Rapper Nas once said “No idea’s original, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s never what you do, but how it’s done.”
The music from Smith Westerns, a foursome from Chicago all under the age of 21, definitely supports Nas’ claim. The band is composed of lead singer/guitarist Cullen Omori, lead guitarist Max Kakacek, bassist Cameron Omori, and drummer Colby Hewitt. Smith Western’s music pays homage to a wide variety of artists that came before them; from 1970s legends such as David Bowie, T. Rex and The Clash to more modern contemporaries like MGMT and The Strokes.
But saying that Smith Westerns are merely reviving the music they grew up enjoying would be selling them extremely short. Sure, their second and most recent album Dye It Blonde has guitar riffs that remind one of Mick Ronson circa Ziggy Stardust. And sure, lead singer Cullen Omori croons just like Marc Bolan in his prime and writes lyrics about adolescent frustration, a subject all too familiar in the music world.
So then, why do Smith Westerns succeed? Well, it isn’t so much because they update the sound of the musicians they admire, but because they do it well. Check out album opener and lead single from Dye It Blonde, “Weekend.” Boasting an instantly catchy opening guitar line that sounds just as breezy as it does scratchy, “Weekend” is one of the best examples of Smith Western’s ability to provide that youthful nostalgia that all fans of great power-pop crave. By the time the listener gets to Omori’s sweetly sung chorus “Weekends are never fun/ Unless you’re around here too,” it’s hook, line, and sinker.
The rest of Dye It Blonde offers plenty of tunes just as lovable as “Weekend.” The Beatles-esque “Imagine, Pt. 3,” with its flawless synchronicity of Omori’s heartfelt vocals to the fuzzy wails of the lead guitar, the swirling synthesizer in the bridge, and the climactic, military-march finale make one believe that perhaps this little indie band is stadium-ready.
But the aforementioned tracks just scratch the surface of Dye It Blonde’s charm, as the 10-track LP is one of the first strong records of 2011.
Smith Westerns are set to perform at Orlando’s Backbooth this Thursday at 8pm with opening act Yuck. Knightnews.com got a chance to speak with Smith Western’s frontman Cullen Omori about his songwriting process, the bands he’d like to tour with most, and getting the opportunity to become a professional musician at such a young age.
Knightnews: Who writes the songs for the band?
Cullen Omori: Me and Max (Kakacek), Max is the guitar player. I write all the lyrics and we write the music together, it’s pretty much half and half usually.
Knightnews: A lot of the lyrics of your songs you’ve written have been based on your age, like dealing with the boredom of being a teenager. Do you think that as you age, your lyrical and musical content will change?
Omori: I expect it to. The change we made from our debut (The Smith Westerns) to this (Dye It Blonde) was a huge jump, so I think that as we get exposed to more music, more influences, and play more together we’ll keep building upon our formula. I guess the career goal would be to be like The Clash, or something, where every record gets bigger and bigger and better and better.
Knightnews: What pop acts are you inspired by?
Omori: A lot of stuff, like T. Rex, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin. I think originally for the first record we were really into finding bands that weren’t as well known, like Milk N’ Cookies, Brett Smiley, bands that had that kind of power pop, real coy vocals and lyrics. As we got better at songwriting, we started listening to John Lennon solo stuff, George Harrison solo stuff, and we were big fans of Teenage Fanclub, Suede, and Oasis.
I think we were really attracted to music from the 70’s and 90’s just because when you listen to something from the 70’s or the 90’s for the most part the songs are timeless. I think when you listen to something from the 60’s, it sounds really distinctly 60’s, and when you listen to something from the 80’s, it sounds really distinctly 80’s. I think that the 70’s and 90’s had that really timeless pop thing that we were trying to do.
Knightnews: Like those sweeping choruses, stuff like that?
Omori: Yeah, big choruses, songs building upon themselves, verse building upon the chorus, stuff like that.
Knightnews: So you guys are with an indie label, right?
Omori: Yeah, we’re with Fat Possum.
Knightnews: With Dye it Blonde you guys seem to be more critically acclaimed than ever before. Do you think that your continued success will lead you to sign to a major label at some point, or do you want to stay indie?
Omori: I feel like there’s a misconception about major labels and indie labels. I feel that they’re mainly the same thing, but what’s the point in them (major labels) telling me what to wear and what songs are to be chosen for the album, you know? If I had to choose between indie and major, I would just go with whoever would give me the most freedom to do what I want to do. And sometimes that means having more of a budget to produce an album, and sometimes that means not taking as much money for production so that you’re able to write what you want to write. I’ve heard stories where labels reject an entire album.
Knightnews: What was your experience touring with Girls last year?
Omori: It was good. We’ve had a long history with that band, we both supported Los Campesinos! in the summer of 2009 before their (Girls’) album came out, and after it came out. I kind of saw how just putting one record out and having people behind it just changes the experience of playing and touring, and how bands get big and blow up.
Knightnews: What other bands would you like to tour with?
Omori: When we first started, one of the bands that we had in mind was MGMT or The Strokes. We’ve already toured with MGMT, so touring with The Strokes would be really nice, because the Strokes are one of those bands that are the rock stars of our generation and of our age. A lot of our friends are a lot older than us so their favorite bands are Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, you know? But yeah, the Strokes would be great, that’s the band I want to tour with.
Knightnews: You’re 20 years old. At this point, since you’ve been playing for this long, do you plan on going to college? Did you graduate high school?
Omori: We all graduated high school. Max went to college for a year and a half, and then he stopped. I took a year off after high school and then went to college for a semester then stopped and my brother (bassist Cameron Omori) just never went to college. We were enrolled in school, but once we saw that opportunity, you know, when a label gets behind your band, gives you some money to record, and people seem genuinely interested in hearing what you can make, that wasn’t something we didn’t want to pass up. School is always there, you know?
To purchase tickets for Smith Western’s show at Backbooth this Thursday at 8pm, click here.