The Smith Westerns are a garage rock band from Chicago, Illinois.
So you just dropped out of school?
Cullen Omori: I did one quarter of school and I dropped out and decided that I’m going to pursue my dreams. I don’t know. Everyone else did too. I don’t want to have crappy grades and be alright at writing music, I’d rather be good at both or be good at one.
There’s that video of you guys on Pitchfork playing with Nobunny. What was that like?
It was good. That was at the time where absolutely no one cared about us. We played the set that we play now almost in its entirety exactly a year ago. Nobunny needed a car and it was our first tour. It was probably the best because here’s these young kids that have probably never driven two hours in any direction going to Canada with this 30-year-old creep. And I mean creep in the best way. A lot of the people liked it. We played this house show in Chicago for him and we dressed up, because his whole thing is the performance. And we wanted our thing to be performance too, but we were never a frontman-oriented group, we were always a four-piece. So it was fun to see him do his one-man showmanship while we laid down the tracks for him (laughs).
Was there any moment that you could sense your popularity really picking up?
When we had the album come out in June or whatever, we had done a small tour down to Miami, and did four dates, Orlando, Miami, not just around home. No one cared; we played shows for basically no one. It was a real bummer because our album was about to come out and no one really knew. It was a very slow-building thing, but we had met Jay Reatard in Memphis and he ended up taking us on some shows. We played two shows with him and the day we got back Pitchfork had put “Be My Girl” as Best New Music on the site and a couple weeks earlier Gorilla vs. Bear had put something up on their site. There was a Fader thing. When we went on tour with Girls and Los Campesinos! it was good, you’re playing in front of a lot of people, but they’re not there for you. They don’t give a fuck when you’re playing or after you’re done. But, finally, after we went on tour with Girls we went on a tour up to New York through Canada by ourselves, and this is with no backup and the supporting bands being local bands, not blog bands, we started getting actual draws. When we came back to Chicago we played this free show and it was sold out. Selling out Chicago on a Monday night was pretty awesome, especially because we had played that same venue to no one on a Monday night. That was really cool. Probably around August, the Internet did more than any of our records or even being on iTunes did. It was a slow build, but I feel that now when we release the next record that will happen much quicker.
New York City’s the arrested development capital of the world, with lots of people still figuring it out into their late 20’s and 30’s. Do you think it’s a Midwestern thing, maybe, that pressure to be on a particular path in the early 20’s?
I think it’s a Midwestern thing. There’s definitely this thought always that there’s the “supposed” route, what you’re supposed to do, go to school and get a job. It’s applicable to us, because all of us went to Chicago’s number one high school and the ones who went to college went to good colleges—I went to Northwestern. Especially, talking to your parents, you can tell them that you want to do this but it has to be an airtight plan. You can’t just go out and do whatever you want, just to feel it out. I think it’s a very Midwestern thing, this “what you should be doing” kind of thing going on. This embedded consciousness of, if you fuck up, they were right. A lot of the kids we hang out with now aren’t from here, they just went to college here. I’ve heard a lot of comments about the Midwest and how it sucks, coming from LA or New York or something. There’s this wholesome thing, too. But I like living in Chicago, I like this city. The whole Midwest thing is you’re not really a risk-taker, you always have some kind of plan. I think that’s why a lot of bands that come from Chicago and they’ll make some good music, those one or two bands that come out don’t tour because they don’t want to quit their jobs to go on tour, and that’s probably why the bands here suck. Because there’s not that reckless thing, that arrested development thing that you were talking about, there’s not a cool music scene here because there’s not a lot of people coming here saying, OK, let’s start some bands, do it all the way out. It’s like, I have some extra time, and I appreciate music, and I played some shows in Chicago but I’m not necessarily going to travel and attack it. If you attack creating music and you go all out, the product’s probably going to be better. If you’re not worrying about school and having to do all this stuff, what paper I need to write, I can just play my guitar and make songs, record with Max and Cameron.
In the next episode, Snooki gets punched in the face.
I hate Snooki. I want to play on the Jersey shore next time we play on the east coast. Play a show and get our asses kicked by these guys. But maybe they’ll be into it; we’ll play this super classic rock set and they’ll be really into it. Play a bunch of power ballads.
Other things…Budweiser. The beer. Not being into PBR—that’s the new 2010 or the dime. Budwesier. No PBR or High Life. Facebook chat.
Facebook chat sucks—I’m way more into Gchat. But I guess you’re still college-aged and haven’t made that transition yet.
I like Facebook chat because I don’t like signing on to AM because I have a stupid name from seventh grade. I’m really embarrassed to use it but I don’t want to change it because I’ll lose all my contacts. It’s like the instant comment on Facebook. I’m into the “like” button a lot. “Like”-ing every single photo on your friend’s Facebook, hitting the button on every single one.
Other things in 2009. Cam what did you like?
Cameron Omori: World of Warcraft.
What kind of video games are you into?
That Batman game. Max and Cam play more games than I do. They play Madden sometimes. The ultimate 2009, but not anymore because it broke, was the Flip. What we’d do was go to parties and just document the night. It was the funniest thing ever, watching it the next day and it was the most embarrassing thing ever. Super guerilla documentary filmmaking. Some real Spike Lee shit.
Not going to school is pretty 2009. Quitting your job. Being recognized and making music is awesome, even as small scale as it is. Oh, and women over 25.
Are you guys sports fans at all?
We’re not really sports fans. But Max used to be a bro. Me and Cameron, in early August, we started wearing a lot of Bears paraphernalia, like Bears hats and Bears jackets and gloves. That was our thing. Someone told me that Urban Outfitters is selling Bears clothing articles. So, I don’t know man. I don’t want to say I’m responsible for that (laughs). But just going to put it out there.
In terms of being recognized, I like the segmented spheres of popularity right now. Like you’d get recognized on Bedford Avenue and everyone would freak out but if you walked into a Chili’s no one would care. .How can you be so popular one place and just not even register at another place?
That’s really how it is. I wonder how it is for a lot of the bands that people think are really popular. Like a big indie band. Like if Animal Collective went into Chili’s (laughs) Even bands that are huge.
I’m just happy to have the mental image of Animal Collective in a Chili’s.
(laughs) I’m glad I could assist in that.
I pray that this come across this in some weird way. But do you have a favorite record from 2009?
Girls. Girls, of course. One thing, the record’s awesome, and two, we really like them. I heard all these songs live before ever hearing them recorded. That album kinda soundtracks our summer in a way. It was really cool because we basically went from not knowing anyone in the scene to knowing a lot of people now, a lot of a lot of people, in a short time. People that I respect for being creative; we don’t really have that in Chicago.
Pink Floyd came back super hard. Dark Side of the Moon with the quadraphonic headphones. Oasis is huge now. I listen to a lot of Oasis. Every band I listened to in eighth grade that I was like, oh, this sucks! And gave that up to listen to the White Stripes or the Flaming Lips, whatever I listened to when I was a sophomore.
What-A-Burger in Texas was a big 2009 deal. Smiling is big. “Jest,” our new word. I can tell you what’s going to big in 2010, if you want.
What’s up in 2010?
Cameron: Our record.
The Smith Westerns Interview
Photo by Aaron Brown