Feature: Spanish Prisoners

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From the March 22, 2012 edition

Leonid Maymind stays on his grind. When the well-traveled Latvian native lived in Columbus, he relentlessly promoted his band Spanish Prisoners, toured hard and recruited big names like Jim Diamond to work on his album “Songs to Forget.” Back then, Spanish Prisoners was Maymind’s solo project, and he gave himself to it fully.

The efforts only intensified when Maymind moved to Brooklyn five years ago. It was a fresh start, but not a slow one. Realizing he needed a backing band, Maymind recruited bandmates over Craigslist before he arrived.

“We had a gig booked a week after I moved there,” he said.

Those players, jazz-school kids who shared little common ground with an ethereal folkie like Maymind, are long gone. But they helped Spanish Prisoners get a running start in New York, one that slowly but surely snowballed into something resembling buzz-band status.

Though Spanish Prisoners aren’t yet being anointed as the next big thing, the accolades are starting to roll in. When the current lineup plays Kafe Kerouac this Sunday in a rare Columbus appearance by Maymind, they’ll be fresh off an appearance at Austin mega-fest South by Southwest in support of a self-released album named one of “the five best Bandcamp albums of 2011” by NPR.

The album, “Gold Fools,” shows how much Maymind’s craft has matured. Once a purveyor of jangly Bright Eyes balladry and rickety Pavement-inspired folk-rock, he now trades in dreamy indie-pop wrapped in glimmering, echo-laden atmospherics.

“I’m obsessed with the feel and vibe of songs. Not just the chords and the notes, but the atmosphere and the tonal qualities of all the instruments. That is what I really enjoy spending time on these days, which wasn’t really true back in the Ohio period,” Maymind said. “I really like creating recordings that have that sort of atmosphere that almost hide certain things upon first listen — I think it makes the album last longer to people.”

That said, the aim is still to write pop songs, a goal “Gold Fools” attains impressively.

“I hope that the album still has a lot of hooks for people to sink their teeth into,” Maymind said. “I think it’s a very fine line between creating ambient music that is all about atmospherics and has no actual content. A lot of that stuff bores me to tears, honestly.”

Much more intriguing to Maymind is the seedy Manhattan nightlife that inspired much of his album.

“For a long time while I was recording these songs, I was working in this really sleazy nightclub in Manhattan. Literally just anything you would imagine happening in that kind of place happened — sex, drugs, violence, weird trust issues with the management, etcetera,” he said. “I just kind of soaked all of that in from a completely outside perspective because I wanted no part of it. But a lot of the lyrics came about from seeing that stuff and wondering what sort of thoughts those people had and imagining them as characters in these songs.”

As for Maymind’s own story, it continues to forge ahead tirelessly in ambitious strokes.