Seattle pop duo Smoosh -- singer-keyboardist Asya, 12, and drummer Chloe, 10 (last names withheld) -- aren't even teenagers yet, but their pensive lyrics, minor chords and forlorn melodies give their music the sound of moodier artists twice their age. The sisters' debut album, She Like Electric, has already won them opening slots for Cat Power, Sleater-Kinney, Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie and even Pearl Jam.
Smoosh came about when the musical siblings, who had taken up the piano and begun entering talent shows by the age of six, went to get an old violin strung for Chloe at a music store. She walked out with a drum kit instead, along with their salesman's phone number at the Seattle Drum School. After less than a year of lessons, their salesman-turned-instructor, a pre-Death Cab for Cutie Jason McGerr, encouraged Asya to bring in her songs. McGerr went on to record their demo at the Drum School -- for free -- in the summer of 2002. "If we didn't know Jason, we wouldn't be a band!" exclaims the girls' Web site.
After batting around a few ideas -- "Chloe wanted to be punk-rock and call us Crashsound, and I was like, 'Noooo'" -- the girls finally settled on a band name. And after a few local club gigs in the spring of 2003, Pattern 25 Records approached the duo about making an album. She Like Electric was recorded with Seattle producer Johnny Sangster (Mudhoney, the Posies, Murder City Devils) in just three days. Since its fall release, the sisters have been opening for indie royalty, and when they played a Halloween show in Los Angeles (dressed as Spiderman and "Batwoman") actor Tobey Maguire came backstage for an audience. "He'd heard of us and wanted to see us," Asya shrugs.
With mounting commitments, the girls' father serves as a sort of manager, juggling shows with classes. "I answer e-mails and schedule gigs around soccer practice," says Mike. "We have no plan, no agenda, and we never shopped them. I let them call all the shots, ultimately." Neither he nor his wife is musical, he says, and it was their daughters who turned them on to indie rock, from Nirvana to Interpol. The girls are just naturally drawn to making music.
"We don't think about it," says Asya of their songwriting technique. "Chloe does the drums, and I do the keyboard and vocals. The music comes first, and then I do the words at almost the same time." Regardless, says the younger sibling, Asya "usually gets what she wants."
At their loudest, Smoosh can match the early exuberance of Luscious Jackson, and at their more introspective, they echo the Breeders. "Major chords seem a little bit boring," Asya comments, whose song titles include "Massive Cure" and "I've Got My Own Problems." "I guess minor is, like, sad, but I just like that sound better." In the darker track "Make It Through," Asya sings, "If you go into something head-first,/it might not come out right." It's a song that the twelve-year-old says deals with "making it through something" with the help of another. ("Sounds like it's a song about your boyfriend!" adds Chloe.)
Songs like "Rad" are more fun, with Asya half-rapping, "Uh-huh, uh-huh/Yo, yo." And the short stomp "The Quack" (with the lyric, "The bone daddy's back!") is so exuberant that the girls are in giggles by the end of the recording. "Our mom was making us some breakfast," explains Chloe. "And we were singing like that just to be funny," says her sister. Cat Power's Chan Marshall is an unabashed fan of the song: she closed a show of hers recently by lip-synching live to the track.
Not yet out of grade school, the sisters are eager for more, with Asya taking up guitar and Chloe the electric drums. Both hope younger sister Maya, 8, will soon join them on bass. "And I'd like to open for bigger bands," says Asya. "Like the Shins, and the Strokes."