How Terminal Illness Helped One Local Musician Find His Voice

The Beautiful Truth Behind Loveland.

The living room of John Spalding‘s humble yet artfully appointed West Seattle residence feels much like the home of any creative 30-something. The decor is a mix of photos and paintings by friends of Spalding and his wife, Jody, wood carvings from around the world, and mismatched furniture. There’s an old record player and a copy of No Lord Shall Live, a live album by Behead the Prophet, one of Spalding’s favorite Northwest bands. There’s also an pooch named Skooter giving me a once-over while Jody heads for the door and asks Spalding if he needs anything from the store. “No, we’re OK on protein bars,” he says.

The only item that feels very out of place in the home of such a young, obviously-in-love couple is the portable oxygen-yielding condenser on the coffee table. Spalding has terminal lung cancer, and an estimated two to five months to live; the device is essential for his breathing. He was diagnosed with the aggressive disease four years ago. Originating in his colon, the cancer cells eventually metastasized to his lungs, and Spalding has subsequently undergone more than 80 rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries—and perhaps most astonishingly, a spiritual and creative growth spurt culminating in the release of what will be his band LoveLand’s debut and swan song. The Beautiful Truth has been many years in the making, and is the result of Spalding’s collaborations with an esteemed cast of celebrated local musicians, including members of Minus the Bear, Pretty Girls Make Graves, These Arms Are Snakes, Botch, and Helms Alee.

“I feel many more great things than negative things have come out of cancer than you can typically see,” he begins, speaking with slow, earnest deliberation. “[Cancer] speeds your whole life up to where you see day by day, minute by minute…to the point where you are so intimate with people that you just don’t care what you talk about, because you never know when your last days are going to be.”

The Beautiful Truth has all the classic watermarks of a breakthrough, pop-informed punk-rock record: The songs are catchy as hell and gorgeously fleshed out with piano (courtesy of Evan Morris, with whom Spalding previously played in Suffering and the Hideous Thieves), clarinet (provided by ex-Blood Brother and current Past Lives member Morgan Henderson), and saxophone (by Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death’s Joel Coupling), yet remain utterly unpredictable because of their adventurous arrangements. Matt Johnson, the drummer in one of Spalding’s earliest bands, Raft of Dead Monkeys, shares that assessment. “[John’s music is] equal parts Van Halen, Prince, and Minor Threat. [The songs] have a joyful cut-and-paste quality about them—equal parts melody, aggression, and whacked-out time changes. You cannot mistake a John Spalding guitar riff for anyone else.”

Andrea Zollo, former vocalist from PGMG and now drummer for TOLSATD, sang on the anthemic “Good People” and added lush harmonies elsewhere with help from Helms Alee bassist/co-vocalist Dana James. Zollo describes Spalding’s music as “eclectic and beautiful as he is. John has such an uplifting energy about him, like standing next to the sun…”

The Beautiful Truth began with songs Spalding wrote more than eight years ago, and began tracking in 2006. As his disease progressed, he temporarily “lost the fire,” but eventually returned to the project with help from engineers Ben Verellen (currently leading Helms Alee) and These Arms Are Snakes drummer Chris Common (former Murder City Devil and current TOLSATD member Dann Gallucci and Matt Bayles also assisted with some tracking). “He wanted to try lots of different approaches in the studio,” recalls Verellen. “And I was down to get weird. John’s music is definitely unique. He bravely wears his heart on his forehead sometimes. I think [The Beautiful Truth] represents John’s broad emotional spectrum, which is very intense given the challenge that dude is facing.”

Spalding has yet to find a label to release the record, though it certainly seems like Suicide Squeeze would be a logical home (many of the artists on The Beautiful Truth have existing associations with the local label). At the very least, he hopes to soon have the tracks available for purchase via his MySpace page ( Above all, Spalding’s final wish is that the recordings eventually yield some sort of fiscal support for his wife. “It’s a very scary situation,” he says. “A husband dying and leaving his wife. It’s the most frightening thing in the world.” That said, it’s clear he feels the power of the project has given him more time with Jody. “It keeps me going—I’ve had months added to my life because of this situation, because of having the goal and the excitement of all that surrounds putting out a record. I’ve been uplifted by those playing around me on the record. And I’m at peace with where I’m at. When doctors say you’ve got two to six months to live, you better make the best of it.”