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Band of the Week: The Sixties-Inspired Smith Westerns

Chicago trio graduate from lo-fi punk to polished pop

January 18, 2011 10:55 AM ET

Listen: Smith Westerns "Dye It Blonde"

Who: A trio from Chicago who play peppy, glammy power pop in the style of Supergrass, David Bowie and T. Rex. The band started when the members — Cullen Omori and Max Kakacek, both 20, and Cameron Omori, 19 — were still in high school. "Originally I was playing drums," Cullen says. "I started playing guitar and basically taught myself as I went along. I was writing to the best of our abilities as someone who had just started playing guitar." 

Sounds Like: Psychedelic teenage bliss. In just two years, the band have evolved from turning out ramshackle Nuggets-style garage rock to writing slick, highly melodic tunes with the bittersweet emotional power of Big Star and the shimmering production values of Electric Light Orchestra.

Read the Rolling Stone review of the Smiths Westerns' new album Dye It Blonde

'60s Inspiration: Though the band members were born in the '90s, they're primarily inspired by music from the '60s. "We were listening to a lot of early '60s stuff, nothing like super deep cuts or anything like that," Cullen says, reflecting on the band's beginnings. "We were listening to early Pink Floyd records, early Rolling Stones. We were in the transition you go through, where you don't listen to pop radio anymore, but you're kinda past listening to, like, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and you try to find the next thing. That's how we met, we were all trying to discover a lot of old music just because no one else we knew cared or wanted to listen to anything at the time. We were listening to Spacemen 3 too, but I think it was one of those things where none of us were good enough to emulate what we were listening to, so it came out as crappy punk music. "

New Sound: The band's second album Dye It Blonde has a clean, polished production style that's a world away from their debut's scrappy, garage rock aesthetic. "The old record was made in the basement with no one really believing in us but ourselves, and the new record we made is us as touring musicians, with the faith of a label and money behind us, with a producer who believes in the project," Omori says. "We wanted the new one to sound very full and lush and layered because everything on the first record is filled in with the noise of it being lo-fi."

Hype Cycle: Though the band have only been around a few years, they're already used to dealing with the downside of internet hype. "Last year, every month would be like 'this is the month where you're going to get super hyped up and everyone's gonna be coming to your shows,' but I'd go on tour and it'd be, like, a whatever turnout," Cullen says. He's excited about getting more attention, though. "Almost all of our shows last year were support dates, so I want to play to a room that's there for me."

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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