Callan Spafford doesn’t want to be famous. He’s already seen what carnivorous adulation can do to someone. Yet, he still wants to write songs. He wants to perform them, and he wants people to listen. It’s an odd development for a talented artist. Spafford, who sings like Jeff Buckley and calls the late grunge icon Chris Cornell, Godfather, found a strong sense of identity through music, through playing his guitar, but that can bring its own set of difficult consequences. Spafford, who fronts the Seattle-based band Moroccan Dog, is celebrating the group’s debut eponymous release this month, and while he hopes the songs find many ears, he’s also okay if music remains the thing he creates alone in a room.
“It’s hard to find clarity,” Spafford, 22, says. “Growing up, I guess I never thought about [my goals] as much as I’ve thought about playing my little songs. But I definitely want to enable myself to be able to play and for people to hear it.”
The songs Spafford’s three-piece band makes are rugged and beautiful like the track “Spring.” They weep and shatter. They’re inspired. The group made them in conjunction with engineers Michael Cozzi of Sky Cries Mary and Adam Burd, who worked with Fleet Foxes and Brandi Carlile. But the problem, for Spafford, is that while many might hear the new EP, there are some people who never will. Growing up, Spafford enjoyed the tutelage of family friends Cornell and REM drummer Bill Reiflin. Now, though, both inspiring men are gone.
“They both died before the EP has come out,” Spafford says. “That definitely left me questioning why I was doing it. Because I’d wanted to just show them and be like, ‘Hey, thank you! This is what I’ve got. This is what I’m doing.’ So, that was tough.”
Like a fish in water, Spafford grew up around creativity and expression. His grandparents were both professional painters. His dad, an accomplished photographer, used to take the family on trips to Southern Mexico, and his mother produced movies and made music videos (hence the famous rock extended family). This gave him the foundation to feel comfortable exploring art, music, and creativity and eventually find his place in it.
“They always supported me creatively,” Spafford says. “In a way that just made it feel — I didn’t even think about it until I was older.”
Yet, exposure to these at-times glamorous-seeming life events also shows the underbelly of the achievements, of the darker world of professional entertainment.
“I’ve never wanted to be a rock star, per sé,” Spafford says. “Because I know what that looks like. It’s not necessarily as appealing as a lot of people might think it is.”
Spafford wrote the songs that would end up on his band’s new self-titled EP alone in his room. But having experienced people to turn to before they passed away helped his journey — like hearing the affirmation that it was okay to write a simple song or chord structure; it doesn’t always have to be wild. Growing up, Spafford was a “quiet kid.” He picked up the guitar, at first, as a way to fit in and find community with other people. It became more of a priority in high school, something he used to understand the larger world. Rightfully so, it took some time to get good at the instrument. Yet, it always felt natural.
“It was a big emotional outlet,” Spafford says. “Something to the point where I felt that words could so often fail me, but it was easier to put them to music.”
Moroccan Dog assembled in high school to perform at a battle of the bands. While the trio did not win, it sparked something. They began booking little gigs. It can be hard to form a band in high school because everyone is still developing in multiple respects. But no time like the present! Since then, the group has mainly solidified around Spafford’s emotive, sticky voice.
“I definitely have felt a connection to emotionally convincing music,” he says. “Something that draws you in and tells you what it needs to say.”
After the group’s release show in Seattle in early August for the new EP, Spafford hopes to play gigs along the west coast, touring from Tacoma to Los Angeles. In the meantime, he says, he will continue to follow his instincts when it comes to his love and appreciation for song — while always keeping in the back of his mind ways to stay afloat within it. Originally, of course, that was the goal. Hang out and play.
“I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better,” Spafford says. “That’s for sure. Music has such a pure connection to the world. It’s beautiful. It can be whatever you need it to be — and it’s fun! You get to create within your environment and reach new environments through it. I’ve made so many great friends through music.”