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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fresh-faced Smith Westerns take clean socks on tour

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Okay, Cullen Omari gets it. He’s young — 20, to be exact, but that makes him the elder statesmen in Smith Westerns (playing the Drunken Unicorn tonight). Is that a big deal? To him, no. To the rest of the world? Well ... to be fair, while there are plenty of bands with members who are 18-20, there’s only one that wore one of the biggest buzz band crowns of 2010 after completing big-time tours in support of such acts as MGMT and Girls, and after releasing “Weekend,” the lauded lead single from Dye It Blonde, their highly-anticipated Fat Possum Records debut (released Jan. 18). Finally out on their first headlining tour, these Chicago-based rockers are full of confidence and ready to make the world their (here comes inadvertent "kids" reference!) playground.

This is essentially the first headlining tour for you guys, but you’ve been support on some pretty incredible bills. How have those tours affected your live philosophy as you head out on your own?
Cullen Omari: It’s cool to see sort of the smaller side of things, after playing with bands that are playing these huge rooms. But you get to see how to really, professionally, put on a show. It’s fun, but it’s also work. You play these songs and you wrote them for a reason, and you want to be sure the audience enjoys them completely. From going to shows myself, I know that you have to really appreciate every person that’s there. So we’re obviously conscious of giving everyone their money’s worth and trying to make it sound as good as the songs they like on the album. What’s the difference between a live show and these people just listening to the record at home? It’s about a connection.

What are some things you’ve picked up along the way from your tour mates? Tips for staying sane?
CO: Wash yourself every day (laughs). If you smell like shit it’s pretty offensive to everyone else. Bring clean socks. Don’t clog the toilet. A lot of it is pretty intuitive.


In terms of influences and writing, compare Dye It Blonde to the debut record.
CO: The first record was us trying to kind of imitate this power-pop, glam feel. Early ‘70s power pop-rock. Since then, I think our writing is to the point where we’re not really trying to be something, but more trying to create our own sound and own thing. We wanted to create songs that you can’t really put a date on. Songs that you can listen to and it won’t wear the scars of every genre.

People grab onto words like “garage” and “lo-fi” and others when describing you. But what do you actually identify with?
CO: I think a lot of people just grab onto those words from past articles and just rehash it, ya know? Which is just kind of lazy (laughs).

Putting out a record usually makes bands want to immediately start writing another one. Are you already excited about thinking where album number three might go?
CO: When you play shows and they’re well-attended, it’s an indication of you making something that people like. Having that product makes you feel more confident. So yeah, it makes you want to write again. As far as what’s next, I really have no idea where we might go with it. I think we want to evolve from album to album. And also, another upside of being young, we get to see our personal tastes and just our personal skills evolve. We’re excited.

Be as honest as you want about this, but does it get old to read about your youth in every piece that’s written?
CO: We can’t lie about [our age], ya know (laughs)? I think we all kind of get annoyed when it’s used to slight us, saying "kids" or "youngsters" or whatever word they decide to go with. There’s a lot of bands now that are out there and are young. But for some reason [people] are really centered on our age. But it’s a fact. I have no control over it, ya know? It’d be the same thing if somebody was incredibly old and making music (laughs). Every review would be like "this grampster" or "this old guy."

But the upsides of being young out there...
CO: We’re not burned out on partying yet (laughs). We’re very driven and optimistic and not bitter. We get to go travel all over the place. It’s like work, but at the same time it’s great to see people get enthusiastic about something you created. It’s really rewarding. I feel like a lot of bands have the sort of in between time [in their early 20s], but for us it more or less went from graduating high school, working a little bit for a year, to going out on tour. From high school, to getting out the door and touring the world. That’s pretty cool.

Smith Westerns with Yuck. $10. 9 p.m. Tues., Feb. 1. The Drunken Unicorn, 736 Ponce De Leon Avenue. 404-870-0575. www.thedrunkenunicorn.net

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