SURREY — There are many different ways to play a song, but few musicians do it like Spirit.
The guy is a one-man band armed with a modified acoustic guitar, a couple of vocal mics, an array of foot pedals and a level of drive most musicians would envy.
On a recent Friday evening, as slot machines dinged and glasses clanged in the Molson lounge at Elements Casino in Cloverdale, Spirit set up for another showcase of his talents.
“I don’t do gigs, I call them performances,” he noted during a break. “I’m putting on a suit, not jeans and a T-shirt, because this is my business.”
Over the past five years, the Surrey-based musician has worked to build a career doing what he calls “acoustic live-looping” — music he creates on the spot, all on his own, and it’s an impressive skill.
“It’s all natural and organic,” Spirit stressed.
To start a typical song, Spirit will tap out the drum beat on the body of his guitar, or strings, and record that, using one of his pedals to repeat, or “loop,” the sounds. As that rhythm takes hold, he’ll loop in a bass riff played on the guitar strips, and then add strumming, soloing and vocals on top of that.
None of the music is pre-recorded, although it certainly sounds like it, and that sets him apart from myriad performers who employ backing tracks.
“Everything you hear is live,” Spirit emphasized with the passion of a preacher. “At first, people usually think, ‘OK, it’s a guy playing guitar,’ and sometimes they’ll hear other things and wonder if they’re pre-recorded. Well, no they’re not. I build the songs in front of them, and some people get that and others don’t realize what’s happening, that I’m adding layers. There’s a lot going on, and I think it’s pretty unique.”
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In the 1990s, before he was known as Spirit, he played in Poetic Justice, an original band based in Kitsilano, and he later toured the country with cover bands.
“All that top-40 stuff was like my schooling,” he said with a laugh.
Circa 2011, Spirit quit his construction job to pursue music as a full-time career. At first, he dubbed himself Spirit Cool, but he’s since dropped the “Cool” tag in an effort to make his stage name more memorable.
In conversation, he’s loathe to reveal his birth name.
“Spirit Cool is now my real name,” he said, proving it by pulling out his driver’s license.
“My company is called SpiritCool Entertainment, so the ‘Cool’ part still exists.”
On stage, Spirit has played his mix of cover songs and originals at a variety of venues, including pubs, corporate events and weddings.
“I’m refining it every day, and most of it’s practice, too. The big show days are the ones when I warmed up for Chilliwack, 54-40 and Platinum Blonde (at different concerts), and for those shows, I had to be absolutely perfect. Here (at Elements), it’s a bit looser, you know, entertaining a smaller crowd, chatting with people who want to talk, walking around with my guitar while playing, adding things to the performance, maybe trying a couple of new songs.”
For Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Spirit skillfully tapped the song’s snare-drum intro on his guitar strings to form a looping bed track. Not late in the evening, during his take on the Beatles classic “Hey Jude,” he closed the song by singing the requisite “na, na, na” harmony vocals.
Yes, harmony vocals.
“Half of my songs have background harmonies, like ‘Layla,’” Spirit explained. “I loop those harmonies, so I sing the first line, wait until the loop goes around to do the third (note on the musical scale) and then wait again to do the fifth (note), so I have to sing it three times, and I better get it right the first time or I have to do it again.”
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During a performance, one of Spirit’s challenges is the length of time it takes him to “set up” a song with drums, bass and other sounds.
“It takes me a minute to do that,” Spirit said. “I get it done as quickly as possible so I don’t miss a beat. I have a minute or two before the audience loses interest, I believe.”
Using his live-looping skills, Spirit cut a 10-song debut album, called All the Pieces, in 2013. A second LP, Hands, is due out this spring.
On YouTube, he has amassed more than 109,000 combined views of just two song videos he has posted, “Come to Think of It” and “Soul For Sale.”
White Rock-based concert booker Rob Warwick has taken note of Spirit’s talent, drive and persistence.
“His unique sound and style captivates any audience that I put him in front of,” said Warwick, who runs Rock.It Boy Entertainment. “He’s a true professional and (is) driven – rare qualities in the music industry.”
Spreading word about his music via social media is a large part of Spirit’s job as a career musician, and he “embraces it” for up to four hours a day.
“This is my living now, so not only do I have to be proficient in guitar, drums, bass and vocals, business is the other half of it, including social media,” he said.
“I’m all in – I’m doing this or I’m dying, that’s how I look at it,” he continued. “People can say all they want about playing music and how tough it is in Vancouver, blah blah blah, and I was listening to that for about 15 years and I got tired about hearing all those complaints. I just said, ‘I got to do this myself and see if it actually works.’”
Spirit returns to the Molson lounge at Elements Casino for evening performances on Feb. 12 and 13. Also catch him every Thursday at Central City Brew Pub in Surrey, starting this month. For more details, visit or Spiritcool.com.