Interview with Smith Westerns (July 26, 2013)

Image courtesy of Fat Possum
Image courtesy of Fat Possum

By Kirsten Becker

I caught up with Cullen Omori, the singer from Smith Westerns before their 7/26 show at
Union Transfer to talk about their latest release, 90’s music, and what’s coming next for the band.

Kirsten Becker: What was the recording process for this record? What comes first, music or lyrics?

Cullen Omori: It kind of happens together. The way that we write our songs varies, [guitarist] Max [Kakacek] will write some parts and I’ll write a full song, or Max write a full song and I’ll write some parts. So, when I go about writing music I try to go about with the chords with the lyrics because I feel like when you have words down, you come up with the melody or the chords a lot quicker. For me, lyrics come with the music. That’s kind of how I write.

KB: Some call your music “dreamy brit-pop” [or] “glam rock.” How do you personally describe your music?

CO: I can see why people say it’s dreamy–it’s really reverbed out. I think its really just guitar rock. I learned how to play music on a guitar and I learned a lot of the same things kids learn playing guitar. But at the same time I love a lot of different music and I also feel like each record is trying to integrate influences we’ve heard since the last record and the experiences we’ve had from touring. But it can be any of those labels.

KB: Most influential artist or album?

CO: It changes, I get really obsessed with a certain band or a certain artist, album, whatever for like a month and it might be really influential and inspire one song but there’s never really been one main artist that’s inspired me throughout my career that I look to all the time. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Blind Melon. I really like Shannon Hoon a lot, he’s a really cool guy and an amazing entertainer. So that could be the one for right now but it definitely changes all the time.

KB: Growing up in Chicago, what was the music scene like?

CO: There wasn’t really one. There was Fall Out Boy out in the suburbs, but they were a little older than us, like 6 or 7 years older than us. There was Wilco and Smashing Pumpkins but they were way older and way bigger. When we first started it was one of those things where we learned about music on MySpace. We got picked up by this label, Hozac Records, like a garage rocky punk, low-fi noise label and we started playing shows and meeting people way older than us and meeting these weirdos at these late 20’s adult parties where they would play these records for us. That’s how we started listening to more and more music and sort started honing our skills. There wasn’t really a huge scene for us. Now there’s like high school kids that are making music and having the labels come check them out which is cool because that would never happen when we were making music. People are starting to think, especially in Chicago, that the younger musicians, the punk garage music or whatever, although I don’t identify with that anymore, I think that’s something people are definitely getting into.

KB: Yeah, the “basement scene.”

CO: There’s a total basement scene, that’s how we started and we got out. Not a lot of bands do get out. There’s a lot of bands that go on tour in Chicago and play Chicago 15 times a month.

KB: What would be your dream tour? Dead or alive musicians?

CO: I would wanna go on tour with…80’s or early, early 90’s Guns N’ Roses when they were still together. I love Axl Rose.

KB: Now?

CO: I saw them recently and they were alright. They weren’t really Guns N’ Roses, it was just Axl Rose. He’s cool. Going on tour with The Replacements, that’s another cool one.

KB: Weirdest or craziest thing that’s happened at a show or in another city?

CO: I don’t know…a lot of weird things happen. What’s the craziest thing I can say without incriminating myself? I guess like the craziest thing or like a cool thing is the rise of tweens that come to our show. The fact that 15 year old girls are liking our band is pretty weird.

KB: Are you ok with that?

CO: I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather them like our band than, you know, Fun. or something like that. So yeah, I guess that’s kinda weird cause we have this joke, “Oh yeah let’s be a tween boy band,” and sometimes it feels like that.

KB: You already said Blind Melon, besides that, what are you listening to?

CO: The Replacements, I’ve been listening to the Charli XCX record a lot. Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love 90’s rock. Some Sky Ferreira. Charli XCX is the one thing I’ve been listening to a lot.

KB: When did you first start playing music? First instrument?

CO: I started playing the clarinet when I was like in third grade.

KB: Me too!

CO: I used to play like Benny Goodman and stuff like that. It’s a good segue instrument.

KB: You guys still have some touring to do, including some festival stops before ending up in Austin City Limits, what do you plan to do once everything’s over?

CO: We have another tour, a really cool tour that I think is gonna be happening. It’s still getting figured out. It’s gonna be with a really good friend of ours. I really don’t feel like taking a whole two years to put out another record like we did with the last one so I kinda wanna be actively writing, make another record within the next year or something.

KB: You already have some ideas?

CO: Yeah.

The Smith Westerns’ “Soft Will” is out now. Check out their website for more on the band.