Though they only released three albums, the Spinanes helped define — and then transcended — the sound of Pacific Northwestern indie rock in the '90s. The combination of guitarist Rebecca Gates' rich songwriting and sensual vocals with Scott Plouf's inventive drumming made for music that was equally direct and complex. Even on their early singles, the Spinanes' brash riffs and drums hinted at something more complicated, and their 1993 debut album Manos owed as much to folk, jazz, math rock and singer/songwriter traditions as it did to indie rock. The Spinanes' sophistication only grew on 1996's atmospheric Strand (the band's final album with Plouf) and 1998's Arches and Aisles, which added touches of soul and post-rock to their already distinctive music. Thanks to their mix of inventiveness and restraint, the Spinanes' body of work still sounded fresh decades later.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Gates and Plouf began playing together as the Spinanes in May 1991. They played their first show at that August's International Pop Underground in Olympia, Washington, and their song "Jad Fair Drives Women Wild" appeared on K Records' compilation of songs by bands who performed at the six-day festival. After releasing the singles "Rummy" and "Suffice" on Imp Records in 1992, the Spinanes signed to Sub Pop, making their label debut with the 1993 single "Spitfire." That October, the duo's first full-length Manos arrived. A thoughtful, airy set of songs that highlighted Gates' intimate vocals, it spawned two more singles, "Noel, Jonah and Me" and "Sunday" and became the first album released by an indie label to top the CMJ charts. Along with touring extensively in support of Manos, in 1994 the Spinanes contributed the track "Stupid Crazy" to the Kill Rock Stars compilation Rock Stars Kill. Gates and Plouf then spent some time collaborating with other artists: Plouf played with Team Dresch and Beck, while Gates sang backup on albums by Elliott Smith and Ben Lee.
When they returned in 1996 with their second album Strand, the Spinanes expanded and polished their music, bringing in friends such as Smith and the Decemberists' John Moen to provide backing vocals. Plouf left the Spinanes in 1997 when Built to Spill, with whom he was also playing, signed to Warner Bros. Records. Following his departure, Gates moved to Chicago and recruited drummer Jerry Busher and bassist Joanna Bolme to make the Spinanes' third album, 1998's Arches and Aisles. Recorded at Easley McCain Recording in Memphis, Tennessee and with Tortoise's John McEntire at his Soma Electronic Music Studios in Chicago, the album reflected the band's increasingly sophisticated approach with nods to R&B and post-rock.
In 1999, Gates retired the Spinanes moniker. The following year, The Imp Years collected the band's earliest recordings as well as previously unreleased material. Gates reunited with McEntire for her solo debut, 2001's Ruby Series EP. For the rest of the decade, she focused on her work as a curator, lecturer, and audio editor, but also lent her vocals to albums by artists such as the Decemberists, Laetitia Sadier and Willie Nelson. In 2012, she released The Float, which included contributions by members of Califone, Wild Flag, Los Lobos and Tortoise. In 2018, Merge Records released a deluxe version of Manos to commemorate the album's 25th anniversary. ~ Heather Phares