Smith Gardens on their music and future plans
October 11, 2017
Searcher Records recently signed a new band comprised of both GW and American University students. I sat down with Hunter (keys, bass), Niko (drums), and Blake (lead vocals, guitar) to learn more about their band, Smith Gardens.
Searcher Records: How did you guys meet and get started as a band?
Niko: Well, it was Blake and me since we were like, nine or ten years old, just jamming together and messing around in his garage. And then we met Hunter in high school and just started messing around. And then it just got more and more serious, and we started recording.
Searcher Records: Describe your music.
Blake: I’d say it definitely has some surf-rock influence. It was kind of just learning how to put stuff out since it was our first album that we ever fully recorded. All the songs kind of have a similar style to them, but I’d say it’s more surf rock, pretty hazy, kind of dream pop-ish.
Searcher Records: What’s the studio process like?
Blake: The studio process for this first album, we recorded most of this during the summer. We had kind of like a detached garage in my yard, and it was a really nice space.
Niko: You can definitely hear it, it was really, really exhausting. That’s pretty much what we did all summer, was just hours and hours of recording and hours and hours in front of the computer.
Blake: Niko mastered the majority, actually pretty much the entire album.
Niko: Yeah, I was mainly the producing end. We just had a few pieces of equipment that made it so that we could get bad-sounding stuff on the computer.
Hunter: Yeah, it’s tough recording in a garage, but it’s kind of nice because you get that sound.
Niko: Yeah, I’m so glad we did it, I mean it was really exhausting but it was definitely rewarding. It’s crazy how rewarding it is to put a song together having spent the entire summer on it, and then have an album to show for it.
Blake: Yeah I think the sound of the album, I mean it was kind of good that it was in a garage because it captured what we were trying to do at that moment. And then after we mastered it, it sounded much more clean.
Niko: We definitely learned a lot too. We would just sit at the computer and I would play a track and then we’d just get feedback and try to make it sound like how we wanted it to.
Hunter: Yeah, they usually started with the drums.
Niko: Yeah, they sound like trash cans before they’re produced.
Searcher Records: Who are your greatest musical influences?
Hunter: Real Estate, definitely everything that we listen to kind of molds together.
Blake: I’d say we get a lot of influence from older music, too.
Niko: I get drum influence from, do you know American Football? Well I get drum influence from them a lot.
Searcher Records: If you guys could collaborate with any musician or band, who would it be?
Niko: That’s a really good question, I never even thought of that.
Hunter: Wilco. But there is an age gap there.
Blake: I would say Twin Peaks. They were also one of our good influences, just because they’re pretty similar in age to us, and they’re doing a lot already, and it’s really nice to see a band like that get that kind of momentum.
Niko: Yeah, and they’re touring with Wilco right now. They’re living our dream right now. I would love to jam with Mac DeMarco. That’d be amazing. Jake, the guitarist that we play with live, has a pretty similar style to him.
Hunter: Yeah, it’s kind of bluesy, jazzy, super smooth.
Searcher Records: Let’s talk about your new album, Shades Lane. Is there a story behind that album? How did it come together?
Blake: We released an EP prior to Shades Lane, and it was our first Smith Gardens project. And it was four songs that we just put out with the same recording style as Shades Lane. And then after we made that we decided to write a full album but we used songs from the EP too that we wanted to add to it. But I’d say, I guess, there’s not really a story to it. The songs kind of just captured how we were living at the moment. I think that it kind of captures living in the suburbs and just making music all day.
Hunter: Yeah, like losing our minds in the suburbs in the summer. It embodies that, but in a good way.
Blake: We live in Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay, and in the summer it’s pretty lazy, there’s not much to do. So making music is a kind of a nice pastime. I think the songs embody the whole idea of us living in Annapolis in the summer.
Niko: But in a positive way. It was kind of our last summer living the easy high school life. The name Shades Lane though, and the name Smith Gardens, well my grandpa ran a greenhouse in Cumberland, which is where my dad grew up. And it was called Smith Gardens, since that’s my last name. And then Shades Lane is the street it was on. We didn’t even think of the name, really. My grandpa did, so props to him.
Searcher Records: Walk me through the songwriting process for “Sleeper,” the first track off of Shades Lane.
Blake: Usually we just, when we write anything down on recording we name the logic file a random kind of thing. And this song we slept on for a really long time, so therefore “Sleeper” was the appropriate name. We got the guitar and drums down, and then for a couple months we didn’t really look at it, we kind of did other songs and didn’t go back to it since we didn’t know what direction we wanted to go with it. And it was kind of one of the last songs we finished on the album.
Hunter: I think after we could kind of come back and make it what we wanted, because we needed a strong album opener.
Niko: There were actually no lyrics to it at first. And then you [Blake] wrote verse 1, and I wrote the chorus in verse 2, and Hunter did the bass.
Blake: In the end, now, I’d say it’s one of my favorite songs off of the album.
Niko: There is a flipside to that though, like “Out of Time,” like that one, Blake and I wrote one day in like six hours, just sitting there. So sometimes, that’s how it goes, and sometimes it’s like “Sleeper” where it takes months. Inspiration comes pretty randomly. But sometimes, it just happens.
Searcher Records: Do you guys have songs that you wrote that didn’t make the album? How do you decide which songs make the cut?
Niko: We kind of just go with our gut feeling.
Hunter: When it comes to the album, too, I think we’re just trying to get like a fluid sound.
Niko: Yeah, a song could be great but if it doesn’t fit with on the album then we’ll either just hold onto it for later or just let that sit on my hard drive forever.
Blake: Yeah, we didn’t want an album of just like singles, we wanted it to be like an album where it kind of has like a certain tone to it.
Searcher Records: Do you have any other hobbies that influence your creativity, or where does that inspiration come from?
Hunter: Well, I think the album is kind of fueled by the summer haze, you know.
Blake: A lot of late nights, and a lot of influence from other substances as well.
Niko: Yeah, I don’t search for influence really, it kind of naturally comes from the way we live. I mean the three of us, we were like best friends all throughout high school, so the album was also I guess fueled by friendship if that makes any sense. It was definitely, like, a bonding experience to record the album.
Blake: Moving to a new city definitely has a lot of impacts on influence and stuff like that because living in the same place, growing up together, and having that same kind of influence and that same environment, it definitely changes a lot when you’re in a brand new city. I’m sure the next album is going to have a much different sound and a kind of dramatic change from before. That’s what we’re looking to do, at least.
Searcher Records: So have you started working on your next album or writing new material?
Blake: Yeah we’ve been writing. No recording yet, but we’ve been writing a lot of songs for the new album.
Hunter: That’s usually how it is, too. We get a lot of ideas together and then bring it in at the end to the recording studio whenever we find space.
Blake: It’s really just trying to find the best space to record. I think this time, hopefully we’re going to look for a real studio to record it in and just to get a different sound than the last one. Because the home-style recording sound is obviously a lot different, and I think we’re trying to do something a little more professional with the next one. Something different, because we decided we don’t want to make the same sounding album again.
Searcher Records: Did any of you guys have stage fright before you started performing?
Blake: There was definitely a little bit of stage fright, especially playing in our hometown just because Annapolis is a very small kind of town, and there’s not really a huge music scene, and playing for a really small crowd of people that like don’t really want to see you, and are just kind of there, it’s a lot different than playing a show in D.C. where you have people who are actually coming out for you. Playing there was fun, it was a great place to experiment with what we wanted to do, but I think after playing there a couple times and now playing in D.C., we definitely have gotten a lot better at playing live and kind of like handling it.
Hunter: It’s just about doing it more.
Blake: I think that we’re definitely getting a lot better now and getting more accustomed to it. It feels a lot more natural now to play on stage than it did before.
Searcher Records: What are your favorite songs to perform live?
Niko: Mine definitely is “Shades Lane,” since I go wild on the drums in that one.
Blake: We usually open with “Greenberry Point,” which is I’d say one of my favorite songs off the album.
Hunter: It’s a crowd pleaser too. I feel like we try to do more upbeat songs when we play live, depending on the venue and what’s going on.
Searcher Records: When’s your next show?
Niko: October 19th at Songbyrd!
To listen to their debut album, visit SmithGardens.bandcamp.com.