Spirit of the West comes east

More than 25 years into their career, the wheels might not be turning as quickly as they once did for legendary Canadian Celtic band Spirit of the West.

But they’re still very much in motion for the band. As the song writers behind the quintessential Canadian anthem “Home For A Rest,” the group is gearing up to perform at Casino New Brunswick on St. Patrick’s Day as a part of the Ceilidh Green Party.

From his home in Vancouver, Spirit drummer Vince Ditrich notes his band’s lower profile over the past number of years has been attributed to various endeavours taken on by him and his bandmates. These projects, including television, band management and musical side projects, have shifted the focus from Spirit of the West, but Ditrich says that is not a negative thing.

“Contrary to what some believe, we never split up or called it quits,” an affable Vince says. “We really stopped actively touring the country at the conclusion of our record contract with Warner Brothers in the late ’90s.”

At that point, Vince says that the group admittedly starting cherry-picking the shows they would play, resulting in reduced time away from home, reduced touring expenses and seemingly happier band members. It was a win-win.

“Putting the brakes on the band when we were in the midst of our Warner contract didn’t even enter our minds,” he says. “If you are a part of a band that wishes to achieve critical mass, you have to consistently and continuously apply force.

“By the end of contract though, we were starting to get pretty tired. At the peak, we were spending six months out of the year on the road and when you are away that much, you start to lose a sense of who you are. Mind you, all of us love playing live – it is the other 22 hours of the day that can be mind-numbing.”

In retrospect, Spirit of the West’s self-imposed hiatus was the best possible thing that could have happened. A big reason for that, Vince says, is the fact that the group has become so dependent on each other in determining what steps they would take next.

“Suddenly, you don’t have four other guys that you are co-ordinating the next year of your life with. Plus, the break led us down so many interesting paths; it would be a shame if we had not pursued that.”

By his estimates, Vince says the group keeps a live schedule of up to two dozen shows per year however their lives outside the band is what dictates how busy they will be.

“The way that we are operating now is a very happy medium for all of us,” Vince says.

“And we are very pleased with the way that things are working out for us.”

The past decade has not seen a wealth of new material emerge from the Spirit camp. In 2004, the band released what were its first new recordings in more than seven years with the release of the full-length record Star Trails. To help celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2008, the band, in conjunction with its former label Warner Brothers, released a 32-track compilation that not only revisited some of the band’s best-loved hits but also included two new tracks.

Vince says the recording sessions for the two new songs were just like riding a bike; it didn’t take long for things to gel once the band arrived in the studio. It was also this recording session that started the band talking about the possibility of getting together once again and making a new record.

“We are all starting to talk about the possibility of recording something new. Each of us figure that it is time to do so. Making a record can be an expensive venture though, especially if you want to make it a quality product.

“Luckily for us, we don’t feel as though we have to rush a record to market. I have always found our best efforts were those that we took our time in making. It feels good to spend time on these things.”

Vince says that if Spirit vocalist John Mann had his way, however, the band would have a record completed and released in some form as quickly as they could.

“John really loves the honesty that you can find in going from idea to completed product as quickly as possible. I’m from the completely opposite school however; I would want to take the best of that and put it into a more solid structure.

“When the two of us are balanced properly, I truly think it is a great combination.”

Article published in March 16, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript