September, the band recorded Electric Cloud at Back Bone Studios in Colorado. From playing the Desert Rocks Music Festival in May 2010, they earned enough studio time to quickly and efficiently record six songs one day, then mix and master the tunes the next. The result is less muddied than Ghost Rider and a more spot-on sampling of the band’s psychedelic sound, which is slightly reminiscent of The Black Angels or Dead Meadow.

The first production run of Electric Cloud came out while they were on tour. Without CD liners handy, the crafty fellows made collages out of found magazines for each copy of the album they sold—truly DIY.

Those two albums have helped the band land gigs at most venues in the Salt Lake Valley, including opening slots for national acts such as Imaad Wasif. But exposure can only get a band so far; they have to perform. Wasif was so impressed with their Urban Lounge set that when his opening band bailed in the Southeast, he called Spell Talk to fill in.

“We had money from CWMA, so we went to Tennessee,” Phelps says. “I said yes without asking anyone.”

Their old Econoline, which Phelps says was a cop-magnet on the highway, sucked up most of the $2,000 prize on tires and gas. A month after coming home, they hit the road again in early winter 2010 and finished a western tour through Nevada, California, Oregon and Idaho. This year full of opportunities has made the band tighter, musically and as a community, Phelps says. Roe, a late add-on, has become keen on the “secret language [they] share onstage.”

The success stems from goals, ambition and a generally humble attitude, like the story of the sheepherder in Paulo Coelho’s epic tale, Phelps insists. “The Alchemist changed my life. My goals are the most important thing to me; if I’m not trying to achieve them, life is just empty. And now, all these things keep popping up. We’re really fortunate, I guess.” 

Previous CWMA Winners
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2006: Tolchock Trio
2007: St. Boheme
2009: Neon Trees
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