Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to email@example.com.
It seems contradictory, but sometimes you've got to listen to a band a bunch before you realize that they, in fact, are not crappy. And a lot of times, once you've made your way through the "These Guys Are Wack" phase, you become a hearty champion of said band.
It happened to us when our dad tried to cram Led Zeppelin's greatness down our throat. It happened with Damien Rice's O album. And it happened when we stumbled across some of Common's older, non-heartless music. (Ironically, he proceeded to turn to shit immediately after we declared our allegiance.)
And as far as we're concerned, you can add alt-country octet the Small Sounds to that list. (At least until they put out something comparable to Common's Universal Mind Control, like a CD with nothing but fart noises on it.) Our immediate reaction upon hearing SS - the yearn of "Mothers and Daughters," specifically - was a succinct "meh."
But with subsequent listens came an appreciation to the subtleties and layers that personify a Small Sounds song. The guitars, banjos, organ, bass - they all seem to blend together into a squishy charm of sorts. We reached out, then, to express our newfound fandom, and Small Sounds was kind enough to answer a few questions about its lack of oral sex-themed songs, why country ain't cool anymore, and our unending mission to take cheap shots at Paul Wall regardless of conversational relevance.
Rocks Off: Most pressing items first, Small Sounds: the lady we interviewed last go-round had a song called "Tongue Fuck" that dealt explicitly with oral sex. Do you all have something comparable?
Small Sounds: Nothing so far, but we are taking notes. Those themes are definitely - sadly? - underrepresented on the album.
RO: That's unfortunate. Jokes aside, talk a little about how you all have honed in on that very alt-Texas sound you all do so well. After listening to it for a while, you can't help but notice a bunch of little intricacies that enrich the experience. Was that on purpose? Or did you all luck into that?
SS: Recording at our own place gave us a lot of time to orchestrate the little details. Some were lucky, others deliberate. Some were forced accidents - like spending an entire day recording bended and convoluted notes from a Fender Rhodes through various analogue delays until something happened.
We really like the interplay of Fender Rhodes and pedal steel, so that was the starting point for most of our songs. From there, we added on other flourishes - banjo, baritone guitar, fiddle, and various keyboards (and harmonies of course). Some songs we kept very bare, and others we really tried to orchestrate with a lot of layers. That, and during recording sessions we would always keep a big jug of Buffalo Bayou water handy from which we would drink liberally.
RO: Seems appropriate. Your song "Mothers and Daughters" is great. Very emotive. If we were lesser men, we might even say it made our heart warm - that's if we were lesser men. We're not. We're totally tough and cool. We're talking Top Gun-style, baby. But we digress. What was going on when you all wrote that song? And was it titled simply to one-up John Mayer's "Daughters"?
SS: That tune was written by Tommy Ramsey (keys), who was into a lot of Appalachian folk at the time, and he tried to work off some of those themes. Musically, it was a challenge to get it right, and that process took it through various live incarnations. However, when we set out to record it it just seemed to come together right.
Actually, it's probably best if you don't ask what any of our songs are actually about - mainly because we don't know. But John Mayer's been calling incessantly ever since that song came out. Get your own band, man!
RO: Why isn't country music cool anymore? It used to be all spit and huck sass and bad-ass, but now it's all glazed-over crybaby rock. What the hell happened?
SS: That question requires about 250 pages and a publisher to answer adequately. Short answer is that the country audience was co-opted by CMT, Nashville and other big music entities, and was gradually fed an ever-increasing diet of countrified pop - and they continued to buy the music.
Nothing wrong with that really other than, subjectively speaking, we think it is overproduced #$%& with pedal steel. It is an old trend that, luckily, has been counteracted by outlaw country, Texas country, alt-country, the resurgence of bluegrass and folk, etc. It's a shame that these other country variants have not generated more industry interest, but at the end of the day, it is also up to the audience to look beyond what they are being spoon-fed.
That, and we blame Eddie Rabbitt.
RO: He is quite insufferable. Along those lines, seriously, you think Paul Wall to be incredibly lame too, right? Who's a hokey Houston country act that you never want to be compared to?
SS: We cringe a bit when we are categorized as country, primarily because of the taint of new country - we otherwise like country. So, any comparison to a new country act, whether or not from Houston, is hurl-worthy. However, old country comparisons are just fine with us.
In truth, we don't think we are any more country than folks like Calexico or Neko Case. We like to think of ourselves as more of an indie-folk rock country thingie - more Neil Young than .38 Special - but that may be only in our fertile imaginations. - Shea Serrano
Grab a copy of Small Sounds' self-titled album at Cactus Music, Soundwaves, All Records, Sig's Lagoon, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and numerous Russian piracy websites. And keep tabs on their upcoming shows via www.myspace.com/thesmallsounds.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.