Check out a Stranger Spirits set, and you may find yourself faced with a hype ninja or a surfing Amazonian librarian or the Sherriff of Rockingham himself. “We call ourselves rock ’n’ roll pilgrims from another planet,” explains Aubrey Herbert, aka Destructika Poppins, a most evil take on a favorite English nanny. Adds Chris Wimberley, the regal Lord Wimberley of Bitchfield, “We have delusions about having our own set of action figures.”
Whatever their excuse, these seven pilgrims are dressed to kill and ready to unleash a new record of altiverse melodies on audiences. Masterpiece Rock Parlour is a collection of songs that drift from ’80s movie musical hooks to gospel swells to Springsteen-esque growls.
We caught up with Herbert and Wimberley to talk about the record and personal stories that influenced its creation.
Indy Week: How long have you been working on the record?
Chris Wimberley: Oh boy, Aubrey: Has it been about five years?
Aubrey Herbert: About five, yeah. It’s been a work in progress.
CW: Pretty much. We were going to call this The Great American Novel, but we decided that would be a little pretentious sounding, so instead we’re calling it Masterpiece Rock Parlour.
AH: It sounds awesome, too, and that’s also a reason.
Rewind me back five years. How did you get started?
CW: Oh wow, where were we five years ago?
AH: I was finishing up college at UNC. Chris was working with another guy as kind of a two-man-band. That’s how Stranger Spirits started out.
CW: I was working with Chris Anderson, our drummer. We met Aubrey and Taylor and started working with them. Actually, maybe the more significant thing is their love story. They fell in love and they got married. There were lots of marriages, deaths, and all kinds of things that have happened since we started working on this record.
AH: That dragged it out for five years.
CW: Yeah, that’s just a few of the reasons why, it just became this thing that we would return to and build little bit by little bit.
AH: We started out with two people, and now we have seven people in the band. It’s grown quite a lot since five years ago.
When working on it that long, how do you know that you’re finished?
CW: That was actually a problem at points. There were a lot of things that delayed this. As we came to different places in our creative lives together, we just had to ask ourselves that constantly.
AH: That’s a problem, too. You can concentrate on something so much that at some points you can almost go in the opposite direction of where you want to be. You’re doing more harm than good in spending more time on it. At some point, you just have to let it go.
CW: Just being creative together was one of the things we loved and one of the reasons why we are together as a band. The process at times was really rewarding, but obviously you can work on something way too long. Records are not meant to be made for five years. I know this from my clients, but in terms of myself, for myself this was one of those big, epic, “trying to write a great American novel” kind of things. I’m not saying that, “Oh, this is the greatest record ever.” We are really proud of this, but it was a really challenging record to make and the songs were really personal. Sometimes they were hard to sing because they got so personal, so it took a long time.
What were you going for in the beginning, then?
CW: Well, we had been doing this mad-scientist-robot-girl rock show, where we dressed up as mad scientists and robot girls. We called it Rock Laboratory. We knew that we wanted to do something similar with Masterpiece Rock Parlour, where we wanted to put together content and fun and characters and costumes and a sense of imagination along with the music, however it was going to be interpreted.
How did it evolve during the process? How would you describe the sound now?
CW: Big, fun, melodic rock. We’re trying to embrace the ‘80s revival, I guess, but we’ve been doing that for so long that it just sort of came back around. It took so long to make it that we were sure that certain things about the record would be fun from certain decades, so I guess we were a little postmodern about what we decided would fit.
AH: The original intent was to lean more toward that rock’n’roll sound with that ‘80s or ‘90s flare, but it ended up in many songs, some will have more of a western or more folky sound, some are bluesy. This album ended up being kind of a crucible of sounds.
CW: A lot of the actual songs are about rock’ n’ roll themes you would hear in songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re not trying to be a catchall here. We talk a lot about what it is to have a calling and what it is to lose things for that calling. That’s a big part of what the record deals with from different angles—from money and love and death and those kinds of things.
Is that the personal aspect for you?
CW: Well, part of what made Chris Anderson and I start writing some of these songs (and then we, of course, finished the rest of this with the full band) is that we were pretty fascinated with having worked with so many amazing, talented people just everyday at Nightsound who are trying to get stuff out of their hearts and heads because it’s their calling. It’s who they are. We identify with that, and some of this is our personal experience and our stories and some of this is inspired from other people’s stories and struggles to deal with their calling. Like Aubrey’s saying, there’s this crucible thing where we end up taking so long to put so much together from so many different stories and places.
My father was really ill for many years before he passed away. That had a lot to do with a lot of the writing for me, but the record wasn’t just about any one thing. Everyone deals with balancing their artistic life with their normal life, and for me, that was the big challenge I was going through the whole five years of making this record. To be the best that I can be, how do I have one foot in the real world and one foot in the art world? How do I walk that line to be able to serve myself and the ones I love and be able to make great art?
Stranger Spirits release Masterpiece Rock Parlour Saturday, Nov. 17, at Local 506.