Spiritual Cramp’s Michael Bingham is a details guy. You can draw a straight line from the shoes on his feet and the shirt on his back to the things he picked up on as a punk kid growing up in Vancouver, Washington. We could be talking about the pompadours sported by SoCal hardcore greats Unbroken, or the Nerve Agents’ Harrington-jacketed air of menace, or the way Jade Puget broke up AFI’s all-noir ‘Black Sails In The Sunset’-era uniform with a pair of Gatsby-style Doc Martens. He’s an artist who wears his punk lineage proudly.
“Those were the first things that caught my eye in music,” Bingham recalls. “I said, ‘That’s how I feel.’ I saw a picture of the Nerve Agents’ guitar player with Morrissey, and he was wearing a T-shirt from the band the Business. I thought, ‘If I could throw a dart, I would love to be in the centre of that for the rest of my life.’ That explains everything about me.”
Spanning a handful of EPs and a compilation record, Spiritual Cramp’s discography to date has chewed up this knot of styles, spitting them out in a series of short, sharp shocks. The San Francisco-reared band’s sound comprises dub-swamped punk, Bay Area hardcore and vein-bursting garage-rock. Their look is one of tassel loafers, watch caps and white socks shooting out of turn-ups. “I’ve been extremely protective of the way we move — we look a certain way, we sound a certain way,” Bingham says from his home along the coast in Los Angeles.
Cool is a hard thing to get a handle on and an easy thing to kill. Spiritual Cramp are cool. But, as Bingham observes, they’re also guarded. Their cool isn’t reckless or phoney – it’s cultivated, but honest. “I spent a long time chasing cool and it never got me anywhere,” he reflects. “So I became more comfortable leaning into what I think is cool. I think Madness is cool. I think Rancid is cool. I was making decisions in service of trying to get people’s attention. The moment that I let go of that is when everything started shifting.”
For most of that long time, Bingham has been writing music with bassist Michael Fenton. “We always wondered, ‘Why aren’t our bands taking off like the people around us?’ After starting Spiritual Cramp, we realised we weren’t ready,” he says. The time the pair logged as part of good-not-great post-punk bands wasn’t wasted, though. They learned what a half-finished idea looked like, developing a genre-agnostic musical language that fused the Clash and 2 Tone together with street-level San Francisco craziness. It became the guiding Spiritual Cramp principle: write hot tracks. “Here’s the thing: no-one ever knows they’re not ready,” Bingham says. “Everyone thinks they’re ready to run a marathon.”
On their self-titled debut album, Spiritual Cramp – completed by percussionist Jose Luna, guitarists Jacob Breeze and Nate Punty, and drummer Julian Smith – have served up the sort of loud, chin-out statement that underlines this recently-unearthed sense of certainty. “This is what we have been trying to do the entire time,” Bingham observes. “We’ve intentionally kept ourselves very small, from the type of production on the records, to how we tour. This is an opportunity for a more refined and hi-fi version of what we always thought the band could be.”
At the heart of that is a push-pull dynamic created by Spiritual Cramp’s hard-nosed allure and the vulnerability of Bingham’s words. On ‘Clashing At The Party’ he’s not the put-together singer in a band, but the guy in the back zoning out after raiding the medicine cabinet. ‘Herberts On Holiday’, as wistful an indie-pop song as this band will ever write, is about his wife dragging him away from a “lonely and pathetic life.”
“My friends jokingly call me ‘The Mayor’ — I have this persona I can turn on and off,” Bingham admits. “I can be very affable and charismatic on stage, or when I’m at a show. Spiritual Cramp lyrics are in the space between that projection of myself and who I really am. I’m an extremely sensitive person. I’m like a peach, man.
“Spiritual Cramp’s exterior is rough, it’s got a leather jacket on and it might punch you in the face,” he adds. “But once you crack it open, you realise it’s a scared kid. If you meet me, you’re gonna say, ‘This guy’s kinda crazy.’ I might be wearing something real cool, some nice jeans and a $1,000 jacket. Then you’re gonna be like, ‘He’s compensating because he’s afraid.’ It’s something I’m working on.”
Produced by Bingham and Fenton with help from Luna and mixer Carlos De La Garza, who has split the difference between working with Paramore and Bad Religion in recent years, the band wrote something like 50 songs for ‘Spiritual Cramp’ and tracked 22 on their way to selecting a clean 10 that break the tape after 26 minutes. “We do it like a rap record,” Bingham says. “We record everything, then we chop and screw it.”
The sessions were forensic in a way that can crush any sense of vibrancy, forcing the band to fight against fussiness and Bingham to confront his own problems with over-analysis and self-consciousness. “I probably spent 40 hours recording vocals,” he admits. “You’re so stuck inside your own head. That’s where the rest of our band comes in — those guys have great taste. It’s important to understand that you are not the be all and end all of the way that things should look or sound. When someone tells you it’s good, release your death grip.”
Towards the end of the year Spiritual Cramp will play a handful of shows in the UK and Ireland with Militarie Gun, whose own breakout year has been inspired by a similar commitment to honesty, excitement and, let’s face it, proper quality control. Cool is cool because it’s authentic. Fakes are fakes. “If you’re doing something unique, real people start turning their heads towards it,” Bingham says. It’s in the details.
Spiritual Cramp’s self-titled debut album will be released on November 2 via Blue Grape Music
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