From Spiller Hall came Spiller the band, and after that, three years of music and performance. In a final summer, the band tours and prepares for an upcoming EP release, all while keeping their original spontaneity alive.
Justin Kiatvongcharoen, Aidan D’Angelo, Sam Mendoza and Luke Broadbent sit on the front porch of their vintage Eugene home; August has just begun. It’s 101 degrees Fahrenheit and the heat is inescapable. The four make up the band Spiller.
The band is using these days of summer to build their collection of visual content before they head out on tour. They start by recording a live performance in their basement studio. The room’s main light source is a projector streaming a home video of a southern family’s road trip to Yosemite. Before playing a house show at the Blue Room, they spend the afternoon skating down Emerald street and hiking through the Eugene Masonic Cemetery.
It all started in Spiller Hall, a residence hall at the University of Oregon. D’Angelo, Kiatvongcharoen, Broadbent and Mendoza had just graduated high school and moved to Eugene, Ore. to begin their college careers. The boys were from opposite ends of the world: Broadbent from Hawaii, D’Angelo and Mendoza from California and Kiatvongcharoen from Hong Kong. Spiller seemed almost destined from the start—they all loved playing music. Since then, the band has gone on to play shows around the region and are planning for an upcoming EP release in the fall. Spiller is spending their final summer as students, preparing to take the band long past graduation.
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Despite the heat, and the fact that it’s a Wednesday, Spiller packs the basement of the Blue Room. Misting fans are positioned at the entrance of the venue, but the crowd is already wet from sweat, nobody seeming to mind. This is Spiller’s first performance of the month, and their last Eugene show before an end-of-summer tour along the West Coast. The band plays their version of “Sorry Ms. Jackson” by Outkast, along with “Grapes of Wrath” and “Autumn Equinox,” two songs from their upcoming EP, “Midwest.”
Each of them has been playing music since before they learned to drive, some even before they hit puberty. D’Angelo started with piano in the second grade and switched to the bass guitar when he reached middle school. Kiatvongcharoen has been playing the drums for over 12 years. Prior to that, he received piano lessons from his aunt while living in Hong Kong. Broadbent started playing ukulele after he moved to Hawaii 13 years ago. He has played string instruments ever since, and now prefers to play the electric guitar. Mendoza spent seven years taking classical piano lessons during his youth and started learning guitar at around the same time.
“Although I’ve felt more at home playing guitar, piano has provided such a crucial, theoretical, foundation for everything I do musically,” Mendoza says.
After meeting, Kiatvongcharoen, Broadbent and Mendoza began experimenting with sound techniques and writing songs in the basement of their residence hall. Broadbent and Mendoza sang and played the guitar while Kiatvongcharoen played the drums. Before long, they met a bass player, D’Angelo, who lived in another nearby dorm. Together they formed Spiller. After three to four months of practice, they played their first house show at The Blair House, a nonprofit venue in Eugene, at the beginning of 2015.
From strangers to best friends, Spiller became more than a typical DIY band of students. “I think for me, and for [D’Angelo] and [Kiatvongcharoen], Spiller is a lot more improvisatory ,” Broadbent says. “Playing house shows consistently was a new thing too.”
According to Broadbent, the band has a mutual interest in jazz music and that the genre has a strong influence on Spiller.
The band lives together and goes on the road together, which keeps them close. But what is different about them is their approach to performing. In order to maintain the spontaneity, the band never makes a setlist before a show and they never play a song the same way twice. Their light-hearted performances include short rap freestyles by Mendoza, which act as transitions between songs.
“We try our best to find humor and enjoyment through live performances, and keep things as spontaneous as possible,” Broadbent says. “We generally play more upbeat songs at houses shows to keep the vibe going. At venues with better lighting and sound, sometimes I find we play a little more introspective with more nuance and subtleties.”
Spiller began writing mostly indie-punk/twinkly emo sounding songs with assorted improvised sections. As their style developed, the band added heavier, noisier, and mathier sounds while the improvisatory trend continued. Essentially, they began changing the tempo and time signatures of their songs, playing in beats of five, seven, or eleven.
“I’d say [our sound] seems to have evolved pretty organically so far,” Broadbent says.
After their first year in the residence halls, they continued to play house shows, build relationships with their fans and even moved in together. Almost all of the bandmates are majoring in different subjects: Broadbent and Mendoza in jazz studies, Kiatvongcharoen in music technology, and D’Angelo in advertising. Despite their varied majors, they still found time to develop an authentic, original sound and experience.
Prior to the start of their senior year in the summer of 2017, Spiller spent three weeks touring throughout the West Coast. Starting in Portland, they kicked off their tour with guest features by Chang Park, a trumpet player who was friends with Kiatvongcharoen in high school. They were also joined by the band’s friends the Illaquips, a hip-hop group whose members also study at the University of Oregon.
The following three days, they ventured through Washington, starting with a show in Bellingham, then moving onto Seattle and Tacoma. With a day off for travel, the boys drove through the solar eclipse on their way to Sacramento. They spent two weeks and two days in California, making stops at campus radio stations, including Cal Poly Pomona Radio and KUCI-FM, and venues in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. On their way home, they stopped for a show in Brookings, Ore. and ended the tour at the Blue Room in Eugene.
Now back in Eugene, Spiller prepares for a release party for “Midwest” on the first Friday of fall term.
“We basically recorded, mixed and produced the entire EP by ourselves,” Kiatvongcharoen says.
In the spring of 2017, the band reserved a room in the Frohnmayer Music Building and spent a full day recording live sessions of their songs. The EP will be released in two parts, one side called “Ruben,” the other “Cold Cut,” and each side will have three to four songs.
“It contains a lot of the live components that we are known for – we are best when performing live,” Kiatvongcharoen says.
Spiller hopes their music will transcend college—that when graduation happens this spring, there isn’t an eminent break-up. Instead, they plan for a lifetime of jamming. Before they graduate, they hope to play a tour route to Austin, Texas and back.
“Aidan and I have a pact that we will get our first tattoos there if we ever make it on tour, and I’m very much hoping to make that a reality as soon as possible,” Broadbent says.