The Spill Canvas: Here’s to the Home Team


Sioux Falls' The Spill Canvas is (from left) Dan Ludeman, Joe Beck, Nick Thomas and Landon Heil


Sioux Falls, South Dakota is hardly a hotbed for upcoming rock bands. Not for lack of effort, but it’s a community which fails to support young talent, be it musical, athletic or otherwise.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago the mother of a highly recruited basketball player from Sioux Falls told the local newspaper, “We tend to eat our young.” It’s true. Whenever someone from Sioux Falls shows promise, the skeptics and cynics come out in droves.

The Spill Canvas somehow emerged from Sioux Falls as an altnernative band with major breakthrough potential. The four members — with whom I went to high school — dabbled in other bands before hopping aboard lead singer Nick Thomas’ pet project. The Spill Canvas, in a span of a few years, grew from Thomas’ coffee house solo set to a viable mainstream act with TRL appearances to boot.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’ve known Thomas since we were pee-wee football teammates and bassist Landon Heil and I go back to games of NBA Jam in his basement during grade school. I never really knew guitarist Dan Ludeman, who was a year older, but I knew Joe Beck as the kid who dominated talent shows and pep rallies with his drum solos. Does they make me a homer? Absolutely.

But you can also consider me among one of the original skeptics. Not for lack of faith, but before The Spill Canvas, Sioux Falls had never seen a local band go from talent-show stages to having their one-story mugs plastered on MTV Studios in Times Square. I root for underdogs, but I never actually bet on them.

The Spill Canvas is the exception.

I met up with the guys after their show Tuesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre in Portland, Ore. and discussed the future of the band with drummer Joe Beck. Here’s what you need to know from our conversation:

They make themselves available. Thanks to strong social media savvy, The Spill Canvas are accessible by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. They’re posting photos on Twitter on a daily basis, along with giving away tickets to their shows. YouTube has been something of a TSC News Network — if there’s a big announcement, the guys take to their trusty digital camcorder and post it online. They are connected to their growing fan base.

This ain’t your typical follow-up album. In fact, said follow-up album is a mythical thing at the moment. They’ve released two EPs — Abnormalities and Realities — in the past four months. Beck says their label, Warner Brothers, has gotten behind the smaller releases in a way that models the music industry in the 1940s and 1950s: Cut a few songs, take them on tour. Cut a few more songs, keep touring. These aren’t scraps and B-sides, either. The two EPs have been some of their best work as a band and tracks like “Our Song,” “Gateway Drug” and “Dust Storm” sounded exquisite live.

Being from Sioux Falls is good and bad. Beck acknowledged there was heavy eye-rolling a few years back when they band left Sioux Falls to better pursue their dreams. However, he points being established in Sioux Falls, SD is much more original than Los Angeles or Brooklyn. The band is proud to call Sioux Falls home. In fact, three of four members spent the past year and change in Sioux Falls while resting from touring and recording. (Beck lives in Nashville, Tenn. where his girlfriend is set to graduate from Belmont University.)

Fame hasn’t gone to their heads. The band has been touring together for almost six years, so pardon them if post-concert antics are kept to a minimum. After the show back at the Doug Fir Lounge, we stand around a fire pit and talk up-and-coming bands and artists. It’s a sedate conversation with a group of guys who look more like they survived another eight-hour shift at their work-a-day job. Then you remember they’re major label recording artists headlining a national tour. In a few months, they’ll be playing with the Goo Goo Dolls and Switchfoot. For all intents and purposes, these are the biggest celebrities I know and they couldn’t be more unassuming.

Most fans probably feel like they went to high school with a band like The Spill Canvas. I’m proud to say I did. They’ve quickly become one of my favorite bands, regardless of personal association. Beyond their music, I respect their hustle. They are a success story who come from a place where there’s all too few.

Another Shameless Plug

You guys know by now I’m a total homer, so it’s only right I bring to you “Our Song,” the latest track released from The Spill Canvas’ upcoming EP, Realities. It’s a catchy little rock song and the hook seems to borrow the melody from Keith Urban’s “You’ll Think of Me.”

Nonetheless, these guys represent Sioux Falls, S.D. proudly. Roosevelt High School’s finest, ladies and gentlemen.

I’ll be covering their show in Portland, OR on Tuesday, April 27 at the Hawthorne Theater. Should be a good time.

TiK ToK – The Tolerable Version

You should know I’d rather witness mass penguin genocide than hear Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK.” But I’m a big fan of The Spill Canvas, and they’ve cut an awfully good version of the god-awful song: 

They’re playing the Hawthorne Theatre Saturday, April 27 in Portland, OR. Tight jeans and brooding are allowed, but encouraged.

Frank Black and Carl Wilson Play Nice

Canadian rock critic Carl Wilson (left) and Pixie frontman Frank Black talk about the origins of personal taste in music on Thursday, Feb. 25 at Someday Lounge in Portland, OR.

My girlfriend and I went and saw a discussion between noted rock critic Carl Wilson and legendary rocker Frank Black last night at the Someday Lounge in Portland. Like a good blogger, I went with digital camera in tow, sat in the very front, and intended on asking at least one or two questions that pertained to the night’s focus.

What was the focus of this discussion? From the Facebook invite I received:

“They’ll have a dynamic, irreverent discussion about the changing meanings of “alternative” and “underground,” the relationship of indie to mainstream, emotion in music, and how what we like defines, creates and possibly distorts who we are.”

And that they did.

So, despite all my vigor, I quietly watched on with PBR in hand, laughed and nodded when necessary, and did very little in the way of taking notes or earning an interview.

The conversation stumbled out of the gates as Wilson read from his book for about 10 minutes during which Black looked a little bored. However, the discussion picked up steam when the two began talking about origins of personal taste in music, how we identify ourselves by the art that speaks to us and why particular music resonates within certain groups. (Or “tribes,” as Black put it.)

So, no questions for me, but I did get some video. Wilson tossed up some meatballs and Black took full advantage:

The most interesting point in the night (for me) came when Wilson asked about Black about a time he stopped a Pixies show midstream because of an inflatable shark that was bouncing through the crowd:

I walked away thinking about how the music I listen to defines me. It’s an imperfect science to even name the bands that “matter” to you, because so often, that feeling is fleeting. It can be as simple as who’s got the most recent track bouncing around in your head or the most current album you’ve fallen in love with. Here’s a smattering of the albums I’ve been most enamored with the past few years, based upon my iTunes library and the play count list:

  1. John Mayer, Continuum
  2. Asher Roth, Asleep in the Bread Aisle
  3. Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold
  4. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
  5. The Spill Canvas, No Really, I’m Fine

No big surprises, although No. 5 provides a good segue.

The Spill Canvas — a pop-rock band from Sioux Falls, SD — is playing the Hawthorne Theater in Portland on April 27. I went to high school with these guys and it’s been fun seeing their careers bloom over the past few years. I’ve been in contact with a few of the guys, and I’m hoping that show yields a better blog post than last night did.

So, what are you thoughts? What dictates the music you like? Do you identify yourself (at all) based on the music you listen to?