Suzanna Spring isn’t certain whether there’s a silver lining hiding inside our current dark coronavirus cloud. But she’s doing her optimistic best to find one.
The scheduled spring reunion tour for her all-girl L.A. cowpunk combo The Mustangs — now re-branded as Mustangs of the West, which just released “Time,” its first album in over 25 years — just got cancelled in the wake of the deadly pandemic. And her decade-old Dragonfly Yoga and Wellness studio in Livermore was also forced to put the kibosh on all classes.
“But I’ve noticed, as an artist and a musician, that it’s forced a whole new creativity to the forefront,” said the singer/guitarist, who is planning live-streamed concerts and a fun series of video shorts for her label, Blue Elan, to reintroduce the band.
The answers are out there, believes Spring, who pursued a songwriting career for a Nashville publishing house after Mustangs Mach I splintered in the mid-‘90s, before moving back to her Northern California family home in 2010 to teach yoga, where she still resides with her mother and two cats; her two brothers and their families also remain based in Livermore.
You just have to do a little reconnoitering. The Dragonfly shuttering, for instance, immediately pushed her to transfer all courses to video. “But about a week and a half ago, we put everything online for streaming, and I had to learn all about that because I hadn’t used the technology yet,” she said. “And now it’s nice to say Hi to my students after each lesson, all over the world.”
Spring speaks in reverent tones of the halcyon mid-‘80s L.A. punk and rockabilly scene that foaled the Mustangs, back when spirited groups like X, Los Lobos, The Blasters, Lone Justice and Rank and File played alongside each other at venues like The Palomino Club, where her bands fell into a Tuesday night residency. Even Dwight Yoakam, a then-recent emigre from a staid Nashville scene, made frequent appearances. “And there was a booking agent there one night from Finland at Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance, and he asked us if we wanted to come tour Scandinavia, and we ended up doing that twice,” she recalled. “Then we ended up playing South By Southwest on a show called Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Friends at the Broken Spoke, and Lucinda Williams was on that show, too. It felt like there was some real momentum behind the band.”
Alas, it was not fated to be. Spring took an alluring Music Row offer with Blue Water Music publishing and relocated there. But founding guitarist Sherry Rayn Barnett stayed in touch with her, as did original bassist Holly Montgomery, and when the singer sent her a twangy composition about missing California so much she wanted to move back, Barnett re-dubbed it ”T-Shirt From California” and decreed that the Mustangs should reunite to record it.
She then shopped it as a demo to the eclectic Blue Elan imprint, which signed the outfit (including new members Aubrey Richmond on fiddle and Suzanne Morissette on drums) after one high-octnae audition and green-lighted “Time,” most of which Spring penned in the classic hook-shrewd style of one of her heroes, the late Tom Petty. Kickoff single “How Blue” has the same comfortable lope as that artist’s classic “Wildflowers,” with a hickory-smoked Emmylou Harris lilt buttressing Spring’s forlorn lament. The rest of the record is equally chiming and charming, a perfect feel-good panacea for today’s unsettling times.
Spring said she won’t stop combing the Internet for more uplifting news. Some rural-routed friends recently reported that formerly timid wild animals like bobcats were now out of the woods and frolicking on farms. “And there’s no traffic for the coyotes in San Francisco,” she added. “I can only imagine what it feels like for them to run all over.”
The one clip that gave her pause? “This video of hundreds of chickens scrambling, pell-mell, down a city street. That’s probably how it’ll be when everybody comes outdoors again….”