2/21/2005

Smoosh Interview



Photo: Danna Kinsky

*Noise Pop Special Report*
Bands are getting younger and younger these days. Smoosh is two sisters from Seattle who are ten and twelve years old. Their names are Asya and Chloe. With their combined ages, they are still younger than Joanna Newsom. The music is just as amazing. Asya sings and plays keyboards. Chloe plays drums. ROCKRGRL talks about Smoosh in this way: "Imagine a stripped-down version of the first side of Pet Sounds (before Brian Wilson gets cynical) and you have some clue to Smoosh's sound. Musically they more than hold their own." Their effortless talent and imagination is astounding. This is a band that relies on instinct and plays music because it is fun. They are unaffected by the demands of indie cool. They are precocious and make most bands look lazy and contrived.

The music of Smoosh seems to be a quick digest of punk rock, rap music, ballads, and no wave. They are like Kate Bush or Cat Power if they had done a multi-genre record in their pre-teens. Smoosh is living the dream of any teenager who banged on a Casio and had dreams of playing support with Pearl Jam. Not only has Smoosh played with Pearl Jam, Cat Power, but also with Death Cab For Cutie, Sleater-Kinney and Rilo Kiley.

Smoosh started about four years ago, when Chloe's drum teacher, Jason McGerr, the drummer of Death Cab for Cutie, suggested that she start playing along with others, the better to understand the role of the instrument in a rock band. Her sister just happened to have some songs and energy. Years later their demo got around and was played on the radio station KEXP. Soon they were signed to record label Pattern 25. Their album came out in September 2004. I spoke to them on the phone during a lull before touring and recording their second album. I had to call them at 4pm because they didn't get home from school before then.

Their album, She Like Electric is out now. There have been rave reviews in Blender, Tigerbeat, and Alt Press. Their album was The Village Voice's #1 most overlooked record of 2004. Look for the band on the cover of magazines and TV this Spring. They are going to be on CNN with Wolf Blitzer very soon. I spoke to Asya and Chloe right before their big tour with Mates of State and high profile gig at Noise Pop 2005, in San Francisco.

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AL: I bought your CD a few weeks ago, loved it, and that's why I am calling you.
Asya: Thanks.

AL: How long have you been playing together?
Asya: Probably about four years. I have been writing songs all my life. I started when I was about five years old. Chloe got her drum set when she was six. She started to get better and she needed to play with another person. So that was the earliest time we started playing together.

AL: Did you take piano lessons before that?
Asya: No. I never took any piano lessons. I learned to play on my own. But after a while I tried to learn how to read music so I could take lessons. But I quit taking lessons with a teacher after a month each time because it wasn't very fun.

AL: You write all the songs in Smoosh?
Asya: I write all the lyrics and piano parts. After I do that Chloe kind of makes up her drum parts. We both contribute to every song.

AL: What are your songs about?
Asya: I never write songs about a person that I know. That has never happened. I just write about things that are around me. I write about going out and not being afraid to try stuff. That is what the song "Rad" is about. Some songs are sort of sad, like "About A Picture."

AL: Is that just because it's a ballad and it sounds more serious?
Asya: Yeah.

AL: What other bands have you played with?
Asya: Let's see. We have played Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cutie, and Sleater-Kinney.

AL: I heard that Cat Power was dancing around onstage and lip-synching one of your songs.
Asya: That was last year. She was dancing around to "Rad."

AL: Did you see it?
Asya: No I heard about though.

AL: Did you meet Chan Marshall?
Asya: Yeah. She was pretty cool. She was really nice. I like her.

AL: Where do you live?
Asya: We live in Seattle by the University.

AL: How many shows have you played?
Asya: I don't know. I have never counted.

AL: Maybe twenty.
Asya: Maybe more than that. Probably more than twenty.

AL: Is there some club that you play a lot?
Asya: We like to play at the Showbox. That is our favorite place to play.

AL: At some of those clubs you have to be 21 to go into.
Asya: Yeah. We have played at some bars. We have also played at some all ages clubs. When we play at the adult clubs we have to stay backstage the whole time while the other bands play. At all ages gigs sometimes we stay around a little bit and watch the other bands. We don't stay up too late.

AL: Do you know the Trachtenburg Family? There is a girl in the band and I think she is nine or ten years old now.
Asya: Yeah. We know her. She probably wouldn't remember me. She used to go to the same drum school in Seattle as us.

AL: What do you think of their record?
Asya: They are pretty cool. It's a different style of music. It's not what I would listen to.

AL: There are not a lot of people who have done a record who are your age. Bjork did a folk record in Iceland when she was ten. There is the girl in the Trachtenburg Family. Do you know of other bands?
Asya: Yeah. There is a band called The Black Peppercorns. They are from Oregon. There is a high school band called Capitol Basement.

AL: So you are in the Seventh Grade and Chloe is in Fifth Grade. What do people you go to school with think of the band Smoosh?
Asya: Some people think it is really cool. My friends ask me about it all the time. I try to not talk about it a lot or brag. Some people are not interested and act like they don't care. Some people don't like the band.

AL: They are jealous?
Asya: Yeah. I don't think about it too much.

AL: Do you plan on doing a lot of records?
Asya: Yeah. I want to.

AL: Some people in Junior High might think that since Smoosh already has a CD out, they better start hurrying up and get their own band together.
Asya: Yeah. It's possible.

AL: You have two other younger sisters?
Asya: I have three sisters including Chloe. One is a small baby. The other one plays bass guitar. Her name is Maya.

AL: Does she want to be in the band?
Asya: I think that she wants to be in a band. Maya doesn't always play the bass guitar. She does other things.

AL: You don't write love songs? What's up with that?
Asya: I don't feel comfortable writing about that. Some people might get the wrong idea. We are little kids. If I wrote a song about that people would be asking about it.

AL: You are playing a bunch of West Coast shows with Mates of State. Is this the first tour you done?
Asya: It will be the first real tour. We did play two shows with Rilo Kiley. That wasn't a tour, but that was the end of a longer tour fro them.

AL: Have you played anywhere else besides Seattle?
Asya: We have played in New York and in Los Angeles.

AL: Okay. So I have a few questions for Chloe. (hands phone to Chloe)
Chloe: Hello.

AL: I was reading something about Smoosh in an article. It said that you had a Hilary Duff poster on the wall or something like that. So who do you like better: Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan?
Chloe: I am not sure. They are kind of the same. If I had to choose I would probably pick Lindsay.

AL: What do you think of their music?
Chloe: I have never heard Lindsay's music before.

AL: What bands do you like?
Chloe: I like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cutie, Interpol, Smashing Pumpkins, and Arcade Fire. Bands like that.

AL: Do you like Rap Music? Because some of your songs like "Rad" and "Bottlenose" seem like Rap inspired.
Chloe: I like all types of music except country. I am not a big fan of country.

AL: Why is the song called "Pygmy Motorcycle?"
Chloe: The title has nothing to do with the song. Asya was thinking about a song name after we recorded it. In school they were learning about animals that week. So when the recording guy, Jason, asked what the title of the song was, she said "Pygmy Marmoset." And Jason said "Pygmy Motorcycle? Okay."

AL: Why is this song called "La Pump?"
Chloe: We have a CD by this band called La Pump Group. They are funny. There's a guy with bushy purple hair and this girl. We were so into it that we decided to call our song "La Pump."

AL: What songs do you play live?
Chloe: We play "Massive Cure," "Pygmy Motorcycle," "Make It Through," "About The Picture," "La Pump." We have a new song we call "Rock Song." We don't have a real title for it yet. Our Dad calls it "Rock Song." He wrote it down. Asya said just call it that so we can remember it.

AL: What do you think of Meg White of The White Stripes? Do you like her drumming?
Chloe: Yeah. I like a lot of drummers. My favorite girl drummer would be Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney. I like Jason from Death Cab For Cutie. I like the drummer in the Presidents of the United States.

AL: What do you think of George Bush, the real president now?
Chloe: I don't like to be mean but I think that he has some really strange thoughts that are not really good.

AL: What is your favorite part of being in a band?
Chloe: I don't think it's amazing. I think it's normal. It's just want we do. I don't think it's a big deal that we are kids and there are adults playing. All that matters is that you are playing music. It doesn't matter how old you are.

AL: Well, people might go see Death Cab For Cutie or Mates of State, and they don't know Smoosh is opening for that band. They see you and wonder about these two girls who are ten and twelve. They might think it's a curiosity.
Chloe: I don't like it when people are walking around at a show. They see us playing and go "Those are kids!?"

AL: I was listening to a bunch of CDs last night. These are records with no musical talent and the people can't even sing. Smoosh is a lot better than these people who are twice your age. (laughs)
Chloe: Thanks.

AL: So it should matter what age you are. It's all about present the music and having fun.
Chloe: Yeah. If you are not having fun doing music, you shouldn't do it. You shouldn't do it for money either.

AL: How many records do you think you will do?
Chloe: We are getting ready to do our second one. Well, I don't know. I hope that people like our newer songs. There are a lot of bands whose first album is good and they are really popular and then they are not popular anymore.

AL: What do you think you will be doing in twenty years? Do you think that you will still be doing music?
Chloe: I am not sure. I'll be kind of old. I am not sure if our music will be popular anymore.

AL: Do you think about the future?
Chloe: I do. I will still be in a band in ten years. In twenty years I will just be staying around.

AL: Thanks for talking with me.
Chloe: Bye.

-SMOOSH TOUR 2005-
w/mates of state
2-19 - Los Angeles, CA - The Knitting Factory
2-22 - Amoeba SF
2-23 - San Francisco, CA - Slim's
2-25 - Portland, OR - Meow Meow
2-26 - Seattle, WA - Chop Suey

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