CNN producer and former Velocity Girl drummer
Jim Spellman debuts a new band.
BY ROXANA HADADI
Scheduling an interview with Jim Spellman, singer and
guitarist for Washington, D.C., band Julie Ocean by night and producer for CNN
by day, isn’t as easy as one may think (even though he happens to live in the
same city as this writer).
First, there was the Wednesday interview that had to be
pushed back because of a last-minute package Spellman had to prepare for the
next morning’s 7 a.m. edition. Next, the Thursday interview was postponed
because of a ride-along Spellman scheduled with the Metropolitan Police
Department the night after the Supreme Court struck down the city’s gun ban. Then
a weekend spent at the beach with his family. Finally, during a lightning-happy
thunderstorm in College Park, Md.—home to Spellman’s alma mater, the University
of Maryland—the man is ready to chat.
“Every day I go to work, I don’t how my day will end,” he
says apologetically. “I’m not really like a brain-shut-off kind of guy.”
Ocean may have released
their first album, Long Gone and Nearly
There, barely two months ago, but that doesn’t mean the band—or Spellman—is
taking any kind of a break. After six years at CNN and more than 20 years of
making music, hectic has become Spellman’s state of being, he says.
As a producer at America’s No. 1 cable news network,
Spellman covers the homeland security beat; has worked for boy wonder Anderson
Cooper at his show, ; spent
days in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city (including “the
weirdest night of my life,” during which Spellman was shot at while staying on
the roof of a police station above the French Quarter, he says); and even did a
clip for CNN.com, “Producer Gets Tased, Bro,” in which he does just that.
Take that level of activity to an exponential level, and you
may get some idea of Spellman’s indie-rock track record. He’s been recording music
since he was 17 and went on tour as a roadie with post-hardcore D.C. natives
Jawbox when he was 19. He spent five-and-a-half years at the University of Maryland,
juggling classes and jobs at two different record stores while playing in the
melodic, harmony-loving Velocity Girl. After graduating in winter of 1991 with
a degree in radio, television and film (a major no longer offered at the
university), Spellman stuck with the band until it broke up in 1996.
More than a decade later, Spellman joined forces with fellow
D.C. music veteran Terry Banks (formerly of Glo-Worm, the Saturday People and
Tree Fort Angst), drummer Alex Daniels and bassist Hunter Bennett to form Julie
Ocean, named after a single released in 1981 by British band The Undertones and
continuing Spellman’s track record of being in bands named after songs by other
bands (third time’s the charm, right?).
But this was no drawn-out affair – Spellman and Banks
decided to start playing music together in fall of 2006; took a break during
the winter while Spellman had a baby; “didn’t start doing much” until February
or March of 2007; put a four-song demo up on the band’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/julieoceandc);
and were signed to Philadelphia’s Transit of Venus label before even playing
their first gig in June.
“I’m a big believer in making records,” Spellman says
simply. “I love making records.”
Ocean’s sound, which
jumps between retro, cavity-inducing, bright-sounding pop and brashly swooning
guitar riffs, is on full display on “Long Gone and Nearly There.” The album may
be only 25 minutes long (while only including 10 tracks), but is already
causing enough buzz (The Washington Post,
Washington City Paper and USA Today, among others, have all given
the band a nod of approval) to keep Spellman happy.
That kind of hype – especially when broadcast on the Internet – is what Spellman
is banking on, if only to spread the band’s name far and wide while also
keeping them from touring. Though the band wants to secure more gigs outside of
their D.C. homebase – they have already played at local venues such as the Rock
and Roll Hotel, DC9 and Iota – Spellman says they aren’t planning on traveling
across the country anytime soon – or ever. The challenges for Julie Ocean’s
band members, with their jobs and their families, are just too great, Spellman
“The biggest obstacle, for our band, isn’t writing songs or
getting the band together,” he says. “The biggest quandary is touring… I
don’t know how interested any of us are in going on tour.
“I’m not any grizzled vet, but I’ve probably played Cleveland a dozen times,”
Spellman adds. “Going on tour, for us—I don’t know how worthwhile it would be.”
To make up for that lack of wanderlust, Spellman and the
rest of the band are planning to upload more supplemental material on their
MySpace page—such as music videos, three of which Spellman has already
“sketched out”—and may create a Facebook page to keep listeners interested, he
But while Spellman can be brutally honest about Julie Ocean’s
possibility of drawing a huge fanbase (“I’m sure there are a lot of young kids
disinterested in a band of guys in their late 30s, and I can’t blame them—I
would be, too.”), that doesn’t mean he’s unhappy with the level of success the
band has now.
“One of the best things about D.C.’s music scene is that it
has room for big personalities, like Ian MacKaye, but there’s always been room
for people like me and my bands,” Spellman says. “I’d like to have a few songs
enter the public consciousness. If one of our songs could be one person’s
favorite song—that would be a great honor.”