Smug Brothers’ Application of The Twig Interview & Album Premiere

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

Order via Bandcamp

Gamma Country: A Conversation With Kyle Melton of Smug Brothers


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.