The members of Smith Westerns were barely out of high school when they released their first self-titled record in 2009: a self-titled, hazy, homemade collection of underground rock tunes that clocked in at just under a half hour. The band's second album, Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum) came out last month, and serves as a reminder of how fast kids grow up these days. With its huge choruses, flowery guitar work and elaborate production, the record sounds more like the product of seasoned rock veterans rather than a group of 20-year-old slackers.
Boise Weekly caught up with Smith Westerns' singer/songwriter Cullen Omori as he was trekking across the country in a tour bus.
Boise Weekly: Did you have a vision for Dye It Blonde when you started the recording process?
Cullen Omori: Very much. We wanted to make something that was going to be very orchestrated and layered and just very good. We wanted to make something not lo-fi, we wanted to make something hi-fi in the studio. We wanted to make something that sounded like Smith Westerns. I think the first record was us really trying to be a power-pop band. We were super '70s, and we just wanted to make catchy power-pop songs ... and everyone started saying [we were] lo-fi or glam or whatever. For this record, we just wanted to be Smith Westerns and just kind of develop our own identity as far as songwriting, and stuff we decided to put in songs. That meant really layering everything, and that element of having a noise blanket over everything was gone.
What about lo-fi and garage made you want to move away from those sounds?
With lo-fi, we always tried to tell people this wasn't a choice. It was us just trying to make the best with what we had. With that kind of equipment, if you try to record a guitar to sound like a studio guitar on like a little shitty recorder, it's not going to sound good, so you have to find another way of working with it. And pushing everything towards the red is a lot better--it sounds a lot better, it's a lot cooler. So yeah, we always try to tell people that's what happened, and if we were given the opportunity to, we could really make a really good album that would be hi-fi. We weren't hiding behind the fact that everything was blown out and distorted. And with the whole garage rock thing, you know, I don't really think of it as garage rock. The first record definitely wasn't garage rock in my opinion. I think that people, especially on the Internet, read one review and then just label it based on [that] review. It's really kind of lazy. Having listened to a lot of garage rock, having listened to a lot of other music too--what we play is power pop. I think garage rock is kind of a label that says you're sloppy, or you're lazy or you're not musically aware. And I think that's totally not true. We wanted just to prove to everybody that it's not sloppy chord progressions and make something that's really tight and really textured, but at the same time, really dreamy and accessible.
Just about every music blogger in the world seems to love your new album. Is that something that's important to you: acceptance and promotion from the blogosphere?
I don't know. I think that having people that write blogs and like your band means that people like your band in general. It's nice to be validated by people that listen to a lot of music, you know. It makes me want to write more music, and it makes me want to tour. It's not like I'm seeking approval from them, but it's good to see that our work has been acknowledged. Because I thought we made a good album, too.
A lot of bands are really popular in the digital blog realm, then when they get on stage things don't translate so well. Can you guys hold your own in a live setting too?
Yeah ... we added another member: a multi-instrumentalist that plays whole different parts. And I think touring all the time, especially going on tour with MGMT this past November and December, kind of tightened us up. So yeah, as far as live shows go, I think it's important that we get as close to the record as possible, if not better.
Do you think the importance of the live show has diminished in the digital age?
I don't know, I think that the live show is always important. The majority of our touring is supporting, and if you're trying to impress people who aren't there for you, but for the headlining band, then it is extremely important. I feel like if the live show didn't matter then no one would be opening for other bands, but lots of bands compete for opening slots for big bands because you're exposing yourself to a whole other group of people. I mean, maybe like for the people that totally already know all about Pitchfork and all of the blogs or something like that. Maybe [for] people who are super in-tune with that, the live show doesn't matter as much. But in my opinion, I think it matters a lot. Even if there's a band where everyone has [bought] their MP3s or whatever, and they go to the show and it sucks live, they're not going to come back. And the whole thing is, you want to have those people go tell their friends good things so that next time you come back into town there's more people.