Sabrina Ellis has been involved in the Austin punk-rock music scene for almost a decade now. The band that brought her into the spotlight, A Giant Dog, plays loud, energetic garage punk, and their live shows, as Ellis put it, can get pretty “violent.” Now, she’s taking a different direction. With the help of A Giant Dog cofounder Andrew Cashen, Ellis started Sweet Spirit, a poppier but still energetic-as-hell band that puts a bunch of musical genres into a blender and cranks that knob up to high. After playing SXSW and shooting music videos in California, Sweet Spirit is now touring in support of their new album, St. Mojo, and will be rolling their way into First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry on Sunday, April 9.
The group, at its heart, is a pop band—even Ellis and Cashen see it that way. “We started Sweet Spirit and we consider it a pop band more than anything,” Ellis said during the hilarious, oddly inspirational interview I had with her. But there is more to them than just “pop band.” Listen through the new record and you’ll hear hints of soul, blues, jazz, glam rock, country, and more. It’s a harmonious, sexy blend of genres all wrapped up with an Austin flair. And the best part of it: the music makes you want to get up and party, dance, and sing your ass off with the band. It’s hard not to see why; there is a gritty, vibrant energy to Sweet Spirit, an energy that has propelled them to be an opener for the incredibly popular Spoon; tour (and party) with local legend Har Mar Superstar; and be showcased for their live shows at SXSW.
Not that Ellis and Cashen are totally new to this kind of attention. A Giant Dog has a huge following and is well known for those raucous, explosive live shows. However, this time around, Ellis is taking the helm. “In A Giant Dog we have a guy who’s like the responsible guy. And the tour manager takes care of us. And then in Sweet Spirit, that’s me! That’s like saying, ‘The evil witch is driving the ship,’” she said. “The top level of responsibility goes to the girl with the crazy hair gyrating in her underwear. We just do our best.”
And their best has clearly garnered Sweet Spirit some well-deserved attention. Cashen and Ellis have an undeniable chemistry that seems to stem straight from their nine-plus years of playing music together. The other seven members of the band fit right in, too, and this is exemplified as soon as the drums kick in on “The Power,” the first song on their new album, which I’m confident will make heads bob and bodies shake in dark, sweat-filled clubs all across America.
But Ellis wants to share this Sweet Spirit experience with us, too. “I want people to party. I want them to escape into our party,” she said. “I want them to not have to run away from their responsibilities forever, but I want them to feel as though they are having an affair and running off.”
It wasn’t always as easy going for Sweet Spirit. The band started as something of a solo project for Ellis because she was going through a difficult time: “Three years ago I went through a divorce and just had all this energy, and started Sweet Spirit with my longtime collaborator.” Despite the troubled period, the band quickly took off, turning heads and filling up clubs all over Texas and, eventually, the wider United States. They developed a reputation for their, well, spirited live shows and the seamless way that they mixed musical genres together.
And now, we in the Twin Cities get to join the party on April 9. Just from talking to Ellis, I could tell that there is an electric, intensely optimistic zeal that surrounds the band, and I look forward to seeing them live (and also discovering how the hell nine people are going to fit on that stage). Sweet Spirit is the kind of music I think a lot of us need right now: powerful and optimistic, poppy but soulful. A reason to dance, to sweat, to lose ourselves in dim concert venues, standing next to hundreds of people that we don’t know. It’s music that gives us a reason to escape, if only for a little while. Ellis seems to want these live shows to get a little weird, too—to become an experience that people won’t forget. “I want them to feel like they’ve answered some sexy ad late at night, and they don’t know what they are getting themselves into, and it’s a little bit dangerous,” she said.
The band doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, either. “You can expect to just see a lot of us this year. We’re out and about pretty much all year,” Ellis said.
Sweet Spirit plays First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 9 with General B and the Wiz. For tickets and prices, follow the link here. The band’s sophomore album, St. Mojo, releases two days before that, on Friday, April 7—click here for preorders. Learn more about the band at SweetSpiritATX.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.