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Wednesday August 27th 2014

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The Prodigal Brothers Return

by Ashley Hardaway

To say  The Smart Brothers’ absence has been sorely felt is an understatement. Last time they were here they laid to ruin the willpower of anyone who had yet to become a convert — winning them over with their charisma and new-wave folk music. Bars would have to prop open doors to accommodate the masses, impromptu street performances on sidewalks would turn into block-parties, and if you didn’t get to the bar thirty minutes beforehand, you were watching the show sober in order to get a good view.

Lou and Jay Smart are the pair behind this buzz worthy group. Jay, who speaks in long, witty passages like a character out of an Aaron Sorkin show, recently took the time to chat about their upcoming homecoming show at Vinyl on Oct. 9, and about, well, everything else.

I remember the first time I saw you in Pensacola was performing on the corner of Palafox and Main and I thought, “who the hell are these people?”

“Yeah, the funny thing is that we’ve been doing that all over the country. And in New York, or a big city like that, it looks kind of natural, and almost gets overlooked. But on the street corners of Pensacola it seems slightly out of place and gets noticed.”

People like to compare you two to The Avett Brothers, or describe you as having a “Strokes-y” component. Have you ever been insulted by a comparison?

“For me, not so much because I don’t draw that comparison….my brother was always bothered by it because obviously we want to be as original as possible…Because if you’re not original, you’re nothing. Especially nowadays, where there’s a million of this type of band, a million genres, a million sub-genres. I mean, how many bands sound like The Strokes? How many bands rip off the Beatles? But at the end of the day all that matters are the people that are really stamping it. The people whose music is coming from a new place … and at times it’s hard to keep that focus. When you wake up and think ‘this is how I want to do our new set,’ or ‘here’s the direction I want to go in’ and you google it and its been done. So we just keep working to craft something different. I mean there’s a lot of the same sort of scene (like the Avett Brothers). New wave of rowdy folk music – anti-pop, DIY in operation, old school and traditional but with energy from the Indie/Emo scene we all grew up with … but I think (laughs) to answer your question, that we’ve never been offended by it because we’ve always seen our distinctions.”

Occupational horror stories. Do you have any?
“Musical catastrophes tend to be on the technical side. So, they’re not exciting for the audience, but they’re devastating to us … I suppose one is when we were playing a festival in Tennessee and that night the owner of the festival was having an after-party in his penthouse and we were playing that, too. And over the course of the night the party somehow spilled over into the parking lot and my brother was, let’s say relieving himself off to the side of the parking lot, and out of nowhere a cop turns up and yells (in country accent) ‘excuse me, sir, the state of Tennessee is not a public restroom.’ (laughs) I don’t know if he got arrested or a ticket. I guess that could be an occupational hazard, because that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t playing music there to begin with … I think I would be a much better person if I weren’t playing music.”

How many hats do you own?
“I think about 25 fedora-type hats, and my brother has three to four top hats. We share. We got an endorsement deal with a hat shop so they gave us a bunch for free. So, we’ve amassed quite the collection of odd hats: paperboy hats, golf hats, I’m ashamed to say, novelty hats, like purple fedoras and such … I tend to buy hats everywhere I go, but we also tend to give a lot away, so the number is always changing.”

Break-ups or falling in love. Which provides better inspiration?
“For me it’s always the tension, it’s always the sad stuff … I feel like I fall in love almost too easily, so perhaps it’s lackluster in comparison. My brother is the exact opposite. He’s only fallen in love — truly — maybe once or twice in his life and both times led to periods of prolific creativity.”

Does it bother you that this is part of your job now (interviews), when compared to days when you could just go play a show and that was it:
“It becomes part of the job after a while. The only people who are playing shows and that’s it are the people who are just starting, who no one’s heard of yet. And then there’s the people at the top who have a team of fifty or sixty people handling everything. It’s the people in the middle, like us, who have to do a little bit of everything … you know, like when we’re on the road arguing with plane ticket agents over bringing our guitar on board, or having to deal with front desk over a messed-up reservation, stuff like that … and in moments like that I kind of mentally check out, go into ‘frolicking in a field mode.’”

Speaking of “frolicking in a field mode,” you’ve been spending the last couple of weeks “baby-sitting” neglected horses at a ranch. Any words of wisdom to imbue our readers with?
“The horses we’re looking after were very undernourished, abandoned race horses. Now they’re healthier, so I’ve learned all sorts of things about taking care of horses — and its one of those odd things I never expected to learn about … It’s interesting to me to see that as these horses have gained weight how their temperaments have changed … And it was simply in meeting their basic needs, that all this change evolved from. Even we, in ourselves don’t do that, fulfill our basic requirements. People don’t eat right, or they’re not getting what they need emotionally, or perhaps in their own way, spiritually. So, what I’ve learned from these guys is, I don’t know, perhaps a little love goes a long way in healing … (laughs) I sound like Zen and the Art of Horse Maintenance.”

Are there any songs that you just don’t like performing anymore because you associate them with certain memories you’d rather not think about?
“I’m reading this book (and at the beginning) there’s a big part about music and how it has a very strong connection with memories — feelings and emotional associations — perhaps more than any other artistic medium … and that stuck with me. Because smells are like that. Sometimes you can walk into a bar and smell just a hint of cologne and suddenly your feelings are reconfigured, just for a moment … and for me (music) is like that, except on a much deeper level than simply an olfactory sense … I’m not afraid of taking that on, I almost relish it. I like revisiting those moments … yes it’s bittersweet and yes (singing those songs) can open up a scar … And maybe there’s no point or lesson in it in the end and you’re just there to observe whatever inspired it again … so I just enjoy it.”

WHAT: The Smart Brothers
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall
WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.
COST: $5, All Ages
INFO: vinylmusichall.com