Spacing out with SD local band Spaceman Spiff

ommy is circling the street desperately looking for an elusive Pacific Beach parking spot. Clay and I are engaged in some small talk and I am getting hints about Ivan’s sexual escapades.

Lyon Liew

“”We’re trying to sleep our way to the top, but Ivan is getting damn tired,”” laughs Clay.

This is Spaceman Spiff. Four 20-something San Diego guys looking to make it big in the music industry. They work hard and play hard. They play gigs at coffee shops, bars, weddings and parties for pretty much anyone who will take them.

But this is not some indie-punk-rock-three-chord-thrash-trash band trying to learn its Blink-182 covers so it can get a little booty. These guys are a bona fide jazz combo and they are damn good at what they do. Playing everything from straight-ahead jazz standards to their original work, which consists of a sweeter, funkier sound, they are traveling San Diego and beyond to make themselves known.

Clay is the man on the horns. With a degree in jazz performance from San Diego State University, Clay constantly switches between the sax and the flute and also helps out on the vocals. Tommy is the rock-steady guitar player complemented by Mikey, the drummer who can easily splice together some basic jazz rhythms with complex hip-hop grooves. Ivan is the lady killer with his funky bass-playing and his sultry vocals, not to mention a degree from the California Institute for the Arts.

The Sound

So what exactly is the Spaceman Spiff sound? Capitol Records told them they were too jazzy, and Blue Note sent them away saying that sound was not jazzy enough. They fall between the cracks with their soulful tunes dashed with spicy jazz flavors.

But they keep working.

“”[Playing gigs is] all we’re doing right now,”” Clay says. “”I mean, we all kind of have back-up plans, but this is, like, do-or-die time.””

Ivan, who credits Stevie Wonder, Prince and Bob Marley as his influences, does not hide his ambition.

“”I want to be a rock star, make lots of money and sell lots of records.””

Their sound is a combination of jazz, reggae and hip-hop. Light horns are complimented by a funk-driven bass line and Ivan’s voice. The smooth guitar sound and the energetic, syncopated rhythm of the drums round out the entire Spiff sonic experience. It is slow and mellow enough to have a romantic moment and fast and melodic enough to get the feet moving.

“”What we do is have some improvisation and some freedom with being creative,”” Mikey says. “”It’s about creating something new every time we play.””

“”I think what we have is good, eventually the music will evolve, once we all mesh as a band,”” Ivan said.

“”Especially as more stuff happens in our life,”” Clay adds.

The Gig

“”Performing is the perfect vessel for expression,”” Ivan says “”It’s how I express myself the best. I’m better off when I play music.””

Spaceman Spiff is a quartet of performers. They play for hours at a time at places like Claire de Lunes and The Redfish. When asked about their favorite place to gig in San Diego, they immediately respond, almost unison, “”The Onyx Room.””

Spaceman Spiff has always had success at The Onyx Room with an audience that understands and also loves them. And the club is happy because Spiff regularly packs the joint.

“”We own that place,”” Clay said. “”We’re gonna start playing [The Onyx Room] every other week. See, that’s the big thing with us, it’s the clubs. The rock clubs don’t work for us, but The Onyx Room is so conducive to what we do. It makes sense to nurture that and build our own scene.””

The Spaceman Spiff sound will energize the heart and soul of anyone who cares to listen. Their passion and dedication to the music is clearly marked on the musicians’ faces.

As Clay said, “”Spiff doesn’t know how to do anything else.””

Jam on.


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