“Everybody says, ‘The Flaming Lips changed my life,’” says Jake Ingalls. “But they actually changed my life. It’s pretty bizarre how that happened.”
Indeed, the series of fortuitous events that took him from a fan of the psych rockers to playing with them has the makings of a Hollywood movie. The journey began after a 2009 show when Ingalls helped the band’s tour manager, overwhelmed and unexpectedly without stagehands, move gear in the pouring rain. The two stayed in touch, and Ingalls was soon hired as a catchall stagehand, gradually working his way up to guitar tech.
When the Lips found out Ingalls played music, frontman Wayne Coyne asked him if he could keep a beat, then brought him aboard on synth bass at their shows. For nearly three years, Ingalls played synthesizers and guitar in the band while pulling double-duty lugging cases. Six months ago, Coyne suggested they hire Ingalls’ longtime friend, Matt Strong, as the new guitar tech, freeing Ingalls from those responsibilities.
Besides working together in this capacity — Ingalls says he still helps set up Lips shows every once in a while — Strong and Ingalls are also in Spaceface, which heads to The Grey Eagle on Thursday, July 14. The two have been playing music together in various forms since the seventh or eighth grade. (“I think the first song we actually learned was ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath,” Ingalls says.) They lived together during college, where Ingalls reconnected with fellow grade school friend and former hockey teammate Eric Martin.
In 2012, the three moved into the same house, set up the living room as a jam space and started writing songs. The following year, right around the time Ingalls started playing with the Lips, they rounded out Spaceface and began touring.
While Ingalls describes the Lips as “more abstract and wild,” he considers Spaceface’s aesthetic more in the realm of mid-’70s soft rock and prog rock. “We like to write pop songs and then insert the weirdness around it,” he says. Finding time to make those sounds, however, can be somewhat of a challenge. Ingalls, who moved from Memphis to Los Angeles with his girlfriend in February, is on the road a week or two of almost every month with the Lips. That doesn’t leave much room for him to work on Spaceface, but once he knows his Lips schedule, he’s able to book tours or mixing sessions around those dates and implement the knowledge he’s gained from being around Coyne and company.
“I’ve learned a great deal about orchestration, as far as musical composition goes. I’ve also learned about the astronomical difference it makes to just roll up your sleeves and make something happen rather than wait for something to happen,” Ingalls says. “The ebb and flow of enthusiasm and inspiration are far too fickle to rely upon. Sometimes you just have to grind away for a couple of hours before the best idea reveals itself to you.”
Fellow Flaming Lips band members have also been instrumental in furthering Ingalls’ passion project. Drummer Matt Duckworth let Ingalls stay at his house while Ingalls was mixing Spaceface’s forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album. Duckworth also plays on a few of the new songs. “He does a lot of studio work and has great taste, so I think we ended up with some really nice takes,” Ingalls says. “Everyone’s incredibly supportive. Derek [Brown] and Nic [Ley] have really given me a lot of pointers on how to plan a show in the smartest way and how to do things right, but also on the cheap.”
The commitment to putting on a memorable performance was a priority for Ingalls long before he joined the Lips. Growing up, he was inspired by artists who engaged their audiences from start to finish. He knew if he wanted friends to show up or to coerce total strangers to spend their Friday night in a club they may not have heard of, he’d have to immerse them in the performance.
Key to Spaceface’s visual concert experience is Daniel “Big Red” Quinlan, who runs the group’s complex light show. The rig was built in Ingalls’ parents’ Memphis garage and is based on a series of on and off switches, which Quinlan runs off the side of the stage.
“I feel that if you’re going to take a chance and spend the evening with us, we’re gonna make it worth your time,” he says. “Really, we’re a bunch of goofballs who like to think about the deeper things, but we also don’t wanna take ourselves too seriously. And above all, we like showing people a good time, and the show is really conducive to that vibe. Maybe it’s our Southern hospitality. The idea is to, together, have an immersive and engaging experience that has us all leaving feeling a bit lighter, with a big smile.”
WHO: Spaceface with Doc Aquatic and Axxa/Abraxas
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave. thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Thursday, July 14, 9 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show