The lovechild of a studio experiment that was never meant to make it out into the wild, Los Angeles' American Royalty constructs an unlikely yet glowingly functional blend of dark garage rock and poignant electronica. This creative soundscape is topped off by the two vocal leads of Marc Gilfry and Billy Scher, whose pipes both seem to fall somewhere in the realm of where eerie and soul meet back on the other side; altogether resulting in one of the most innovative sounds to haunt independent music today.
The psychedelic blues-rock three piece has already begun making their mark on the road over the past year, turning heads in the touring circuit with their unorthodox stage set up, a penchant for sprinkling in reworked bits of both the classic and obscure, and an explosively energetic and entrancingly unique live performance.
When Johnny Cash gave a young Bob Dylan his guitar backstage at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, it was a symbolic gesture that unofficially anointed Dylan as the next great folk musician; and the rest is history. When 25-year-old Jesse Woods was presented with a $3,500 Gibson Songwriters Deluxe guitar at his first SXSW - it was stolen by a bum (and former friend). Being a drifter himself, he quickly channeled his heartbreak and rage into creativity, and spent the next 6 months isolated in the garage with wine, a Macbook, and a guitar (borrowed). The result is an EP of WoodsÕ first 7 songs he ever wrote; and serves as a snapshot into the mind and soul of a young artist at the beginning of his journey.
Originally from Texas, his time spent tramping in Grass Valley, CA, in the Colorado mountains, and nameless towns along the way, provide the inspiration behind the sketches that will soon evolve into a full length album. He started playing shows 7 months ago in Austin, Tx. at South By Southwest, and has already drawn comparisons to Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver, and Ray Lamontagne. He is ardent in his mission to honor the grass roots heroes before him, and not compromise the same vision that has created enough buzz to land him on stage for Austin City limits. If anyone is deserving of receiving a guitar backstage this year, it is this guy.
"As far as I’m concerned there are two types of music fan. Those who when faced with the prospect of listening to a band called THE SMILES from Los Angeles will either run away, or those who feel their hearts swelling at the prospect already.
Just so we know what we’re getting ourselves into here let’s list a few more facts. The band are all college students from Southern California, they claim their music to be either “beach rock” or “tropical grunge” and the longest song on their debut 6 track EP clocks in at 3 minutes and 9 seconds.
They are also influenced by The Beach Boys, but if you hadn’t figured that out yet I don’t think this is the band for you.
For those of you still reading, the thing that sets The Smiles apart from the many other ‘perfect summer soundtrack’ bands is the glorious song-writing partnership of vocalists John McGrath and Will Sturgeon. There’s a tension that runs all the way through the EP as they weave in and out of each other’s lines. These are two very distinct voices and melodic writers. Not to hyperbolise, but just as you can differentiate between a Lennon or McCartney melody in early Beatles’ songs, you soon tune into the different characteristics of the songwriters. In a similar way that McCartney’s urgency is crushed by Lennon’s bleak realism in We Can Work It Out, HERMOSA is bursting with instances where the two front-men finish off and expand upon each other’s ideas.
The EP begins with a lament over the lack of financial stability, with The Smiles almost crooning “I grew up in some hand-me-down clothes”. However, the two front men jostle and fight for control over the direction of the song until the original vocalist is forced out of the way and his replacement is left coldly stating “we take money from charities and never give it back” as a solution to the original problem.
This combination of two conflicting personas is what makes The Smiles so enticing. While a lot of laid back West Coast music can be frustratingly one dimensional, Hermosa captures the neurosis and doubt that is the essence of human existence. Imagine taking a pretty girl out on a date, it’s a sunny day and everything is going unbelievably well but for some reason you can’t stifle the voice inside your head that keeps repeating “she thinks you’re an idiot”. That’s exactly what The Smiles sound like.
This tension is present throughout the arrangements of the songs. Obviously aided by being recorded in a restrictive basement at Hermosa Beach, the music is constantly tightly pushing to get out of its confines. When the interlocking instrumentation eventually lets loose in a flurry of Keith Moon style drumming at the end of Girl I Love, it produces a release the whole EP has been building up to.
Despite a few moments where the obvious influence of Vampire Weekend threatens to swallow up the uniqueness in the song-writing, The Smiles have produced a debut EP that makes them one of my favourite finds of the year. Then again, I do like this sort of thing."
-Lewis Haubus, Whisperin And Hollerin, 2010