Currently a student at the University of Illinois, Josh Spinner is originally from Glencoe in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Relatively new to the music scene, Spinner and his bandmates are constantly learning about the music business. They formed together last year after playing an on-campus event at the Collective Zine; the performance kick-started their career and shortly after they were playing at the Canopy Club. While initially believing that the band wouldn’t go anywhere, they grew more popular and performed at more events and gigs. They took every opportunity coming their way and with their unique infusion of indie rock, jazz, and funk; they are up-and-coming artists with a lot of heart.
Josh Spinner and his saxophonist Lawrence Parks sat down with ahead of the upcoming performance at the Canopy Club as part of PYGMALION.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Smile Politely: What made you come to the University of Illinois?
Josh Spinner: I was trying to figure out what jazz school to go to. I was selecting and applying to schools. I came here and the professors were very nice, specifically Larry Gray who is the person I’m studying under.
SP: Tell me about the band you formed.
Spinner: The Josh Spinner group is a group I formed in my university jazz ensemble and I met Lawrence before that, but it was in a different class, a jazz improv class. I wanted to create a band with highly proficient musicians with people who can pick up quickly.
Lawrence Parks: At the start, it was just jam sessions.
SP: How long have you been playing guitar?
Spinner: I’ve been playing guitar for about nine, almost ten years.
SP: How did you get into it?
Spinner: I didn’t want to. It’s a funny story. I got a present for Christmas one year and it was a guitar. I took a guitar class in middle school and was like, “Hey Dad, check this out,” and took his guitar and started to play it. He was like, “Ah, that’s pretty nice.” I wanted video games because I was really into that stuff back then.
SP: How did you get into sax?
Parks: You had to learn an instrument in the family at least for a few years. Fifth grade came around, it was time for all the students in elementary to pick an instrument. Saxophones are pretty cool, so I went with that. I got my own saxophone and I was playing some simple songs the first day I got it by ear — no music. And I was like, “Yo, this is pretty cool,” and got better.
I landed in the best jazz band in my high school, which I didn’t expect and I was like “OK. I actually have to practice and be good.” These people go to New York for competitions, and if I’m going to be there I need to have my stuff together. I started practicing seriously. I didn’t really want to pursue it in college my senior year. I was going to be done with music and just doing something else. But something flipped and here I am at the University of Illinois studying jazz performance.
SP: Where do you get your inspiration from when you write your music?
Spinner: It depends on what kind of mood I’m in, what’s going on in my life, what I am listening to. I took huge inspiration from song “I Feel.” I took inspiration from the Backseat Lovers and the Beatles. There’s a lot of elements in there. It’s going to have rock, always rock. It’s indie rock. Funk for sure, and jazz because we study jazz, so it’s going to come out. All those things combined into one.
SP: Out of all your songs, what made you choose “Sunshower” as a music video?
Spinner: I think it’s just a fan favorite. That song was the breakthrough between my first two. It’s not that it’s the most popular out of all the songs, but “Sunshower” came out and it was the absolute change in high-quality sound. When I want a music video, I want the song to be high quality, too. “Sunshower” defines that. Acoustic but rock; funky but jazzy, and upbeat.
SP: Do you have a favorite song?
Parks: “Sunshower” and “Newly Ol’ Fashioned.”
Spinner: “Desert of My Mind.” It’s the first song I’ve ever written and it’s my favorite song. It’s so personable and the best lyrics I’ve ever written. I still can’t match that. I’m trying to work on it.
SP: What currently inspires you about your music?
Parks: I want to display a lot of the work that I do. That inspires me to perform. I have personal goals for myself that inspire me. I constantly want to get better at my craft. Practicing inspires me and working inspires me.
Spinner: I don’t want to be lying to my audience. I want everyone to hear what’s in my song and think that’s an actual saxophone. I have no issue with anyone else doing a patch on a piano or a saxophone sound on a keyboard. That’s their authentic self, but for me, what inspires me is being true to my audience. If you’re hearing this, I meant that and you’re feeling it.
SP: What are your goals after you graduate?
Spinner: This is going well. I’ll keep doing this. If it doesn’t, the best thing about this is we got into this getting to know so many things about the music industry. I would go back to school to learn more about the music business, or I would be a professional musician. I mean there’s one point where there is like: “Okay, you are out of college, you’ve studied music school, get to work, start playing jazz gigs, start doing whatever you have to do. Sell yourself as a musician.” It’s what you have to do.
SP: What are your big ambitions?
Spinner: I want to go on a small tour this summer. That’s my goal. I’ve learned that venues want to book way ahead. I’ve got winter break, and on November 22nd we’re playing at the Cobra Lounge in Chicago. I’m going to release a couple of songs this year.
Josh Spinner and his band will bring their infusion of indie-rock, funk, and jazz to the Canopy Club this Friday as part of PYGMALION.