Smith Westerns: "People treat us like a gimmick"
by Anne T. Donahue
March 3, 2011
Considering most bands are born out of the frenzy of youth, it’s surprising that the media remain fixated on the young ages of Smith Westerns. However, while the current pop landscape showcases a prominent youth movement, the Chicago three-piece maintain that they’re not trying to reclaim the place of youth in rock, but instead aim to be a “2011 band.”
“I think people like to treat us like a gimmick or something,” begins singer and guitarist Cullen Omori. “I think we’re just coming from a scene where a lot of people are older and that’s kind of the norm. There’s lots of younger bands in different genres like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, and all these [acts] that sound nothing like us and are working on totally different scales – but they’re young.”
“I think the only people that are really up on it are music journalists and people who want to write about [it],” he continues. “I feel like if we’re in a band, it should be about music and how we perform live. We want to be a rock band and every rock band is young—all the great bands are young.”
With greatness in mind, the band remain honest in admitting that in the months since their full-length debut, they’ve improved exponentially as musicians, citing Dye It Blonde as a testimony to their artistic evolution and their live performance as a major factor in their popularity.
“Dye It Blonde’s a record that if you printed out the sheet music in 2009, we wouldn’t be able to play it—it’d sound awful,” admits Omori. “It was very much an evolution from being surrounded by these bands and touring with these bands who are so good and just playing your instrument every day.”
“We try to make our [live performance] sound like the record exactly, and I think that’s something we thought was really important touring,” he continues. “A live show can be something cool and a spectacle, but at the same time it’s gotta sound like the record. People don’t want to hear the acoustic version of your single – they want to hear the song.”
“Especially with adding a fifth member and a keyboard and stuff,” adds guitarist Max Kakacek. “There’s certain moments on the record that can’t get as big as they can live, so keeping it really epic live and having a really epic live performance—[there’s] a big dynamic.”
But for all their talk of epicness, for a band aligned with rock music, it may come as a shock that they’ve chosen to opt out of catering solely to a rock ‘n’ roll audience. Addressing the lack of consistency in some pop performances and basing their own on the antithesis of a poor live presence, the Smith Westerns remain determined to put on a “show, not a recital.”
“I think for all the bands I’ve seen, it’s always sounded better than the record or equal to the record,” Kakacek claims. “Sometimes you see pop musicians singing stuff and all of a sudden it sounds awful for some reason – but I don’t know if it’s a relatively conscious thing as far as a scene deciding to play their songs live better than recorded. I guess that’s the case that I’ve witnessed in the past couple months.”
“I wanna be a pop band, like a pop-guitar band,” Omori reflects. “I think they’re two different things: I think rock music is rock music and pop music is pop music. [But] I think when we say pop music, we don’t necessarily mean pop. I think we want to make music that we all like.”