Transparent Feeling in True Form: A Conversation with Spirit Haus

Spirit Haus acutely taps into the best and worst parts of the human experience, curating a musical project that is fully transient and transparent.

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“I have a tendency to lose myself throughout any given year, and I’ve lost myself many times in the past couple years, and I feel like when I work on Spirit Haus stuff and I truly dive into the production side, the writing side, whatever it is, that I kind of find that piece of myself back, and kind of reel myself back into reality and be a piece of myself again that I don’t mind presenting to people,” Bruno Catrambone notes of his pop project, Spirit Haus. “I feel like Spirit Haus lets me present the form of me that I actually am, and am comfortable with.”

Catrambone is no stranger to music, having been immersed fully in the music industry as a part of indie heavyweights CRUISR and Former Belle. He has anchored himself as a sonic force, transcending genres and allowing the different music to showcase his impressive talents. But, Spirit Haus is different. Spirit Haus completely sheds anything external. Spirit Haus allows Bruno Catrambone to just be Bruno Catrambone. And that’s exactly who he should be.

Spirit Haus is not necessarily a new project, having initially began a few years back between touring cycles, but it wasn’t nearly as involved as it is in its new form. Focusing primarily on lo-fi sounds that never quite felt wholly pop or wholly not, Catrambone toyed around with Spirit Haus and its potential, but since its rebirth there has been a seismic shift in his growth as an artist. His first single in this new era, “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” brings Spirit Haus to a new, exciting level of musical understanding, taking listeners on a deeply personal emotional journey through meticulously crafted pop structure. “Y.D.L.M.L.Y.U.T” fundamentally grasps humanity at its most basic sentimentality through its narrative, only furthermore aided by an instrumentation that feels familiar, yet unique. Catrambone acutely taps into the best and worst parts of the human experience, curating a musical project that is fully transient and transparent.

“I’m working really hard to really find a way to create that is true to actually how I feel, and what I’m doing,” Catrambone says. “And I feel like if I were to want anyone to know anything, it’s that I’m completely transparent in what I create, and I’m really transparent about how I feel in these songs.”

Listen: “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” – Spirit Haus

A CONVERSATION WITH SPIRIT HAUS

Atwood Magazine: So how long ago did you start the Spirit Haus project?

Bruno Catrambone: Probably close to three or four years ago, but it was like a solely in-between-tours type of thing. So, I think when CRUISR started touring… Because we were on the road, and then home for a little bit, then back on the road, on and off a lot; so I would do it in between those tours, and then I would just start bringing a laptop on the road, because there was just so much down time, and just start tinkering with ideas. And I would just save all the ideas according to what state I was in, and I would come home and be like, “Oh okay, this was that thing I did when we were in Colorado; I remember doing this in Denver.” And then I’d remember what I wanted to do, and I would finish it at home according to what I was thinking about, because you get distracted. I’d work on stuff on the road, and then be distracted, then work on it for a little bit, then I’d have to do something, and that was that. So I’d come home and reshape it according to what I was going for. But a lot of it was in between those tours, probably around 2014-2015.

Did you only ever put out singles, or a full album?

Bruno: Yeah, singles. We put out one single, “I Know You’re Worried,” and we did that with Manimal Vinyl. Then we put out a cover of “Loverspit” by Broken Social Scene. We also did that with Manimal. And those were the only two things we put out, and it was kind of… I had an EP worth of content, of more lo-fi stuff, and I was gonna do some kind of EP, but CRUISR was on and off on the road a lot that to try and get things done for both projects was a little rough. It’s hard to put out a cohesive set of ideas and songs when your heads here, then it’s here, and then it’s here, you know? It’s a little easier for me to be in the same spot for a long amount of time, where I can focus on just that. So yeah, it was just a couple of singles to be like, “hey, I’m doing this thing.” It was for fun, you know?

I don’t know much about anything, except what I think sounds good, and how to get it to sound good.

And how have your other projects inspired what you’re doing now with Spirit Haus? How have you kind of transitioned from that lo-fi pop into more pure pop stuff?

Bruno: I think CRUISR had a really big impact on it, more than anything else I’ve ever done; because I was doing Former Belle forever, and that was very much just singer-songwriter, acoustic, electric guitar influenced, so that was kind of a different world. But I think playing with CRUISR and getting really close with Andy [States] over the years; you know, it’s [CRUISR] his project. A lot of [Spirit Haus] is a brainchild of that world. So, you know, hanging out with him, and seeing his little production world, and seeing what he does, and then some of the bands we’ve toured with, and just our eyes being opened up to a whole different world, I was kind of infatuated by that. And I started listening to the radio more, and I started listening to different Spotify playlists, and I think I was just very… I was like, wow, I’ve just been writing this shit that’s very dark and delicate and sad, but I didn’t realize that this pop world kind of makes me excited, and it makes me happy, and I forgot that music does that. And I think that through playing with CRUISR, I realized that, oh, wow, music can actually bring you to a brighter place; or, at least you can create music that’s from a better place, which is cool.

Nice. So were you listening to Top 40 radio, like pure pop stuff?

Bruno: Yeah, yeah. And pop’s a really funny word, because there can be different little subcategories of what “pop” is. But, yeah, on the radio, I guess they play a lot of “top 40 pop,” but through playing with the CRUISR guys, and in trying to lend my hand to write wherever it was needed, or whatever Andy needed, whether it was just a little input on guitar or whatever, it was just like, well, there’s different things to keep in mind. So I think I listened to the radio and more pop music more as a student, and I think that the radio kind of adhered to being a student. Like, “why does this reach so many people? Why is it accessible? Why does it make people feel this way? Why does it make me feel this way? And why does it do so well?” So you kind of listen as a student, and I think that’s a lot of stuff I was listening to, things that would kind of help me learn.

What’s been your favorite thing that you’ve noticed or learned, in being a student, about the technical side of pop music, and the way that instrumentation is formatted?

Bruno: I’d say definitely the production side has been so fascinating. And I don’t know much about anything, except what I think sounds good, and how to get it to sound good. And there’s so much to learn in that, but I’d say it’s the little nuances that you don’t really pick up as a first listener. Like, you hear something and you’re like, “well this makes me feel great,” but there’s all these little moments. And I think I’ve learned that through actually working with Andy, and being in sessions; and even the song, “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” working on the song with Andy—because he co-produced it with me—and seeing his little additions to what I already had, it was like, “oh my goodness, you’re right, this little sound here at the beginning of that phrase actually changed the phrase as a whole.” And I think that’s the biggest thing for me, is listening to these songs and hearing what they do to kind of push a section, or bring a section back down, or bring a section out, or evoke something using this sound or that sound, or overall how to kind of produce a track when it gets to the final stages of mixing and mastering, what’s actually going to make it sound good. And I think listening in that regard of listening for certain things and hearing little nuances… I mean, there’s a song by Charlie Puth, “Attention,” which is an amazing song, and Voicenotes is probably one of my favorite things that’s happened this year, by far; I’m obsessed with him. I’m in love with what he does and how he does it; but Voicenotes has literally changed my year for so many reasons, and I was watching a video about how he went about writing and producing it, and he was talking about all the little sections, and he mentioned something about an acoustic guitar, and I was like, “what?!” And then it was like, “oh, he used it that way! Oh my gosh!” And when he was talking about it, I was like, oh, that makes sense. So that’s just an example of listening as a student, as well as someone who enjoys it.

How do you recoup and rebound when something that you adore so much just isn’t around anymore?

And you mentioned the new single—I’d love to know more about that, and what inspired it, what was the process like of making it?

Bruno: Oof.

Oof! It’s okay, I’ve got time.

Bruno: So I think that essentially, I was in the middle of this Charlie Puth phenomenon and all that, and also Troye Sivan as well—these are two artists that I put on for a lot of reasons, and I put them on a lot as a student. And I was realizing that a lot of their songwriting happens with just an acoustic guitar, or just a keyboard, and so I sat down and I found this stupid chord thing, and I was like, I’m gonna think of it less like this folk guy with too many words in a phrase and too many sentences in a story, and a verse, and I’m actually just gonna do a little melody with no words or phrases. And so it happened that way, and it kind of fell out, this phrase, “you don’t love me like you used to,” and I think it’s basically representative of what I’ve been going through the past, I don’t know, year? Handful of months? So I think it happened through kind of studying these people that I just absolutely adore right now, and then the past couple months of recovering from that kind of feeling. And I feel like a lot of us have been on both sides of, “you don’t love me like you used to.” You know, you’ve been on the side where you’re like, “oh my gosh, I don’t know if my feelings are as strong as we’ve been talking about,” and then you’ve also been on this side where someone’s literally been like, “hey, this isn’t for me.” And I think that a lot of the writing for that song from thinking about both sides; how shitty it feels to be told that, “hey, this type of love isn’t for me,” or, “your love, specifically, isn’t for me,” and then also from the side of being that person as well. So it kind of tries to cover both ends of the spectrum. And, you know, to me, trying to keep a vibe where it was a little cloudy and gloomy, because the last few months have been extremely gloomy, I think I wanted that to come across as well. And to me, I feel like, what is… One of the feelings at this age, or I guess at any age can happen to you, is like, when you’re completely enthralled with someone or a situation, and then within a split second, that’s not a part of your life anymore, and you’re left to kind of cope with that. So how do you recoup and rebound when something that you adore so much just isn’t around anymore? So I think that for me, this song kind of represents those gloomy handful of months, with keeping in mind being a part of the bad side, and being part of the side that feels that way.

Photo by Derek Fass

Photo by Derek Fass

Why did you decide to make “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” the first single that you’re going to put out to reintroduce Spirit Haus again?

Bruno: I think that I just needed… Well, number one, this was the first one that was a complete idea. The idea fell out over the course of, I don’t know, a couple of weeks? And it was the first complete idea where I felt comfortable revamping a project and saying this is the new stuff. Number two, I think I just needed this concept in and out of my life as quickly as possible. I felt like, if I just finished this and stopped dilly-dallying around—because a lot of times I’ll work on something forever, I’ll change things a million times, I won’t be happy with it, and it’ll collect dust on a hard drive somewhere and exist there; but, sometimes when I do that, I’m kind of stuck with these feelings that I never said out loud. So I felt like, if I just put this out, then maybe I can move onto another section or chapter in my life, and just know that I’ve said some peace, and I can move on to talk about another peace.

Right. So what else have you started working on for this?

Bruno: There’s a couple things behind it, so I’d say that this will probably be a series of singles, and I’ll collect them that way. So there’s at least a couple more that are inching toward a finish line. And then behind that, there’s actually some old material that are kind of complete ideas, that I think just need a little bit of work. I think the plan for me is to just keep inching toward the finish line of more new stuff, and putting this out.

Are you going play shows?

Bruno: I would love to! It’s a matter of finishing a couple things. And I would really have to think about how the performance stuff would work; I’m lucky to have amazing friends around that would be interested in doing it, have voiced interest in doing it, and then also are capable of doing it.

Would you play with a full band?

Bruno: I’d love that, yeah. I’d love to have at least a couple people doing the live instrumentation. You know, a lot of it is different types of synths and electronic sounds, which you can make work live, but I’d love drums, and bass, and live keys. I think there’d be a lot to incorporate in the live section.

Musicians are blessed because we have a tool that we can use as a vehicle to say how we feel.

That’s awesome! And I like to ask this question more generally, but why does music matter to you?

Bruno: Sure, wow.

It’s a big one!

Bruno: Yeah. So, I guess what I really, really need to say is that this song that is coming out, it wouldn’t even be a thing, or a song, or anything—it wouldn’t even be a realized idea—if it weren’t for working on it with Andy States. He’s been my right-hand man through this entire thing, and he put just as much effort as I have into getting it where it needs to be. He mixed it and co-produced it with me. I’d hit him up at 3 in the morning like, “I don’t know this,” and we’ve literally had a handful of mixing sessions where the sun was coming up in the morning, and birds were yapping through the window. So I think that it wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for him, as far as helping me shape it, and as far as giving me direction, and I’m just head over heels with learning this production stuff. I think it’s amazing; it’s been like a friend. A lot of my friends, I’ll bombard them with like, “oh my god, I’m not feeling okay, can we get a drink? I can’t stop thinking about this, or that,” and for music, it’s kind of like an unspoken importance that you have, where you have a friend that’s available 24/7 that you don’t have to talk about what’s actually going on in your life, you can kind of just create it, and express it. And I feel like that matters, and through talking with Andy about the song, and this and that, he was like, “you know, we’re really lucky, because we have this outlet to express how we’re feeling.” And I think that’s just spot on—to quote him, that’s just extremely spot on. Musicians are blessed because we have a tool that we can use as a vehicle to say how we feel, and even put out as songs, and then be done with it, and move onto something else. So, it really matters.

It really matters! I mean, it’s a way to express yourself, and be a creative outlet for everything that’s going on.

Bruno: For sure.

So what do you want people to know about you as a musician, and then, simultaneously with Spirit Haus?

Bruno: Man, I guess that I’m learning, and I’m working really hard to really find a way to create that is true to actually how I feel, and what I’m doing. And I feel like if I were to want anyone to know anything, it’s that I’m completely transparent in what I create, and I’m really transparent about how I feel in these songs, because sometimes I’m a really shitty communicator about how I feel and what I need and what I want. But I feel like the one place where I’m actually capable of being true is in these songs, and I think that if there’s one thing for anyone to know, it’s that there’s a lot of, I guess for lack of better words, blood, sweat, and tears that go into every single thing that will be put out with Spirit Haus that it’s actually hard to explain. You know, there’s a lot of… Even for this first song, waking up at 7 a.m. to watch YouTube videos on how to make a compressor work the way I want, or how this plugin works, or Andy texting me first thing in the morning, some of the big name producers and how they do things. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that happens with these songs, and there’s a lot of mental strain and hard work, but hard work in creating this. It’s probably the truest form of who I am as a person, to put out any type of music that I do at home. There is an obsessive art form in learning how to do things yourself, and I feel like that’s something to be said about what my friends do, and what I’ve been enjoying learning to do with this project. So I think Spirit Haus is literally just for me is something that I can show that’s like a true form of me and my little obsession. I have a tendency to lose myself throughout any given year, and I’ve lost myself many times in the past couple years, and I feel like when I work on Spirit Haus stuff and I truly dive into the production side, the writing side, whatever it is, that I kind of find that piece of myself back, and kind of reel myself back into reality and be a piece of myself again that I don’t mind presenting to people. I feel like Spirit Haus lets me present the form of me that I actually am, and am comfortable with.

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:: You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To ::

Maggie McHale

Maggie is the Chief Music Director for Atwood Magazine, currently living in Philadelphia. She also works as a Digital Marketer for Fame House, a Philly-based Universal Music Group subsidiary. She is heavily involved in the arts and music scene in the City of Brotherly Love, often enjoying (and even preferring) going to concerts and museums alone; just generally loving and exploring the city that she calls home. A self-proclaimed “hug enthusiast” and dog lover, Maggie also enjoys fashion, travel, the paranormal, and drinking way too much coffee. In addition to writing for Atwood, she freelances and contributes to JUMP Magazine. (Fun fact-She also once slow-danced with Boyz II Men in Las Vegas.)