Monday, 18 January 2010

Smith Westerns Interview Summer 2009

One of the reasons Tally Ho! began, apart from the awe-inspiring vanity and delusions of those involved, was to champion the marginalised and the under-exposed. Those artists working individually or collectively, way over in the corner of love. The purpose being, to try to bring them some deserved recognition and perhaps remove the smokescreen a little.

With this in mind, may I present forth the Smith Westerns…a young US group that seem to effortlessly conjure up all that is great and good about pop music past and present. With their cloudy Wall of Sound production values and vocals that you can’t understand, but need to chant along to anyway, they’re just too easy to fall for.

Not being one to shy away from a ‘musicrush’ I fell fast and hard. What followed was a conversation with main man Cullen, firmly routed in the eye of the storm as they ready themselves for the release of their debut long player. The idea was to make this a feature, but I think the answers speak for themselves pretty well and don’t deserve to be messed with or paraphrased by some half trained hack…enjoy.

Here in the UK, we’re still being kept very much in the dark when it comes to Smith Westerns….could you introduce yourselves for the uninitiated?

Cullen: Yeah. For sure. I’m Cullen and I play guitar and do the lead vocal, my brother Cameron plays bass, Max plays lead guitar and sings as well, and Hal plays drums live with us. We are all about 18 years old give or take my brother who is 17. We live in Chicago and started making music when we were 15 and 16. We are also affectionately known as the S Dubz for short.

How did you guys get together? Was it the classic case of, ‘We’re young, we’re bored, we like music, let’s make some’?

C: That definitely had something to do with it. We all went to high school together with the exception of Hal who started playing with us later. I think we were all really disenchanted with the options available to you in high school: like it was either be a douche jock/bro, a loser, or an art kid. We were more of the latter, and we all started buying a lot records and getting into some good music. I think we wanted to try to recreate what we had been listening to and music was like the only thing we had total control over.

Was it easy to get gigs around Chicago when you first started out? In most cities it’s easy to get trapped into becoming a jobbing band in your local scene, certainly here in London many bands have reached local hero status and then been practically ignored when they’ve tried to tour other parts of the country. How do you avoid that?

C: It was fairly easy to get shows in Chicago just because Todd Killings of Hozac Records was and still is very much behind us. The problem is that people in Chicago are fucking idiots.

The bands that get the best bills, like the ones that have the bigger touring bands, are the ones that are friends with the venues and the promoters. Which is why I think no one gives a shit about Chicago music because you never see the good bands (are there any?). Only bands made up of members of promoters friends that fucking suck and who make just the lamest/tired music possible.

Also there is a lot of bullshit cock sucking amongst all these terrible Chicago bands. One guy writes for this pseudo publication of Chicago culture and essentially just writes up his friends’ bands. Bands that fucking suck get all this hype! We don’t get much press here but the people who stumble into us usually like it. We gave up consistently trying to get actual gigs because I don’t like the people we are playing to.

Now we mainly play house shows to all the various college kids who attend Chicago schools like U of C and School of The Art Institute. So, I think to answer your question, we are probably liked more outside of Chicago, and our scene is so fucking lame/retarded we just skirt around it.

You started pretty young, but judging by your MySpace, your sound seems to have moved on quite a bit since the first 7inch…have you found your stride or do you think you’ll keep on evolving with each release?

C: Oh yeah. We recorded that 7inch when we were all 15 and 16. None of us knew how to play our instruments except for Max. We’re kind of embarrassed about it just because it’s the furthest thing from what we play now. I think we have definitely found a niche of where we are making music that kind of incorporates all our current and past influences. I mean as a band we agreed on trying to evolve because we don’t want to be pigeonholed as any one sound. The songs just need to be good and new, which doesn’t require a certain sound: at least not for us.

What inspires you to keep making music?

C: The status quo of the music scene in Chicago and in general. The bands that get the most press either here in Chicago or in the scene at large usually don’t deserve it. The prospect of not having to work if we keep pushing to make music, and the possibility that one day girls will want to fuck us after we play a show. Also the free drugs and beer are ALWAYS great.

Plus no current bands really make the music we want to hear. Yeah sure a couple songs, but I can’t say I can listen to a current record and tell you every song is good and original.

You’ve avoided with aplomb, becoming just another reverential psych rock band, some of the songs we’ve heard so far betray influences from Glam to wild Cajun/Country and Post Punk…do you think wearing your influences on your sleeve comes with the territory of being a young band?

C: Yes! I mean I was watching this documentary on E! (lets assume Cullen means the TV channel, E! not that he was on mind bending drugs when he was watching it, although...) about Ozzy Osbourne and he was talking about Sabbath and said something like every band’s first album is the best because they have nothing to lose.

We don’t have a stubborn fan base or a big label deal. So we can only go up. The thing about our new album is that we tried to make every song sound different while sounding cohesive of Smith Westerns. That’s why you hear the influences because I feel like if each song has different influences it starts lending to building a sound that is total Smith Westerns.

I recently came across a rather awesome mimed performance on Chic-a-go-go, a local cable show. To an outsider it looks like a messed up, punk Sesame Street, but judging by the quality and quantity of bands that have performed on there, it must be something of a Chicago institution?

C: I actually hadn’t heard about it until I saw our best bud Nobunny performing on it. But yeah it’s really kitsch and I actually think more people outside of Chicago like it because I always get compliments about it from people not from Chicago.

How did that performance come about?

C: Todd Killings got us the hook-up, and Chic-a-go-go sent us a message and asked us to play. We were down.

Was it as fun as it looks?!

C: It was kind of awkward because first and foremost it’s a kid show. Actually we recorded the song before we got there and got drunk on the train ride to the studio. I didn’t know the lyrics because we had written them about an hour before which is why it looks like I’m mumbling. We also tried to dress and act as stupid as possible. It was weird because we were all drunk being idiots and yelling and trying to dance amongst all these little kids and their parents. They kept giving us dirty looks because we probably reeked of the cheap tequila we were drinking. I thought I was Mick Jagger.

What other contemporary bands, if any, do you feel are following a similar path to Smith Westerns?

C: I don’t know. We play with a lot of the various garage, lo-fi, and neo-bubblegum pop bands. I don’t know any contemporary bands that I am really interested in, and I think the Smith Westerns are trying to be as different as possible. We want to be hit makers.

What plans do you have for 2009 aside from the LP? Any plans to tour the UK/Europe soon?

C: We are going on a Duuuurrrty South Tour to Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, and Memphis in May. Then we are doing an East coast and West coast summer tour. We’re also releasing a seven inch on Rob’s House (records) hopefully in the future soon.
As far as UK/Europe goes, for sure! I think if this LP does well we would definitely come, hopefully it will be easier to book. We would want to play overseas just ‘cause I feel that their perspective to music isn’t as fucking retarded as it is here in the states.

Who would be your ideal touring partners for this expedition?

C: Wow. Um. Someone who sounds nothing like us, isn’t in our scene, and is super known. M.I.A! I’m pretty sure her fan base is a bunch of attractive dumb girls who would totally be down for sucking our dicks and buying all our records. More realistically, I have no idea?

The LP is soon to be released on Hozac Records in the states…will we see a UK release at some point?

C: It’s actually gonna be distributed there. Todd, Hozac Records, runs a tight ship and it should be available there. It also should hopefully be released by the middle of May but more realistically no later than early June. But I mean if it turns out the UK loves it, we will come as fast as possible there and tour the shit out of it.

It’s gonna be amazing, right?

C: YES! Yes! Yes! It’s ten songs. The recordings are what we call “hi-fi lo-fi”. We try to sound as produced as possible on our four-track. Unlike other lo-fi/DIY bands that use the lo-fi distortion to make their songs we use it to supplement ours. The whole idea is to make it sound like big-budget recording, but we have to work with what we have, which is Max’s basement.

And finally, with this month’s Tally Ho we’re giving away a little keepsake filled with the poetry and short stories of our friends and contributors…anything you’d like to contribute???

C: I don’t have anything good. I’m an art school reject.

You can check out Smith Westerns at http://www.myspace.com/smithwesterns


  1. little poser shits.

  2. this band is the most terrible, lazy garbage to blow up from chicago. he's right about the chicago scene being pretty terrible, the only thing is that this band is no different. I've seen them live (for free, mind you) and I almost fell asleep standing up.