Guitar-pop trio Smith Westerns have a lot to be happy about. The band has just released its third critical smash in a row and embarked on a national tour, hitting up festivals like Coachella and selling out clubs across the country. The band's new LP, Soft Will, sees Cullen Omori, Max Kakacek, and Cameron Omori slowing things down and making their most thoughtful record yet.
Taking time to record in Texas with veteran producer Chris Coady (Beach House, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the guys have hit their stride without losing momentum. We caught up with Smith Westerns at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
What did you guys want to bring Soft Will after the success of Dye it Blonde?
Cullen: "Every record that we've put out since the debut — from Dye it Blonde to Soft Will — is always changing. The albums are always a by-product of us getting better as musicians and getting tighter as a band, of us listening to new music, and discovering new music, and incorporating that into how we write songs. For Soft Will, it was just about making an album in the studio with an ample amount of time, getting the songs really honed, which was something we weren't able to do on the first records."
When you mention new music that inspired you, do you mean anything specific?
Cullen: "I mean, it's all over the place. It's kind of diverse. I was listening to a lot of Guns 'n Roses — the slower stuff. Roxy Music. But for us, we've always wanted to be a guitar band, to use guitars, have the idea that we're doing something that's been around for a while and make something new out of it.
Max: "I think that on Dye it Blonde we were kind of tyring to make big rock songs, and after Dye it Blonde — maybe we didn't realize that we were doing it — but we recognized the heavier dropping songs were the slower ones."
Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Kim
Is there anything that you're particularly stoked to play off the new record that you haven't yet?
Max: "I'm excited about 'White Oath,' because it's the first song where we have a guitar-vocal intro. It's just Cullen and a guitar; it's gonna be cool."
What was different about the recording process this time around?
Cullen: "Well, for [the first record], we did it in Max's basement, and on Dye it Blonde, we had 30 days to mix, record, and track it, which is insane compared to how we did it with Soft Will. For [Soft Will], it was almost five weeks to record and another two and a half to mix. We had the songs fully realized and were feeling really comfortable when we heard the masters. We had the time to be really nitpicky with each thing we planned to be on the song."
How much had you finished before you went to Texas to record?
Max: "Yeah, that's the one thing that stayed the same with all three records. We usually write them all beforehand. When we get in the studio, we pretty much have a finished skeleton of the songs."
You guys have been friends since high school. How do you guys keep things relaxed while spending so much time together in close quarters?
Cameron: "I think it's lasted this long just because we get along naturally. We don't have, like, 'company outings' or 'functions.' We just give everyone their space."
What's the rest of the year looking like for you guys?
Max: "Just touring pretty much the rest of the summer."
Cullen: "Just being back out and playing. During Dye it Blonde, it was like 'I wish we could just take a day off and not have to play.' But during writing Soft Will, it was kind of like, 'I just miss waking up in a different place.' On Dye it Blonde, we got better than the songs that were written [on the record] and want to showcase that."
Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Kim