Interview – Pawnbroker

Spencer Ellsworth is a writer and English teacher who has presented at Sunstone a couple of times and would like everyone to scour their back issues of Dialogue for his stories. Because writing isn’t unhealthy and egotistical enough, he also writes music, sings, and plays bass in Pawnbroker, an up-and-coming band in the Bellingham, WA music scene.

Theric: So up at the top of this website it says “LDS Musicians who don’t write LDS music” — Why do you suppose they capitalized “Musicians” but not “music”?

Spencer: Because the Musicians are members of the church and the music is not. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that Mormons are better (and thus more capitalized) than anyone else. For example, Joseph Smith is capitalized but copernicus is not.

Theric: But srsly, to that description, tell us about your history as a saint and as a musician.

Spencer: When I was a kid, my dad would play this massive pipe organ in our stake center in Lancaster, California. I’m serious: it was a full-on pipe organ that towered a good two stories over Sacrament meeting and boasted at least twenty pipes of varying size. It’s stunning.

He worked everything into the prelude music as segues for the hymns–Beatles, Andrew Lloyd Webber, lots and lots of stuff from the 60s, ragtime and jazz–I head “Imagine” a couple of times. In church! With a start like that, I had to become a musician. I’ve played in about thirteen bands since I was seventeen. I’m thirty now.

For a while I played around the late-90s Utah punk scene, sometimes opening for the soon-to-be-infamous Used (although they were called Strange Itch and/or Dumb Luck at the time). We would go to Suicide Machines concerts on Saturday night and church on Sunday morning, where we would bear our testimonies, sometimes with bright blue hair, about how excited we were to go on our missions.

Through my days at BYU/UVU, through my inevitable crisis of faith and move toward liberal Mormonism–I like to call it Sunstoneism–and through my move to the Seattle area, I kept playing. Pawnbroker is probably the band in which I’ve been best able to express my crisis of faith.

The singer is an unchurched preacher’s kid, so she digs the lyrics. When we were at a coffee shop getting to know each other, the singer/keyboardista Becca, guitarist Nathan and I talked for a good two hours on spirituality. It set a nice precedent. They are some of the nicest, mellowest and and dare I say it, most spiritual people I know.

Theric: Lancaster? I know Lancaster! I’m from Tehachapi and, before moving to the Bay Area, I taught in the Antelope Valley high school district for a year. Which high school did you go to? And — don’t think I doubt you — but you’re not in the Wikipedia articles for either The Used or Strange Itch and as per the laws of the Internet, if Wikipedia doesn’t know it, it ain’t true. What proof do you have?

Spencer: It’s a small Church after all, it’s a small Church after all… I went to Quartz Hill High School.

Um… no proof after googling, but our old drummer Brian Holdaway, who manages Seagull Book in Orem, will vouch for me…

That wikipedia article for Strange Itch is kinda thin. I added the line about Joel, because Broke City is a really good band and everyone should also check them out.

Theric: Back to the present, tell me more about the lyrics you’re writing for Pawnbroker. Please feel free to be pretentious and quote yourself.

Spencer: Oh jeez… Okay, those who don’t read liner notes are free to skip the next part.

In this band I’ve taken a different tactic from my old style of writing lyrics, which were mostly straightforward songs about relationships or just about what I was going through.

I’ve begun to enjoy the idea of taking a persona in a song–the classic example would be Paul McCartney’s story songs, like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” in which the songwriter essentially puts a short story into song form.

“Wednesday’s Child” was the song form of a short story I am still trying to write, in which a polygamous FLDS-type wife goes and secretly gets an abortion to “prove” that she isn’t going to do her husband’s will. On a Wednesday because, in her logic, that’s the furthest away from Sundays and she is thus in spiritual limbo.

I’m trying to look inside a mind that had been manipulated into strange reasoning. If there’s one thing that Mormons do well, it’s intuitive leaps of logic–sometimes very good ones like using the Spirit to avoid a car wreck, sometimes very very weird ones.

It’s also a bit like Fugazi’s “Suggestion,” in that it’s a man taking a feminine persona. But I got a girl to sing it. Stuff it, Fugazi.

Wednesday’s Child

I got me a secret baby
It’s a gleam in your eye
Might be a bit more than that
I ain’t gonna lie
They say it’s a gift from God a lady
Really should keep
Lord’s got the justice cornered
But Mama cooks the meat

I can’t wait to prove it, prove it to you baby
I ain’t your lover, ain’t your slave and ain’t your lady
Lord, lord lord I kept it inside of me
Yeah, I kept it inside.

You’ve got you a big house baby
With a couple of wives
You said that I ain’t the cutest
But I got good eyes
Come down to the clinic Wednesday
You can come and hear the sound
That’s the sound of love
I’m cutting it out

I can’t wait to prove it, prove it to you baby
I ain’t your lover, ain’t your slave and ain’t your lady
Lord, lord lord I kept it inside of me
Yeah, I kept it inside.

(guitar solo)

I can’t wait to prove it, prove it to you baby
I ain’t your lover, ain’t your slave and ain’t your lady
Lord, lord lord I cut it right out of me
Yeah, I cut it right out me.

There are a few that are more fun, like “The Caterwaul,” which is a sort of silly dialogue about misbehavior and one I wrote that I think is downright uplifting, called “Almost Certainly.”

“Almost Certainly” represents a genuine moment of faith. I would say that I believe nothing is certain (except that). My daughter was born just after I left the Church. It turned out to be a brief break.

After she was born and my wife was finally asleep, I sat in the hospital chair holding her and watching her flop around on my chest like a little red Muppet-fish. She looked up at me and there was this glimmer of… I can’t describe it, except to say that we recognized each other.

Maybe.

Nothing is certain, but almost certainly…

Almost Certainly

My baby glass
I’m scared to break you
Scared of the past
My hands like wire
Will always catch you
Like a lousy liar

Almost certainly
We’ll run the devil down, yeah you and me
Almost always true
Through black and blue
Yeah, me and you.

Your eyes highlight
My past and future
Dawn and the twilight
Our tiny lives
Flicker like lightning
In a sky of lies.

Almost certainly
We’ll run the devil down, yeah you and me
Almost always true
Through black and blue
Yeah, me and you.

(guitar solo)

Almost certainly
We’ll run the devil down, yeah you and me
Almost always true
Through black and blue
Yeah, me and you.

(Both songs are up on our reverbnation page, although for the moment Almost Certainly is only an acoustic version–electric version is in the works.)

Theric: Tell me more about Pawnbroker — who’s in the band and what kind of plans do you share?

Spencer: Pawnbroker is me on bass, Nathan on guitar, Becca on vocals and Alex on drums.

Alex went to church until he was about eight, I think. His mom actually waited for his dad during the mission. He remembers that he was assigned to give a talk in Primary, and he didn’t realize it had to be a Church-specific subject, so he gave a talk about different kinds of tractors.

Which is awesome.

Plans? We want to play live, record decent albums, and share a moment of rock n’ roll with people. We’re all in our early 30s and late 20s and have all been through some rocky times lately–death, divorce, homelessness, both within our own lives and within the lives of close family members. Music is our outlet, but I don’t think we will become rock stars. Maybe Nathan. He’s got charisma and a shiny blue guitar.

Theric: So how can people support you? I’ve heard three tracks and dig them, but what if I want more and am unwilling to fly north?

Spencer: Then you are damned.

Listen to reverbnation, download the tracks. In a month or so the actual EP should be done and mastered and you will be able to buy it. We have a blog going up soon, once I get my act together. I just got my first real full-time middle-class job, so my time has become a bit more precious.

You’d be surprised how far the “likes” go on Facebook. Once we get to a certain number we get to do things like pick our URL, have fans instead of “likes,” and eventually get groupies instead of fans. The last part might be made up.

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Interview – Pawnbroker

6 thoughts on “Interview – Pawnbroker

  1. Katya, obviously you’re not here in Kentucky. Imagine hearing a lesson about couples being “equally yoked” that consists of 45 minutes talking about actual mules.

    Like

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