How did you guys meet/form? I
I met John in the dorms my freshman year through a mutual friend of ours. we found each other’s previous music and decided to start writing together. a few months later we asked Mark, another friend of a friend, to be our drummer. Then that fall, Brendan, John’s friend from Baltimore, moved out here and we started playing shows and stuff as a four piece.
If you were to describe your work in three words, what would they be?
We do songs.
What’s the story behind “Cala Cola”? What inspired you to write it?
hmm never been asked that. well I was biking home from school one day and heard a rap song from someone’s car and that kind of inspired me in a way and i got home and started working on it with John and we finished it up pretty quick. pretty tongue in cheek lyrics, I had also been listening to a lot of rap and that influenced the lyrics.
What’s the story behind your name?
America’s got talent has auditions at the convention center right next to USC, so after we had jammed like 3 times John was like “we need to try out for this” and we were both like alright, fuck it. but on the form it said we needed a name and john just wrote down whatever he was thinking, which happened to be The Smiles. He says he got it from the Brian Wilson album, I don’t know, but it stuck and now we really like it (and are trying not to lose it haha).
What is your songwriting process? Who writes what first?
Depends on the song, I tend to write a lot of slower songs so we work on John’s ideas more, but sometime I’ll have the occasional upbeat idea and I’ll bring it to him. whoever gets the idea first, we bring it to each other. We’ve both been writing songs for a while, and we’re pretty good at modifying each other’s and figuring out what we like. then we write lyrics after we have the whole melody down. sometimes we’ve been singing made-up words and we get the idea of the song by what those words sound like, if that makes sense.
Why two vocalists sharing the load? Was this a choice made at the founding of the band, or was it an organic thing that sprung up during songwriting/rehearsal?
Naw, it was always organic. we were both individual songwriters before the band and it’s just another element to work with, it usually comes naturally in the songwriting process. We barely even discussed it in the beginning, I think. Brendan left the band earlier this year and we’re working with other guitarists who can also sing. the more voices, the better, in our opinion. there’s a lot of three-part vocal stuff on this next EP.
As you produce more music, how do you think your sound will change in the future?
Well the most apparent one on this next record will probably be the three voices and countermelody stuff that we haven’t really done on the last EP. We also never really set out to make “surf” music and I think we’re kind of moving away from that, although we haven’t heard a lot of feedback about these songs we’re working on now. but we’ll hopefully just become better songwriters/performers and we’ll also get better at working together, so hopefully it should just be tighter and more enjoyable to listen to.
What pedals/amps/etc. do you guys use to create your unique sound?
Ha, we’re pretty clean, guitar-wise and everything else-wise. John has an awesome Epiphone Casino hollowbody, which has a great natural tone, and the Vox AC30 is a great amp (though it’s like 70 pounds, not fun to move). but he keeps it pretty clean, the craziest we get is a little overdrive but mostly just reverb and some tremelo (built into the amp). Bren’s lead was always clean too, lots of reverb though.
Does it concern you at all that you are giving away free music, especially in an era where free downloads are looked upon with suspicion?
No, I don’t think that’s true. I mean even if they are looked upon with suspicion now, they won’t be in the future. The internet and freedom of information will be around long enough to make free downloads a common occurrence, if it hasn’t already. We’re gonna monetize through other ways, because the price of recorded music is basically free right now. Touring, merch, and other different things (facilitated by the internet) will hopefully keep us afloat in the future. Recorded music on the internet is basically just a business card at this point. and the most important thing to do with the music is have it spread, and free lets it spread as fast as it can.
But we sold our EP (over bandcamp) for a bit, and then also have had it on free downloads. It turns out that we get MORE money through offering it “pay-what-you-want” than we did when we sold it, PLUS many more people have our music and that’s the most important thing at first, people’s attention. then we worry about monetizing.
What are your greatest musical influences, as a band and as individuals?
John and I are both unhealthily obsessed with The Beatles, but duh. we like a lot of new indie rock but for the past few months we’ve been listening to a lot of old stuff, lots of Motown (supremes, sam cooke), lots of 60’s pop and stuff like that. I think that’s the direction we want to take the band in the future.
If you could give a shout out to any other talented unknown band, who would it be?
Our friends Chasing Kings are pretty great, put on a really great live show.
Do you plan on continuing with The Smiles as a full-time professional endeavor?
Yep. John graduated this spring but has made the decision to stay in gross LA for another year to wait for me and Mark to finish school, which is a ballsy thing to do for a band. we appreciate it.
Is a multi-state tour in the works? I’m noticing fans all over the US on Facebook…
That’d be great! we gotta finish school first, that’s putting a real dent in our touring plans. but it just means we get to play together a lot here and get good enough to be good on tour.
So what’s next for The Smiles? I, for one, would love to download whatever new music you guys might make available…
Yeah, we recorded our second EP a few weekends ago, it’s just gonna take a few more weekends of mixing till it’s done. The tentative release date is October 4, but that really depends on how everything goes in the next few weeks. But there will be something soon. We’re really excited about this next one, we love all the songs on it and we are really proud of it, I think it’s a step in the right direction.
I also got the chance to ask some more questions after their live show last Saturday at Tommy’s Place. What follows are the live interview Q&As:
Q: Do you play the same live set?
A: We change it up.
Q: What’s your preferred level setup at the soundcheck? What do you favor?
A: We definitely like to increase the bass.
Q: What do you guys like to record first in studio?
A: Guitar. Always guitar.