Posted August 24, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

The Spill Canvas: Following the Tom Petty principle

Spill Canvas courtesy Catalyst PR Group
Spill Canvas courtesy Catalyst PR Group

Nick Thomas, guitarist and backup vocalist for the metalcore outfit Nodes of Ranvier, started the Spill Canvas up back in 2002 and shifted into a more post-punk/emo direction. The band caught on, despite the fact that it hailed from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a city not known for its musical exports. Ten years on, the band’s 2005 album, One Fell Swoop, still sounds like a contemporary underground rock record. The rejuvenated band — the group includes Thomas and a few new players — is on tour to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the album. Thomas phoned us from an Atlanta tour stop to talk about the band’s return to the road.

The band formed in South Dakota. Talk about how the group came together.
Honestly, I was just talking to the guitar player of Motion City through texts and we were texting back and forth about music things. I was thinking about our local Sioux Falls promoter. He put on basement shows. I saw Dashboard Confessional when I was in high school in front of 12 kids in a basement. It wasn’t exactly a stop like an Atlanta or a Chicago but there was music going on there. It was the all ages shows and the internet was still dial-up so it wasn’t a great tool. I had seen Motion City in a basement. It’s crazy to think about how we used to do that, playing VW halls and all that. It wasn’t a scene but it had enough to get me hungry for it and actually want to tour.

Were your influences different?
I would say they were definitely different. Being landlocked like that, the culture compared to East Coast and West Coast is different. It’s a conservative part of the country but the stuff I was exposed to was so rare. I felt so lucky. We had the weird days when I saw At the Drive-In a lot. They came through often. It was more of a coastal thing but we lucked out. The music was a melting point. There wasn’t the New York hardcore or West Coast pop punk although those came through because of how middle in the country we were. It was a bit of everything.

Has it changed?
There’s a new venue that opened. It’s “House of Blues” sized. It’s 1500 to 2000. The guy who started it was a local promoter who had saved up and was really going for it. It’s such a lofty claim but we were the first band for the whole state that had broken out. It was cool to hold the flag for the state and in a way there are a lot of bands locally that could get out there and have some traction. We’ve influenced them and it’s crazy to think that but there’s not much going on there so word gets around.

What’s it been like revisiting One Fell Swoop?
It’s crazy. There’s a certain, “I’m getting older” thing. Not in a bad way though because it’s countered with the positive. It reaffirms that you did something special because of how many people come out and how many people want to see this again. I’m not the best lead singer. I have the reverse ego. It baffles me every time that people say it’s changed their lives or been part of their lives for so long.

I felt fortunate enough to find the songs in my head and make something that could help people. It’s cool. It’s definitely a trip.

The songs still sound contemporary. Do you think they’ve held up over time?
Yeah. It’s weird to say because that was our first full band record. I had done one record before by myself. After that record, we got to work with incredible producers and dreams that I didn’t think could come true. They had taught me to write songs and gave me tips and tricks to get that whole timeless feel. I call it the Tom Petty principle. Those songs can always be sung. Everyone knows them. The generation gap doesn’t matter. I don’t think my songs are that but that’s what I strive for. Writing songs was my first and foremost thing and it’s cool to see how that translates ten years later

I like the song “Dutch Courage,” which is one of the quieter songs on the album. What inspired it?
It’s cool to play it again. It’s one of my favorites. We do a slightly different version of it now. I remember writing that one and it stemmed from my first tough time with people I considered my friends listening to my music and then posting responses on the internet. We had to be plugged in. The song came to fruition about being bummed because a buddy of mine had the classic internet trash talking. I was too young to be able to deflect it properly. It hit home and it became a revolt to the bullying. I was already experimenting with content versus vibe and tone, which I love to skew to get a juxtaposition. If it’s a song about intimate songs or sexual things, I would skew it to be a crazy hardcore rock song as opposed to something slow. I actively remember skewing “Dutch Courage” that way.

After the album came out, you signed a deal with Sire Records, is that right?
Yeah, that came out on an indie label out of Florida. We were touring One Fell Swoop for almost two years. We had a great booking agent. She was working with us at the time and connections got made to where Sire came out and wanted to put an offer on the table. We had been touring all the time and were ready to get back in there and write some new stuff.

Was Seymour Stein still involved with Sire?
That was for our first EP Denial Feels So Good. That was the first release on Warner. He had suggested we do a couple of covers. We ended up doing a cover of a Donovan song “Catch the Wind” and we did Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.” It was great that he even cared. We were just this unknown band on his label. It was cool to meet him and get some suggestions. That was a trip for sure. At the end of Spill Canvas’s career, we did a record on Reprise. There’s a lot of great stuff there. It’s one of the cooler labels with Green Day and bands like that. They did a great job with us.

What plans do you have after the tour is over?
The tour had prompted the possibility of continuing with the band. The band had taken a backseat. Last year, I did a Kickstarter for a solo album, which are just songs that I wrote during the Spill Canvas off-time. I tried to write some different sounding stuff for the record, which is called Shadowars. We did that and the band wasn’t expecting what we would do next stepwise after this tour. We might want to reboot the machine. We never said we broke up. We wanted to leave it open ended. Two of the members got married and moved on to family life. They didn’t want to come on the tour. They were done. I can totally respect it. We have a couple of younger members and the drummer from my solo project has that fire. We might be jaded over the years. He breathes new life into whatever we’re doing and that is just fricking incredible. We benefited from the line-up change and would like to move forward. As of now, we’ll take six months off to write, whether it’s for a Nick Thomas album or a Spill Canvas album or a new thing.



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].