Ironically, the nine-piece band Sweet Spirit started as a solo project. Austin singer Sabrina Ellis was going through some distressing times: the band that she fronted for several years, Bobby Jealousy, with her then husband was disintegrating along with their relationship. Everything Ellis was working toward was suddenly in free-fall. She started Sweet Spirit to hone her ability to write and perform on her own. “It was supposed to be focused on me writing solo, and performing with the guitar,” she says. But it didn’t stay that way for long.
When Ellis started Sweet Spirit, she was still writing and performing with her longstanding garage punk band A Giant Dog. AGD Co-founder Andrew Cashen was intrigued by Ellis’ new emphasis on soul and country and pop music as touchstones for Sweet Spirit and quickly climbed on board the project. “I’m very comfortable doing loud and fast,” Cashen says, “so this is uncharted territory for me.”
Together Ellis and Cashen began turning out songs at a breakneck pace. They assembled a core band of four more members, rehearsed religiously, and started playing gigs around town. Immediately they began turning heads and packing clubs. Within six months they had gotten noticed by one of Austin’s most famous musical residents, Britt Daniel of Spoon. In October of 2014, Daniel asked the band to perform at Spoon’s “secret” tour kick off show at the cramped rock club Hotel Vegas for their latest record They Want My Soul, and Sweet Spirit was quickly thrown into the local buzzmill.
Ex-Spoon producer and friend Mike McCarthy was also an early devotee. He met with the band and invited them to record demos at his studio to shop around. Those early demos were so strong, that with minimal mixing, they became the band’s eponymous 10″ EP. As Austin accolades continued to pile up into 2015, the band was asked to perform a cover set of Marvin Gaye songs for a special event. They added two horn players and a backup singer to recreate Gaye’s music – Ellis and Cashen were immediately enchanted. They asked the auxiliary players to stay, making what was once a solo project a full-fledged nine piece band!
Two months later, Sweet Spirit was added as an official SXSW showcase act without a full-length record or ever having applied. National attention fromEsquire, the L.A. Times and other outlets solidified their status as Austin’s “next great rock band” and earned them a spot as the opener on 12 Midwest and West Coast Spoon tour dates. Meanwhile, the band and McCarthy finished work on the band’s full-length debut Cokomo, as well as a two song collaboration between them and Daniel, which became a limited edition 7″ release that received praise from Stereogum, Consequence Of Sound, SPIN, and other outlets.
Cokomo is the perfect snapshot of where the band is right now: a confident blend of garage rock, glammy pop, bouncy soul, and Ellis out front, owning every song. Through the evolution of Sweet Spirit she’s learned how to find her own voice while shining in the context of a supremely talented group – or, as Pop Press International put it, “the power of balancing autonomy with cooperation.”
Cokomo comes out in Nine Mile Records on October 16. The band will be on tour in the U.S. through the end of the year.