Since 2005 Columbus, OH’s lo-fi concern, Smug Brothers have been responsible for some the finest hook laden DIY rock music I’ve come across in recent memory. Led by principle songwriter and guitarist Kyle Melton, Smug Brothers seem to up their game with each subsequent release with material that is equally engaging as it is infectious and with the forthcoming, Application of The Twig Smug Brothers may just have released their finest record to date. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with both Kyle Melton and his longtime collaborator and drummer, Don Thrasher (Guided By Voices / Swearing at Motorists).
The Ash Gray Proclamation: On September 10th Smug Brothers will release Application of the Twig, your band’s 10th album with a bunch of EP’s as well. Can you tell me a little about the creative process that went into the new songs?
Kyle Melton: Well, we had to be a little extra-creative with this album simply due to the limitations imposed by the current pandemic. Since we weren’t able to work together in-person, we had to dive into our pile of outtakes to see what we might be able to whip into an album. In the fall of 2020, after we’d released the trio of EPs, we took stock of what we had and Don (Thrasher) really carved out a really cool path out of what we had laying around that we could work on. Luckily, Scott, Kyle Sowash, and I had enough experience working remotely to finish tracks that we pulled it all together fairly quickly once we got on a roll in January 2021.
Don Thrasher: We have 10 short-form releases, EPs or singles or whatever you want to call them. Of course, some of them are packed with songs. Echo Complex, our split EP with Brat Curse, has nine songs, but it’s only like 15 minutes long.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Are there plans for the band to support Application of the Twig with Live dates this year?
DT: We had hoped to play out this fall. Back in the summer, we optimistically booked some October shows in Dayton and Columbus. However, with the rise of the delta variant, we decided to push those back to a date TBD in 2022. It just seemed needlessly risky to ask people to come into a club to watch us play right now. We’re definitely looking forward to playing some of the newer material for people. We started rehearsing again in June and with the exception of a few older songs, the set we’ve been working up is packed with songs from 2019 forward, which really reflects the output of our current lineup with Scott Tribble and Kyle Sowash. It’s been really fun to play a lot of fresh stuff.
The AGP: Which of the new songs are you most looking forward to playing out Live?
KM: We’ve been rehearsing Lesser Commodore and That’s News I Could Have Used Yesterday. We may get around to some others, but Twig may honestly wind up more of a studio album that doesn’t really make it to the stage. But we did pick up several from the 2020 EPs that have been a lot of fun to finally play as a group, since those were all put together remotely for release.
DT: There are too many to list. We haven’t played anything live from Application of the Twig or any of the EPs we released in late 2020. We barely played anything from the three full-lengths we released in 2019 so the songs we’re playing all sound fresh and vibrant.
The AGP: How has the approach to writing and recording evolved since you released Buzzmounter EP in 2005?
KM: I’ve worked at this a while now, so the writing keeps evolving. But the motivation is still basically the same: I just want to write a song that gets me excited in some way when it comes to life. And that’s at each stage of “coming alive.” The initial buzz of knowing a new song is cool and has potential, when we start recording it and working it up, as the overdubs sweeten it up and it gets to a final mix, and then when it’s put down on physical media or whatever. What I write about and how I put ideas is always changing and I think I’ve gotten better musically and lyrically over the years. A lot of the inspirations are still the same, but as time goes on you get inspired by new and different things, you know? The recording certainly has evolved enormously over the years. Starting out in 2005, it was just Darryl Robbins and I working separately with him doing all the music and me doing vocals on 4-track. Don and I have been recording together now for 13 years and have worked in all kinds of spaces. But now instead of me just dropping songs on him out of the blue, I send him demos recorded on my phone in advance of a session so we can move a little more quickly and he can at least have some familiarity with the material. Now that he’s an hour away instead of 10 minutes down the street, it’s more important to make what time we have to be productive.
The AGP: I noticed that these tracks were recorded as far back as 2014 and up to 2021. Can you tell me a bit about the decision to include the older material on Twig?
KM: Well, we’re always recording. Even if there isn’t an album that’s imminent, we try and find time to put something new down. Our term for it is “sweeten the pot.” We like to record, and we like to find cool ways to put songs together that hold together in an interesting way. A lot of the older stuff was just done on a random Sunday when we had some time and no particular direction for a new album, and those just sat around unfinished until we found a spot for them. And many of the more recent albums had a handful of songs that we liked that just didn’t fit the flow of the album we were on at the time. “In Between A Wave” was one of the first things I worked on with Scott as we were working toward Attic Harvest. It just kept not fitting with what was happening, but on Application of the Twig, it really feels like a standout. It’s all timing, really.
DT: We couldn’t get together to record any of the numerous untracked songs Kyle has written so we basically plundered our archives for material that was left unfinished. We were also able to add a few newer ones like “That’s News I Could’ve Used Yesterday” and “It Seemed Like You To Me.” I really thought the album would be some kind of Frankstein’s monster, you know, a cobbled-together collection of disparate songs, but it’s actually pretty cohesive for what we do. We cast a fairly wide sonic net, from acoustic songs and jangly material to power-pop, indie rock, and post-punk, so this record is a continuation of that.
The AGP: Last year you decided to eschew the full LP format in favor of issuing 3 EP’s Flame Verbatim, Room of the Year, and Every Surface Under Heaven, respectively. Can you tell a little bit about those releases and the decision to release them separately?
DT: I’ll speak to that since it was my concept. As I mentioned before, we have released as many EPs as full-lengths. There are things we like about both formats but we had released three full-lengths in 2019 so it just made sense to do a short-form release next. I never imagined it would turn into three EPs but that’s just how it worked out. The songs that make up those three EPs were the last things Kyle and I recorded in late 2019. As is usually the case, we weren’t working toward any specific project, we were just recording rhythm guitar and drum tracks onto four-track to add to our pot of songs to finish. Sometime in late spring or early summer of 2020, I was listening to that latest batch of songs and trying to figure out what we could do with them when the concept of the three EPs hit me. It was divine inspiration or something, but I could basically see that we had a really strong batch of songs and there was like an equal number of longer songs and shorter songs. The whole thing just kind of presented itself to me like some “Beautiful Mind” situation. I sequenced them and, sure enough, they worked out to be three solid four-song EPs. We knew they were being released digitally but they were still sequenced and packaged as if they were 7-inch records. I presented the running orders to Kyle and he liked what I had, although he replaced one of the songs. I think he flipped the sequence on one of the EPs, too. Sonically and aesthetically they turned out just like I had envisioned so I was especially stoked when we got the opportunity this year to do the limited-edition lathe-cut runs of the three EPs.
Smug Brothers – Application of The Twig Album Premeire