Headed back to town for a show Friday night in support of Surfer Blood at Bottom Lounge, I chatted via email with former Passion Pit multi-instrumentalist and current Team Spirit vocalist/guitarist Ayad Al Adhamy about making the transition from supporting player to frontman and the guitar work that sets Team Spirit's self-titled debut EP apart from other bands in the garage rock/power pop realm...
Following an amicable split from highly successful, indie-pop outfit Passion Pit before the release of their sophomore album in 2012, Ayad Al Adhamy took time to focus on his newest project Team Spirit (a move that would take him from instruments like the keyboard in a primarily supporting role with the former to founder, songwriter, singer, guitarist and frontman of the latter).
Known primarily for that work in Passion Pit, Team Spirit actually offers a stark contrast in sound - but not an unwelcome one.
Released in April, the New York quartet's debut EP is brimming with immediacy - songs like "Jesus, He's Alright" are as crunchy as they are catchy. The EP as a whole is an infectious tour de force powered by a dual guitar attack that spans a variety of genres (not just the garage rock influence for which they're frequently pigeonholed but power pop and glam rock too).
A new live EP (Live at the Knitting Factory) followed in late September as the band continues putting the finishing touches on their long-awaited debut album amidst tour dates through October with Surfer Blood.
What follows is my full email conversation with Ayad Al Adhamy - one that touches on Passion Pit, running Black Bell records, Team Spirit's series of unique animated videos... and cheeseburgers.
Q. So the debut, self-titled EP has been out since April and you just wrapped up a tour with Peace that saw you hit Chicago [in June] at Schubas… [Plus, you'll be back this Friday at Bottom Lounge] How’s everything going for Team Spirit right now?
Ayad Al Adhamy: I'm currently finishing up our LP, which I've been working on while touring on the EP from South By Southwest to a stint with The Joy Formidable and recently with Peace - Schubas was a blast!
Q. Live now, you’re playing a different instrument, different/smaller venues and you’re out in front… How’s the transition felt moving from your supporting role in Passion Pit to focusing now on your own project?
It's been wonderful and difficult as hell at the same time! I'd describe my last year as quite a roller coaster of emotions; finding myself while searching for happiness! The pressures and expectations are far different fronting a band and writing the music, as opposed to performing music written by another. But I wouldn't ever have it any other way!
Q. The tone and sound of this album is different than anything you did with Passion Pit… Was that a concerted effort or just kind of how the project turned out?
It's just what happened when I picked up the guitar! I grew up on rock n' roll (my first tape was an Elvis Greatest Hits). I went to college and guitar was my main instrument. I joined Passion Pit as an escape from what I'd been focusing on and studying for too long! I feel much more at home and true to myself playing the guitar; although [Team Spirit] is the first band I front and sing lead in!
Q. People seem quick to call you guys garage rock but I feel like I hear a lot more power pop and even some glam rock. I've heard you mention Thin Lizzy frequently but while growing up, attending Berklee College of Music, etc., what were you listening to that might be coming out in the sound of Team Spirit now?
Garage rock is quite a label for loud guitar music, and I'm glad you took the time to differentiate! I feel much more at home with the power pop genre for sure, and glam is great. It's rock n' roll with swag!
I grew up in England and the Middle East and I listened to a lot of music and genres - a lot I'd be embarrassed to admit (LIMP BIZKIT, YO) and some that I'm not but maybe should be? (EVERCLEAR) - And then a lot, a lot of metal (Metallica/Iron Maiden).
My first record was Del Amitri (which is kind of power pop?) and the first [record] my Mom made me listen to was the Jackson 5!
I've actually gotten into a lot of bands that people relate Team Spirit to that I never listened to. I've really gotten into T. Rex and Cheap Trick that way!
I could really go on with this for sure...
Q. Some songs or albums kind of take a while to sink in - repeated listens… but for me (and maybe it’s because of the sound of the dual guitars, which I love) there was a real immediacy to your EP. “Jesus, He’s Alright” is the one that really got my attention the first time I heard it. What is it about the dual guitars that work so well here?
The placement in the song! It occurs after the second main chorus as a melodic lead and then before the third simplified chorus. It's not in your face like Richie Sambora and remains singable! Also, the first time through, the guitars are in unison and they split the second time around!
And with the main riff, the guitar and bass line was initially one riff - then i decided to split them up. So the idea is shared!
Q. You’re in the midst of a very cool animated video project that accompanies each song on the EP and tells a story in the process. How did that partnership come about?
When I finished writing "F--k the Beach," I thought they would kill it, so I sent [Hannes & Johannes] a rough mix and they were really into it! They killed the video, and Noisey put it up which started our relationship with Vice. After we signed to them (Vice), I approached them with the idea of a series and they agreed!
The songs are mostly un-related to the videos themselves; but the overall theme is the idea of damnation and salvation - We all want to be saved by someone or something, and the paths we tread to find it!
Q. It's not necessarily the greatest time to own or run a record label but you’ve done pretty well with Black Bell Records. Is that a platform you plan on using to release Team Spirit music in the future?
Ha! This is true! I just love to be involved with music and to support other bands as best as I can!
I had a dilemma about [whether to release] the record fully on Black Bell or not - we have a great system, team and distribution but in the end, I couldn't turn down working with Vice on this (even though Black Bell gets some input - notably myself and Ben Collins, the label GM who also manages the band!).
Q. I know you’ve been working on Team Spirit’s full length debut. How’s that process coming?
Tedious but moving along! We finished up drums/bass and guitar in a mountain cabin in the Catskills after I relocated my studio there and since then I've been writing lyrics and doing vocals whilst touring and such! Lyrics don't come easy to me but when they do, and feel right, the patience is worth it! I [have] about eight tracks completed and probably [am] going to finish up ten to twelve; so almost there! No release date yet but probably early next year (with some teaser tracks before that!).
Q. Anything else you want fans to know?
I love cheeseburgers.
*** This interview was conducted via email by Jim Ryan
- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
(Jim also hosts "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" Sundays at 6PM central on WIMS and WHFB - streaming at wimsradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet)
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