Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen — the two main songwriters in A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit — can't get enough of each other. The duo tour full time in both bands, meaning there's plenty of time to bounce song ideas off each other when they aren't performing live nearly every night. But while A Giant Dog are definitely a rowdy live band that owes a lot to '70s party rock, Sweet Spirit have a strong retro-pop vibe going on. A Giant Dog work with Merge Records (home to Reigning Sound and Mikal Cronin), while Sweet Spirit seem destined for a major label contract. I caught up with Sabrina while she was knee-deep in a day-long drive across Ohio to talk about the difference between the two (must-see-live) bands. — Chris Shaw
Memphis Flyer: How is the writing process different between Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog?
Sabrina Ellis: Andrew and I write for both bands. Some people can hear similarities, and some people can't. Andrew and I have been writing together for about 10 years, but the big differences happen in the arrangements for Sweet Spirit. When we take a song to A Giant Dog, we have a five-piece to work with, and the songs are always heavy and balls to the wall. With Sweet Spirit, there is always an acoustic guitar and a melody. If we come up with something that has vulgar lyrics, it's going to be A Giant Dog song.
Sweet Spirit is obsessed with arranging. Everyone listens to way too much rock-and-roll and other types of music, so when we take something to Sweet Spirit, there is no limit to what the song can be. A Giant Dog has restrictions and limitations that keep it really focused.
Tell me about the debut album Cokomo. Where/when was that recorded and by whom? Are the songs on that record some of the first you ever wrote for the band?
Mike McCarthy — who has also done the last two A Giant Dog records — recorded it in Austin in July of 2014. The first three or four songs we ever wrote for Sweet Spirit ended up on the debut album. There were definitely like six or seven songs that didn't end up on the album, but maybe we will re-work them and make them better.
How is the new record different? What was it like working with acclaimed producers Steve Berlin and Stuart Sikes?
The new record is going to be called Saint Mojo. The process was a lot different than the first time. In the short time of us being a band, we got so busy, we ended up rehearsing and recording 13 songs with the intention of using them for the new album. That was a lot different than going into the studio with a bunch of ideas and just messing around and experimenting. Everyone in the band got personal attention this time around. We developed the songs slowly, and our audience can expect some surprises. [The new record is] really poppy, really big. It's sleek and more radio-friendly than Cokomo. We dabble in different time periods, production-wise. It's a good album for someone who's really into old rock-and-roll.
You and Andrew are in two full-time bands together. How does that work? Do you ever get sick of each other?
I'm sitting arm in arm with Andrew right now. We often hold hands in the van because we are that close of friends. He can't get enough of me. He's always wanting me to scratch his head. I always try to make sure there's cold milk in the fridge for Andrew. He expects fresh milk everywhere we go. I get sick of him way more than he gets sick of me. We can always ignore each other, but we see each other about four or five times a week.
Sweet Spirit and Marcella and Her Lovers, Friday at the Hi-Tone. 9 p.m. $10