Onl y God can tune a 12-string Fireglo Rickenbacker. Try it sometime. Fiddle with an antique Ricky, really foul up the strings, then start over again … and again … and again. The Spindles don’t care. They’re perfectionists. They’ll take the time to get it right.
The Spindles had all the time in the world to snug down their power pop sound for the recent CD/download release of Past and Present (available at CD Baby, KOOL KAT MUSIK, and Amazon). Nobody was chasing them. These guys have been playing music together for ten years. Songwriter Jeff Janulis (vocals, guitars), brothers Duane Mittelheuser (drums) and Dwight Mittelheuser (lead guitar), and bassist Bill Corston (Jay and the Americans) form the core of Spindles players on this release. Augmented by guest appearances by the Elvis Brothers and a few other friends, the Spindles offer a curious missing link with Past and Present. The harmonies recall the Raspberries, the Hollies, and the Byrds, along with a splash of the Everly Brothers (Janulis plays Everly Brothers' tunes in his other bands the Abbeys and the Everly Hillbillies).
But second and third listenings to Past and Present also suggest a Flamin’ Groovies' influence, with wee touches of the Searchers and Del Shannon, Tom Petty, and Greg Kihn pitched into the chowder. Maybe even the Pretenders, too? (One hears a faint echo of Back on the Chain Gang in Beginning To Be Your Friend). The nine Janulis originals on Past and Present might well have given the Flamin’ Groovies a far better follow-up album to Shake Some Action than Flamin’ Groovies Now! (A point to argue with Cyril Jordan, one might suggest).
There are twelve songs on Past and Present averaging three to four minutes - ballads and toe-tappers. Prisoner of War and Young Heart show the maturity of these musicians (Check out their YouTube video of Prisoner of War). And Annette and the Elvis Brothers’ cover Santa Fe are particularly endearing, with Annette recalling the feel of Greg Kihn’s The Break-Up Song and Santa Fe hinting at Nick Lowe’s I Knew the Bride. None pretend to be more than they are - catchy milkshake tunes about girls and then more girls. Love songs with snap and crackle.
The Spindles are all about celebrating this music and the pop acts they’ve enjoyed and admired, and studied carefully over the years. Past and Present even includes a note-perfect take on the Hollies' classic Look Through Any Window. Right down to the urgent opening with souped-up Rickenbacker picking and beat group drumming. Janulis confirmed a couple of the Spindles players actually sat down and watched videos of the Hollies performing the song. Slowing down old television appearances, focusing on their hands. The result is a revelation. You can actually hear the handclaps and fatter drum flourishes this time around.
Look Through Any Window is not an easy song to master; it’s loaded up with tricky tempo and key changes, and those ethereal top end harmonies the Graham Nash era line-up could toss off with no sweat. Like breathing. Mike Love of the Beach Boys made a cogent point about such tight harmony pop in his memoir Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy. Love said there’s a good reason we don’t often see cover bands attempt Beach Boy tunes. They’re extremely difficult to execute. The same goes for Look Through Any Window, yet the Spindles pull it off smartly.
Janulis knows Past and Present may not find a mass audience. Even with the sharp Sgt. Pepper-esque interior artwork and Capitol Records style logo. “We made Past and Present for friends, along with all the artists and music we admire,” he said, “and for listeners who love this music as much we do." To paraphrase Nick Lowe, the Spindles made the record as a "Labour of Love" for the genre and as a nod to the great pop music of past and present times. However, drummer Duane Mittelheuser added, "We're pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic reception that Past and Present has been getting from friends and online reviewers, and by the number of CDs and downloads sold so far. We spent a few years in a couple of different recording environments putting down elements and assembling the songs. What we’re hearing from audiences at our live shows tells us … we got it right.”