Smith Westerns


Smith Westerns are nice dicks. Seriously, they are kind of assholes – flipping their hair, smiling very little, and unearthing a sense of indifference. As time goes by when interviewing them, they begin to seem less dispassionate and maybe even charming; just some sweet-hearted Chicago boys who cut themselves shaving, you know?

Cullen, Max, and Cameron are the core members of Smith Westerns. As I walk in to meet them they are drinking Red Bull. It is strange. They all say strange things to each other, but as soon as the interview begins it became obvious that Cullen is the most comfortable (or most interested in) answering questions.


I ask him how they met. “I met Cameron in my house. We’re brothers.” Max, not genetically related to either, met the two brothers in high school.

“We were the biggest assholes in high school.” I ask why. They don’t know.

Their debut record, self-titled The Smith Westerns, was recorded and produced by Max in his basement. It garnered wide appeal and love from young people across North American land with its throbbing lo-fi sound. The record certainly stood out among the piles of studio-produced records coming out at the same time.

“I think it’s ridiculous to say that anything was really produced on our first record… At the time, I thought it sounded great. Now, I like it for nostalgic reasons. For that same reason, I see it as a stepping stone, but nothing to be repeated twice.”

The first album is made up of love songs, with titles like “Girl in Love”, “Boys Are Fine”, and “Be My Girl”. Wishful thinking and duck soup dreams, by which I mean “simple” dreams and straight-forward lyrics to go along. Lyricist Cullen explains, “We were searching for what we thought would be appropriate to write lyrically. I think we thought we were going against what we thought everybody else was doing at the time which was writing really cryptic lyrics. So I thought, what if we went the opposite way by writing these love songs which were still very much in the vein of how pop songs are written.”

Released in January, Dye It Blonde is the second full-length album from Smith Westerns. Its production quality is completely the opposite of their first album, recorded in a studio rather than a basement. However, the songs still sound much like an echo of their first record. Max voices, “We got to decide about finding the sound that we wanted.”

Listening to their albums, it is immediately clear that someone in the band listens to a lot of classic rock. “Someone” is Max, though he says “It’s not something that I worship every day by getting the blood out at seven o’clock in the morning. Our biggest interest in classic rock is when the songs get really big. That’s kind of what we want to do now.”

Dye It Blonde also shows a progress from the debut record lyrically. Cullen says, “For me, a lot of the songs on the second album are me romanticizing the ideas of longing and desire and just kind of being on the road all the time; wanting to see things, wanting to have a good show. For me, even romancing the idea of making it. Getting over the hill.”

The album’s name comes from the last song on the album “Dye the World”. Partially inspired by Michael Jackson, the song is about changing things. Cullen adds, “Making things glossy, you know? That comes with dying something, like dying your hair blonde.”

They are now on what they call their “Redemption Tour”. They feel like better performers. They certainly seemed like it this time around. The last time they played Vancouver, they played “a bad show” on the same night as the Oscars. This time was different, and if ladies ready to swoon and feel-good clubbers continue to come out and dance at their shows, they’ll be able to do many more things. Their ambitions for the future vary. They mentioned buying gold platters of drugs for their friends.

“I want a Grammy,” Max laughs. “I want to be Arcade Fire.”

Cullen says, “I’d like to be able to buy stuff and not have to worry about it.” Something anyone can relate to. His experience is very much a touring musician’s. “When I go into a gas station at a rest stop, I wanna buy stuff but then I can’t, because I have no money. Like a little knick-knack.”

“You could get a honey bun,” Max chimes in.

“But then I can’t.”

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