By Alex Owens
Upcoming CD release party more of a ‘coming-out’ for local bandleader
A San Diego musician is using a CD release party as a coming-out event, in more ways than one.
Spooky Cigarette is a locally-based band that gets its name from twisting around two pejoratives: “spook,” a negative term for African-Americans; and “fag,” which besides being a derogatory term is also slang for cigarettes in the United Kingdom.
The band is releasing their debut album, “As Loud As I Can,” with a party at Soda Bar on May 19.
Both the group and the record are lead band member Frank Mindingall’s way of saying who he is in an approach that also matches his artistic sensibilities.
“I wanted to find a way of coming clean without getting someone down,” Mindingall said of the band’s name. “I wanted to play on the derogatory words of being black and gay and I wanted something that sounded silly on a surface level.”
Mindingall has performed with many local bands over the years, most notably Beaters, Northern Tigers and Ale Mania. His main instrument is bass, but he plays keyboards in Spooky Cigarette, which has a punky new wave sound similar to Joy Division and early New Order.
“I loved Devo and Oingo Boingo, but I’ve never tried to imitate them,” Mindingall said. “I was really influenced by punk conceptually, but I’m not trying to fit into a style. As punk goes, I really liked the early stuff, but gave it up after a while because it felt like a uniform.”
Fitting in hasn’t always been easy for Mindingall, who admitted he felt like an outsider at times being both black and gay.
“I knew who I wanted to be, but I felt this pressure from outside,” said the Clairemont High School graduate. “Finally, I decided this is the world I’m choosing to be in.”
Despite being in bands for more than 13 years, Mindingall has never actually led a band. Part of the reason was circumstances and part was finding the right group of musicians; something he feels he has now found with Spooky Cigarette: Danny Gallo on bass; Jakob McWhinney on guitar and vocals; and Skylar Eppler on drums.
“[The band] is definitely from San Diego and Frank and I are both natives,” McWhinney said. “I grew up all over, from University Heights to Ocean Beach to La Mesa. Frank grew up in Clairemont. Skylar moved here as a teenager from a tiny town called Mohammet, Illinois, and Danny moved down to San Diego in his early 20s from Santa Barbara.
“Skylar, Frank and I all met while working at the now-demolished Landmark indie movie theater in La Jolla,” McWhinney continued. “We all ended up getting fired from there, but we started a band called TRIPS before we did. It was actually pretty terrible and a stylistic smorgasbord that just didn’t really make sense.”
The current quartet also launched “Field Trips” around the same time, a local artistic collective and imprint label that encourages its members work on and promote each other’s solo projects. McWhinney said we’ll hear more from some of those pursuits later in the year.
“I always played bass in someone else’s band,” Mindingall said. “It’s been my life’s goal to start my own thing. It’s even more important to make a tape and have it my hand.”
McWhinney said working with Mindingall is very exciting for him artistically.
“Spooky Cigarette is built on this sort of dichotomy, the smooth and the rough, most of the songs have these sort of opposite feelings mixed up together,” McWhinney said. “A sweet synth with a distorted vocal, or a driving drum pattern with jittery guitars. It’s all about the details with Frank and he’s able to dig into them and find something new.”
To do that, however, Mindingall had to dig deep within, have the courage to be who he really was and be honest with his bandmates.
“I remember the night Frank came out to me, we were tanked at some bar in Hollywood after a record release show at the Roxy,” McWhinney said. “We were smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk out front and it was pretty tearful. It definitely felt like a significant shift.”
Mindingall said being gay definitely affects his lyrics, but he prefers to approach it in a more subtle way.
“I’m not going to be a spokesman,” he said. “Music is a very personal thing and I like the idea of people relating to it personally. Right now, my love songs are less about a particular person and more about wanting love or experiencing it as an outsider. That said, I will use pronouns like ‘he’ in my songs.
“One of my songs does have the chorus, ‘Where’s my Prince Charming?’ which Jakob sings that in the song and at first, I worried about what he would think, but he didn’t really care,” he said.
Spooky Cigarette’s CD release party is May 19 at Soda Bar, located at 3615 El Cajon Blvd., in City Heights.
If you miss the Soda Bar debut, McWhinney said the band should be performing at Casbah soon.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.
—Alex Owens is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.