Song Spinner: Quiet Life’s ‘New London’ story

Sean Spellman, left, and Jesse Bates of Quiet Life perform the song "New London" at Caruso Music in New London.
Sean Spellman, left, and Jesse Bates of Quiet Life perform the song "New London" at Caruso Music in New London. Peter Huoppi/ The Day Buy Photo

This episode of our Song Spinner series, which takes you inside the hearts, minds and hands of local musicians and their creative process, reveals the backstory behind "New London" by Quiet Life.

BIO: Quiet Life is an Americana band based in Portland, Ore. Principal members Sean Spellman, Ryan Spellman and Craig Rupert, though, grew up in Waterford and New London. After cutting their rootsy teeth in the flourishing New London music scene, QL decided about five years ago to relocate to the West Coast. They've toured incessantly, released a 2010 CD called "Big Green," and are in the final stages of work on a new album. The touring lineup of Quiet Life includes another local star, guitarist Thor Jensen, as well as pedal steel maestro Jesse Bates.

SOUND: Quiet Life present a smooth and hook-y cocktail blended from choice sonic ingredients ranging from Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard to "Nebraska"-era Springsteen and even Drive-By Truckers. "New London" is actually a bit of a Dustbowl-ish murder ballad.

HOW THE TUNE CAME ABOUT: Sean Spellman wrote the song right after the band relocated from New London to Portland. He says, "I was thinking about the times I spent in New London and specifically thinking about a night that had happened before I left ... there was a murder that happened in front of Ernie's ... "

THAT'S SORTA DARK, RIGHT? As it turns out, "New London" has several verses and the lyrics move somewhat beyond just the actual act of violence that originally resonated.

"Well, I was being very negative when I first wrote the song," Spellman says, "but I ended up when I finished it feeling really good and feeling like I'd finally written about a place I really cared about, you know, and that I would be proud to play in front of people and proud to present to people from NL in hopes they would relate to it.

"I was probably venting and looking for closure in my home that I'd left - kind of just a way for me to sum up the time that I'd spend here and how New London had made me the person I am."

THE STRUCTURE IS DEFINITELY STRIPPED DOWN. In the tradition of Dylan - everything from "Highway 61 Revisited" to the title track from his brand new "Tempest" album - "New London" is basically a song that consists of a simple chord structure played over and over without a chorus or break section. The verses flow hypnotically and the repetitive quality of the song is intentional and effective.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THEY TOOK "NEW LONDON" INTO THE STUDIO? Again, while the simplicity of the song is essential to the mood and momentum, it's also true that the recording studio offered the band a chance to add flourishes that help accentuate the core effect of the song.

"Yeah, when we recorded the song, it turned into something bigger, which is what I was hoping for," Spellman says. "I didn't know quite how to approach it. But we've got the full band behind it, there's a lot of piano, there's organ, there's female vocal harmonies ... We did all the basic tracks live. I'm real happy with the way it turned out, for sure."

WHEN YOU CAN HEAR "NEW LONDON": Quiet Life is in the final stages of mixing their new CD and will then do the label-shopping thing. In the meantime, the band makes a hometown appearance tonight at the Hygienic Art Park in New London.

Below left, Sean Spellman of Quiet Life.
Below left, Sean Spellman of Quiet Life. Peter Huoppi/ The Day Buy Photo
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