I saw Smooth Hound Smith pop up on bandsintown a couple of months ago and was immediately excited: one of my favorite live bands playing at Atwood’s, one of my favorite venues. They torched the place the last time they were in town (review of that show here). So on Sunday, I get to spend the day at Festival at the Farm and then swing by Atwood’s for Smooth Hound Smith’s set at 10:00. It’s gonna be a good day. I got to chat with the duo, Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle, about the past couple of years since they were last in town, touring with the Dixie Chicks, and avoiding the genre trap.
RLR: The last time we talked was right after Sweet Tennessee Honey came out and you were bringing it around the country. I’ve heard some songwriters say that the process of bringing their songs out on the road changes their relationship with them–that the relationship evolves. Has that been true for any of those songs for you?
ZS: Yeah, it has. There’s really a handful of songs that we play from that record that I personally feel we can really do justice live as a duo. We kind of built that record in the studio, we didn’t do a lot of pre-production for it, so we were sort of flying by the seat of our collective pants. There’s a few [songs] that we realized are really difficult because there’s more interlocking parts than we can do, so delivering them live as a two-piece isn’t the most practical thing. For the ones we do play, they’ve changed a little bit, and they tend to be the more rocking, groovier tunes. And there were a few on that record–“30 Days” and “Stopgap Woman Blues”–that are essentially live recordings anyway. “Stone Blind,” is tricky because it’s sort of groovy and syncopated, and people ask us to play it all the time, but the drum part is really hard to do with just my feet.
CD: I think, “Forever Cold,” has a lot more gusto to it when we do it live. It’s a little spookier and mellow on the recording, but when it’s live, it’s a little faster.
RLR: On Sweet Tennessee Honey, you’re playing across so many different genres: straight blues, bluegrass, pop, and soul – how do you think about exploring all these different forms of music and what has led you down that more eclectic path?
CD: We both have multiple personalities.
ZS: It just reflects what we listen to and what we’re interested in and what we like in other records. Caitlin and I sort of bonded over that before we ever thought about making a record together. We don’t like albums that are top to bottom and it’s just the same vibe, all the tempos are the same or the guitar player’s using the same distortion pedal.
RLR: Sometimes there is pressure to narrow to a certain genre, just from a marketing standpoint. Have you felt that?
ZS: We recently parted ways with a management company that we were with for a while, and that was definitely a conversation. I personally don’t feel that kind of pressure just because I write different kinds of songs and sometimes they need a bossa nova beat, and sometimes they’re hard driving blues songs. If anything’s going to happen in our genre of music, from a commercial standpoint, somebody’s going to be pushing a single, so it doesn’t matter what the rest of it sounds like. A good example is Sugar Ray—
CD: I knew you were going to talk about Sugar Ray.
ZS: [laughing] Remember Sugar Ray? Their single was “Fly,” was super groovy and mellow and then the rest of the record was like a hardcore record.
RLR: You’ve played a bunch of shows with a full band in the last six to twelve months. I’ve heard songwriters talk about the different “lift” between a solo show and a band show. How does that impact or change the way you all think about a live show?
CD: It just gives us a little more freedom, especially Zack, because he’s not holding down essentially the whole band. He can stand up and rock out and play guitar. It’s just a bigger sound, and it’s more fun.
ZS: At the same time there are a lot more moving parts, so it’s a different vibe. What Caitlin and I have between us is extremely tight most of the time. And, as far as guitar and drum interlocking, we’re not going to find a drummer who’s more in tune with my right hand than my right foot is. We just played this festival in Ohio and I was chatting with David Shaw (The Revivalists) backstage and he plays with a full band and then does this solo stuff where he stomps on stomp box. And we kind of agreed that it’s a different mindset, and you let the band drive it when it’s the full band, and it’s this collective thing. But when it’s two people, Caitlin and I lock in together, our percussion becomes one player and that’s the player that drives it.
RLR: Do you guys know Charlie Parr?
ZS: Yeah, we’ve played some festivals with him and I love seeing him play. He’s super inspiring. We’ve seen him play solo, late night at a festival where everyone’s just drunk and crazy and he’s moving an entire field of people.
RLR: I was talking with him a couple years ago and he said that he doesn’t like to play with a drummer, because the time is too tight.
ZS: Everyone has their own specific swing in mind where some beats are a little faster or slower. Having toured around for five years, mine and Caitlin’s swings are pretty tight. That makes sense, sometimes you bring in a drummer who’s playing to clicks or whatever, it doesn’t always work.
RLR: You’ve toured a bunch with The Dixie Chicks over the past year. What was that experience like?
CD: That experience was crazy. Going from playing smaller venues to playing arenas and amphitheaters. I have a picture in my mind of us pulling up behind Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in our 12-passenger, blue van, behind their four semi-trucks and three tour buses, and it was just like one of these things does not look like the other. We were so lucky they asked us to join them.
RLR: You have plans for a new album and you talked last time that the process for your first and second albums was really different. What do you anticipate this time?
ZS: We’ve been making demos in the living room, and treating them as pre-production and we’re assembling a crew to make it with. We’re going to take our time and sort of build it with a limited number of people. Caitlin and I are both multi-instrumentalists and can layer percussion parts and that kind of thing. There are a few songs we’ve been trickling into the live set just for fun. We want to go in more prepared than last time and have arrangements more solidified. Then if something isn’t working in the studio we can adjust and make a change.
RLR: Anything else you guys wanted to talk about?
ZS: We’re just psyched for a nice buttery shot at Atwood’s. Caitlin’s favorite bartender works there.
CD: He’s awesome.
Grab a buttery shot at Atwood’s with Smooth Hound Smith on Sunday. Advance tickets are here. It’ll be a good one–get there.