It was sometime in the spring of 2011 when I fortuitously stumbled onto Smug Brothers‘ Fortune Rumors, LP and I immediately latched onto it and become particularly obsessed with the albums 3rd track Interior Magnets. I think I’ve put that song on about 10 or 11 mix-tapes and playlists since then. The Dayton OH outfit specializes in charming and infectious lo-fi pop and with each release the bands chief songwriter, Kyle Melton seems to sharpen and further enhance his song craft while continuing to refine the Smug’s sonic pallete. A fine example of this is the three full length that Smug Brothers issued in the last 12 months, which in my estimation are three unique sets of concise and engaging anthems, jam packed with pop hooks and charming melodies. I recently caught up with Kyle Melton to discuss his bands prolific year, his new home studio, and what lies ahead for Smug Brothers in 2020.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: It’s been a busy year for your band. The year started with Attic Harvest, followed by All Blur In Spark in July, and then last month you released your 3rd full length of the year with Serve A Thirsty Moon. What do you attribute this creative surge to?
Kyle Melton: I think the biggest thing is that we’re recording at our own space now, The Holler. Not having to come up with money and time to go into a studio has been incredibly liberating for us. We made some investments in recording gear in late 2017 that enabled us to do the work on overdubs and mixing that in years past we’ve had to go elsewhere to do. We still do basic tracking on the trusty Tascam MKIII 4-track cassette recorder, which we’ve done since Don joined Smugs in 2008, but rather than take those 4 tracks to another studio for overdubs and mixing, we’re doing that in-house now. It’s enabled us to keep working at various stages with tracking, overdubs, and mixing that have slowed us down in the past. Additionally, with Scott Tribble coming on board in 2018 and Kyle Sowash joining on bass this year for Serve A Thirsty Moon, we have two new guys who are bringing in new ideas, which keeps Don (Thrasher) and I motivated to keep coming up with fresh ideas. I’m always writing more songs, so I think we’re in a place where we’re able to keep up with that flow and get them out into the world more frequently.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Your latest LP, Serve A Thirsty Moon was released earlier this month and has quickly become a go to record for me. What can you tell me about the writing and recording for this album?
Kyle Melton: With the exception of the track My Future In Bones which was tracked in March 2017, all of the material on the new album was tracked between fall 2018 and summer 2019 at The Holler. Most of the material was written over the last couple of years, some of it as recently as this past January. Five of the songs that made the album were actually all written in one Saturday morning writing session. While much of the album started with our basic tracking setup of Don and I laying down drums and guitar with Scott and Kyle adding their parts later, Scott and I did a handful of tunes together on the fly including Earl of Snakes and A Good Day For Civilization. Finding time to do overdubs was tricky, as my wife Emily and I had our son, Charlie, in January and so my time to do music-related activities was at a premium. Scott did a number of his parts at his place and sent them over to me. Kyle knocked his bass parts out in a couple of sessions. Since we’re in different cities and two of us have young children, we have to work to find time to make the music happen. We were also working with a bit of a deadline for this one, which we almost never do. There was an event in Dayton called Local Music Day which was November 8th and 9th which was put on by founding Smug Brother Darryl Robbins. He asked us in the spring if we could have something ready for the event, which meant we had to be done by the end of August to get it to master, press, etc. We had a batch of 33 songs in April that we were working on and we whittled that down to the 21 that made the album at the end of July.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: This record seems to be even more hook laden and anthemic than it’s predecessors. What was catalyst this time around?
Kyle Melton: That’s very kind of you to say, Bryan. I think the Smug thing has always been about hooks and anthems, so maybe we’ve just figured out how to dial it in more effectively after all this time. I think it also helped that we had more time to work on each track to add some of the extra percussion, backing vocals, and other overdubs that maybe we ran out of time to do in the past. I also think we were all pretty excited about this particular batch of material.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: You recorded this LP at The Holler In Columbus as you did with Attic Harvest and All Blur In Spark. What can you tell me about the recording experience for the last few Smug Brothers releases?
Kyle Melton: Well, to clarify, The Holler is just my basement where we have our recording/practice space set up. My wife is a saint for letting us do our work here. Once we got a digital interface in late 2017, that enabled us to do the overdub and mixing work when time allowed, which has been a major difference from how we worked in the past. Previously, it was finding time and money to go into a studio and getting things done. We’ve gotten some better mics and other gear that has upped the quality a bit as well. I went to recording college way back in 1993, which came in handy once we got this setup together. Learning how to work in the digital realm has been a steep curve but I think we’ve improved significantly over the course of these three albums. With Attic Harvest, we were recording in very different spaces in Dayton and Columbus, and so the sound is much more varied than on All Blur And Spark and Serve A Thirsty Moon, which were both primarily done at The Holler. Also, as Scott and Kyle have integrated into the Smug sound I think we’ve turned a bit of corner and have quickly come into a new form that presents a lot of fresh opportunities for the music.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: With Attic Harvest you turned to crowd sourced funding from your fans. What was that experience like for the band?
Kyle Melton: We were extremely humbled by the support we got on the fundraiser for Attic Harvest. You never know how something like that will go, so to have been able to raise half the funds to press to vinyl for the first time was great.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Smug Brother fans that donated $50 or more during the Attic Harvest campaign were rewarded with a song you wrote specifically for them. When did you realize that those tracks had morphed into your next album with All Blur In Spark?
Kyle Melton: As I was preparing each individual track I think I dropped them all into a playlist to make sure the sound was consistent across the tracks and listening to them in a group it was just a eureka moment: “What if we put this out as an album?” We got everyone’s permission since it was a bonus offer they had paid for and everyone was good with using their track. With us having spent all the time tracking and mixing, it seemed like a cool thing to then put them together as a release. The big thing for me was that these particular songs would have never come out this way in any other context as a Smug album. With each contributor choosing only a title and not having any idea what the song was, other than being full-band or acoustic, there was a random element that was so out of our hands I really liked. We sequenced the tracks for final release but the tracks themselves we had no role in choosing.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: What can we expect from the Smug Brothers in 2020?
Kyle Melton: We hope to get out and play live more next year now that we have a solid live lineup. I don’t see us doing any major touring but we may get out a bit more in 2020. Other than that, we’ll be working on new releases for next year, maybe a surprise or two, so keep an ear out.