Smug

It was sometime in the spring of 2011 when I fortuitously stumbled onto Smug BrothersFortune 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.

Black Helicopter

Today Boston’s post-punk titans, Black Helicopter return with a new limmited run latthe cut 7″ single, Seams Of Geldor b/w Dead Wrong (Bullet Lavolta Cover) on Chunklet Indistries. The single promptly sold-out, but you can still procure the tracks digitally. The release serves as a precursor to a full-length LP due next year and recorded by Elio Deluca at The Soul Shop in Medford. Seems Of Geldor, which we have the honor of sharing today employs the bands trademark brand of brash storytelling set to a hearty stew of layered guitar over rhythmic slabs. In other less joyous news the bands bassist Mike Davis has decided to end his tenure with the band, but will turn in one last performance tonight at O’Brien’s. I recently spoke to Black Helicopter as well as Mike himself to discuss the line up change and tonight’s bittersweet occasion.

Mike provided continuity of Black Helicopter’s soul when we needed it most. He helped us reinvigorate classic BH tunes and with Can Keskin, brought added excitement to creating new material. We are proud to have had him in the band and owe him a debt of gratitude.” – Black Helicopter

I’ve known Matt and Tim for roughly more than 30 years but never really played with them. I was always a big fan of Black Helicopter so when Zack left I jumped at the chance to play. I was excited to play the songs I loved as a fan like Army Pup Tent and Mousemeat but also to write new song with them. Tim is an amazing musician and can come to practice with a new song in the BH style every week. It’s impressive and intimidating. I’ve been doing this for most of my life now with Luca Brasi Blacktail and Windmills by the Ocean and just need a break. I can’t be the bass player BH needs so I’m happy to see they have not missed a step and have added Arnne Victorine to complete the trio. Lots of amazing stuff coming from BH and now I can go back to enjoying it as a fan. I just hope I get a discount on merch.” – Mike Davis

Tonight Black Helicopter celebrate their new 7″ release as part of The Ash Gray Proclamation Presented show at O’Briens along with The Astounds (featuring Dean Wells of Capstan Shafts),Greed Island, and Park Doing. Event Info

TobinSproutandBand2017

Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Tobin Sprout. The musician, songwriter, illustrator, surrealist painter, and former Guided By Voices member was incredibly generous with his time and was willing to field my questions on his upcoming music and art projects. He shared some thoughts on the now 25 year old Bee Thousand, his former bands 1994 masterpiece and we even chatted a bit about his short lived but superb band, Eyesinweasel.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Last summer marked the 25th Anniversary of the release of Bee Thousand. How do you feel that the album stands up after all these years?

Tobin Sprout: I think it’s as strong as ever. B-1000 could come out today and sound just as relevant as it was in the 90’s. Time makes the masterpiece. I think a lot of the music today draws from this album.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When is the last time you listened to it?

Tobin Sprout: It’s been awhile. I will have to sit down and listen to it.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the one song on the album that you enjoyed playing Live the most?

Tobin Sprout: I think we played everything on the album at one time or another. Queen of Cans and Jars, love the riff. Tractor Rape Chain has that chord slide that’s hypnotizing. Smothered In Hugs just pounds power chords, its getting louder. I still play Awful Bliss into Mincer Ray in my sets, love playing those too. Mincer Ray I just play a D most of the time, the bass carries the rest. Echos Myron was always a great one to play live. On a lot of the album I used a guitar to play bass, and EQ the 4-track to give it more bottom. That’s how I recorded the end of Echos, it was easier to hit those notes on guitar than a bass. I think we just didn’t have a bass available at the time. I guess the one I liked playing most was I Am A Scientist, I think it was the hit and the one that really got the crowds up, loved the video too.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Over the last year I’ve seen that you’ve been recording new material. What can you tell me about those tracks and plans to release your next album?

Tobin Sprout: I have an EP and an album pretty much finished. Working on getting a label right now. The EP will come out first, it has a remixed version of Supersonic Chairman and 3 other songs. It’s more guitar driven than the LP. The LP will be called Empty Horses or The Return. Its very piano driven, and a bit darker than the EP. It was recorded mostly with my Band at Tommy Schichtel‘s Studio Goon Lagoon in Grand Rapid. Tommy on lead guitar, Gary Vermillion on Drums, and Steve Vermillion on bass. Also did some of the recording at my studio in Leland Mi. A song called Every Sweet Soul was recorded by Ferris Henning. Ferris also did a video for the song. Hope to get the EP out before the end of the year. The Album will come out next year. Then hope to tour it.
More to come!

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me a little bit about your current art related projects and/or a follow up to your children books, Tinky Put His Little Moon To Bed and Elliott?

Tobin Sprout: My Wife Laura is also an artist, she does 2D and 3D mixed medium. Uses old magazines and found objects. She calls it Life In A Box. She just had her 4th show at the Old Art Building here in Leland. We also do collaborations, where she gives me a box and some found pieces and I Paint something on the box and give it back to her to add something. It’s interesting to see how the original Idea changes into something different.She also has written a follow up to Tinky that I am going to illustrate. Elliott is out of print, but I plan to re edit it and make it available on Kindle, along with another book I wrote before Elliott called April and Elliott. Still painting and might release a booklet with the EP of my paintings.

Tobin

The AGP: What was the creative process like behind the new releases?

Tobin: I worked with the band as much as possible. Mostly at Tommy’s studio in Grand Rapids. I would send demos to Gary and Steve so when we meet at Tommy’s they would have ideas and had worked out the structures. Tommy would be placing mics and running the tape machine so would add his parts later. It also gave him time to think about his guitar parts. Once we have the basic tracks, I would add vocals and overdubs. By the next session Tommy would have his parts recorded, so we would spend time adding whatever we felt was needed then mix. At one point we also brought in Drew Howard to play pedal Steel on Breaking Down and All In My Sleep.

The AGP: As you mentioned the album is more piano driven than the EP, so I’m wondering if you had a vision going into the studio and how does the recording match up with that?

Tobin: I don’t think I had a vision but the album just grew into two different albums. About two thirds of the album worked really well together which stayed on the final album. And the others were put on the EP. Not that one was better than the other. The album is more darker piano along with a few simple acoustic pieces. Where the EP is straight up two guitars, bass and drums.

The AGP: I was in attendance for The Cambridge, MA Eyesinwesel show that ended up being captured and released as Live In The Middle East on that tour and to me there was something very special about that line up that night performance. What comes to mind when you look back at that creative period, those two releases, and the subsequent tour?

Tobin: Gary and Steve (Vermillion) were in the band then, might have been the first tour with them. Don’t remember it being one of our better shows but it seems to be a favorite of a lot of people. It was recorded by the CBC from a mobile recording studio. It was recorded digitally to tape.

*Live Photo of Tobin Courtesy Of Mike White

Thanks again to Tobin for the time and for the follow up to our 2010 interview.

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Boston’s purveyors of intelligent fist pumping anthemic indie rock, Hallelujah The Hills are set to return sometime this fall with their 7th LP, I Am You. The band has yet to announce the specifics of their release plans, but I’ve been assured those details will be shared soon. In the meantime HTH has shared the forthcoming albums first single, Folk Music Is Insane on various streaming platforms. Founder and chief songwriter, Ryan H. Walsh has shared some thoughts and a little bit about the motivation
behind the bands ode to music genres.

Music genres can help you understand what you’re about to hear, but they also carry a lot of baggage with them. If I tell you I’m about to play you a country song, you might even start to guess at some of the lyrics (“lost my truck, lost my car, got fired” etc). I like when expectations are subverted, so I started thinking about true but unlikely statements to make about music genres. Best one I came up with was ‘Folk Music Is Insane.’ I truly believe that. And singing that phrase on top of a deep, distorted rock n roll riff? Well that’s just the kinda thing this band was born to do.” – RHW

The band has also deemed their new song t-shirt worthy and I tend to agree. You can obtain and support HTH as well their forthcoming release efforts by obtaining and sporting the Folk Music Is Insane T-Shirt around town.

FJRChicago’s slacker pop concern, FCKR JR. will issue their full length debut, I’m Sorry Mom and Dad on August 2nd. The quartet formed in 2017 and as last year came to a close they issued an impressive debut single Fog b/w Nine Inch Cakes. Helmed by Ben Grigg (Geronimo!, Future BiffWhelpwisher) FCKR JR. specialize in razor sharp melodies, substantial pop hooks, and liberal doses of guitar fuzz with intricate and engaging rhythms. Which are all on full display on I’m Sorry Mom and Dad’s opening track Frogs which we have the privileged of sharing today. In addition we recently caught up with Ben Grigg to discuss FCKR JR.’s forthcoming LP, his ongoing solo project, Whelpwisher and we even got him to share some of his favorite records of the year, so far.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When writing how do you decide which songs will be released under the Whelpwisher moniker vs. FCKR JR.?

Ben Grigg: Well, I don’t really decide at that stage. I just like to write and record at home, those decisions don’t come into play until later. If a song turns out well and I’m feeling like doing a Whelpwisher release, then it’s a Whelpwisher song. However, I see anything Whelpwisher as fair game for FCKR JR. About half of FCKR JR’s songs started as something recorded under Whelpwisher. Since there really isn’t a live version of Whelpwisher, getting adopted by FCKR JR is the only way for a Whelpwisher song to be played Live.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Speaking of FCKR JR. can you tell me a little bit about the new album you’re planning on releasing next month? 

Ben Grigg: This FCKR JR record is our first formal release, besides a 2 song EP we recorded in my basement. The songs are really the bulk of what we’ve been playing live for the past year and a half. A lot of them are as old as the band, and we have them pretty polished at this point. Some of them are brand new though. It was exciting to see how the new tracks sounded, fully realized. The tape was recorded at a small studio in Chicago called Burn the Furniture. I’ve not always had great experiences in formal studio environments, but we had a wonderful time at Burn the Furniture. It was really an ideal experience. We’re also super stoked for the record to come out on Born Yesterday Records (Glued, Landowner)! They’re great people and we love the other bands affiliated with the label. 

The AGP: Can you tell me about the plans to support the new album on the road?

Ben: We’re planning a short tour to the East Coast in August. About half the band has never toured before, so it’ll be a fun experience for them. Tour dates should be announced shortly.

The AGP: Last week you released a new Whelpwisher EP, Good Fortune. What was the creative process behind those sessions ?

Ben: I’ve been lucky enough to live at a place with a basement for the past 4 years or so. I’ve set up sort of a makeshift studio down there and had lots of time to learn about recording. Whelpwisher basically started at the end of Geronimo! as a way for me to write and record music on my own. I’ve learned quite a bit in those years. However, I’m moving to a new place at the end of July. I’ll also have a basement space there, so nothing will really change. However, I felt like I needed to record a few more songs here (at Boozy Grin) before moving. Good Fortune is basically a goodbye to Boozy Grin. My process for Good Fortune was the same as my process for almost anything Whelpwisher. More or less, I come home from work, eat something, then go downstairs and don’t come back up until I have a complete song recorded. I start with drums. I’ll just hit record, and play drums until I have something worked out that I think I can write a song over, thinking about where verses, choruses, and bridges should go. Then, I’ll either do bass or guitar next. Very little is thought through beforehand, with the exception of the occasional riff. I might just have a vibe I want to convey, and that’s it. For me, if I have to take longer than an evening on a song, I find that it just doesn’t go together right and it’s best to move on. Either the bones of it are going to work, or they aren’t. Occasionally I find that vocal melodies or lyrics should be revised after some time to reflect, but generally everything else can be done all in a night. For Good Fortune, I followed this routine for a few nights in a row and bingo! Here’s an EP! The only track that was done earlier was Enough. I had recorded that back in March, but didn’t know what to do with it at the time, or whether I even liked it. 

The AGP: My introduction to your music was through the now defunct Geronimo! The band ended in 2015, but you’ve continued to work with your former band mates Kelly Johnson and Matt Schwerin on a few occasions. Do you expect to collaborate on future projects with them?

Ben: Yeah, I’ve certainly been lucky to be able to play music with both Kelly and Matt Schwerin. After Geronimo!, I think we all wanted to branch out and find different people to play with. It wasn’t out of any bad blood post-Geronimo, just out of curiosity I think. We’d been playing together for 8 years or so and maybe just forgot what it was like to play with other people. Kelly went off to start Milked with some friends of ours, and I tried to start up something that later became Future Biff. After a while though, I think we both realized that it was just much better to keep playing together. It was just more fun that way. Plus, we were so used to anticipating each other musically and knew how to work off each other. Everything was easier together. Milked ended up being the same lineup as Geronimo!, as did Future Biff, plus the addition of Ryan Wizniak(Meat Wave). Kelly even came to some FCKR JR practices early on, but his move to Eugene, Oregon was already looming, so he bowed out. I still play with Matt Schwerin in Deathsnack. I’d certainly love to play with Kelly again some day if geography allows, but for now, that’s not really a possibility.

The AGP: At the mid-year point it seems that everyone is sharing there favorite albums of 2019. Would you like to share some of your favorites of the year, so far ?

Ben: Yeah of course! I don’t digest music with the speed I’d like to, so I tend to listen to something over and over once I get it and not branch out too much. It makes it hard to really dive in to a lot or records, but these are the 2019 records I’ve been listening to so far (in no particular order):

Shady BugLemon Lime
GluedCool Evil
LomeldaM for Empathy
PileGreen and Gray

The AGP: Can you tell me a little bit about Frogs and the transformation it took from being a Whelpwisher to a full fledged FCKR JR. composition?
 
Ben: Frogs was a song I wrote in the fall of 2017. I just liked the simplicity of the chords and progression. It had a Dinosaur Jr./Ovlov vibe to it. The lyrics are about dealing with mental health issues. I don’t feel that I have been dealt a particularly bad hand in that regard, but I do get pretty down sometimes, to the point where I don’t want to feel better and begin to associate these feelings with “the real me”, which is of course total bullshit. I used frogs living inside my head as a way to separate these negative thoughts and depression from me, e.g. these thoughts aren’t me, it’s just those frogs again. 
 
Another fun story is that I had everything but the solo done on the Whelpwisher version and my friend Kelly Johnson (Geronimo!, Milked) came over. We were on our way to a party or a friends house or something and had about 15 minutes before we had to leave. I asked him, “hey, do you want to rip a guitar solo real quick?” He very kindly agreed and come down to the basement to record the solo on Frogs. It took all of 5 minutes, I really love how that turned out.
 
Frogs was the first song FCKR JR learned and started playing live. I think it was my favorite Whelpwisher song I had at the time, and seemed like an easy one to show everybody. It’s been fun seeing it evolve from my Whelpwisher demo to now. It’s picked up in tempo and Liz Bustamante is a far more creative and competent drummer than me. She’s added a lot of great details. Emily Wrong also added some really cool guitar dives throughout the song that I love, and Emily Bean rewrote the bass part. It’s sweet. I tried not to rip Kelly off too much in the solo, but I probably did, ha ha. I’m no Kelly Johnson. It’s also the first song we ever performed live. We played it at a kooky public access TV show, it was the first thing we ever did live as a band. We had to call ourselves “Effer Jr” for the show though, since it was on TV.
 
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8w8KufY3XA Linked: Fckr Jr.| Whelpwisher| Future Biff

First as founding member of slowcore legends Bedhead and then with The New Year, Bubba Kadane along with his brother Matt have been responsible for some of the finest glacially paced pop songs I’ve had the pleasure of digesting over the past 27 years. So, at this point I thought I knew what to expect from a solo endeavor from Bubba Kadane. Even with words like electronic and ambient being used to described the album, I wasn’t quite prepared for the hypnotic and arresting 40 minutes that occupy Injection. According to its creator the creative process behind the LP, dates back to 2015 when Kadane was creating guitar-based ambient instrumentals along with some purely electronic pieces, but found himself drawn to the flexibility of creating from a blank palette while working on a electronic composition. The obvious reference point would be Brian Eno‘s 1978 masterpiece, Music For Airports. Although the music Bubba Kadane creates under the Sigh Of Relief moniker mines similar terrain, he manages to create something exquisite and uniquely beautiful. He displays a gift for creating captivating soundscapes with a knack for conjuring up both darkness and light with sections of tension and release. The piece flows by at a pretty quick clip due to Kadane not lingering in one place for very long. In the past I’ve been guilty of playing ambient music over dinner of even during house chores, but this album captures my full attention and is meant to be heard in full. Injection is stunning piece of ambient bliss that begs repeating.

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A trying year politically delivered an incredibly strong year in music. With  excellent albums by some established favorites like Guided By Voices and Superchunk as well  formidable releases from rising acts such as Twin Foxes, Darklands, Ovlov, and Kal Marks we had plenty of sonic splendeur to keep us chugging along. In our first installment of 2018 in review we take time share some our favorites of the year. Most of these are available on Bandcamp, so if there something here that lands in your wheelhouse please consider supporting these artists in any way you can.

*Photo above taken at AS220 in Providence by Eleanor Dean