Somewhere along the line, Rock and Roll went their separate ways. Everyone knows Rock, but Roll, well, Roll just sort of disappeared. George Carlin once wondered with no small degree of concern, “whatever happened to Roll, man?” I don’t know what happened to it, but Smith&Weeden seem to have a pretty good idea.
”We tell people we’re a rock and roll band and they say, ‘oh, like Nickelback,’” says Seamus Weeden. The contempt in his voice is appropriate.
How Nickleback’s constipated, post-grunge grunting came to define rock and roll defies any semblance of logic, but it raises an interesting point; rock and roll, as a classification all on its own, has largely become too vague and fractured in contemporary usage. Listening to Smith&Weeden - Seamus, Jesse Smith, Ollie Williams and Dylan Sevey - is a reminder that rock and roll shouldn’t be relegated to being just a larger, amorphous category of smaller, overly-specific branches of related music. These dudes are rock and roll. End of story. No affectations, no tricks, no frills. Just rock and roll.
Recorded in March of 2013 at the Columbus Recording Company under the supervision of The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky, their debut record, Smith&Weeden, plays like bottled lightning. Roughly 90% of the album was recorded live over a grueling string of six straight 12-hour days.
“It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done,” says Jesse, “but so much of the philosophy behind it was to do it live. We wanted to be able to capture the way we sounded together in that moment.”
That’s 72 hours of sweat and blood boiled down to a tight, 36 minutes that rocks from top to tail. “Aim to Please” and “Boys in Bands” delivering the smoky, barroom harmonies and throwback riffs that make their sound so refreshing. “Drinking Through Some Issues” finds the band flexing their country muscles while tackling heartache with a healthy dose of humor.
“Originally it was ‘Thinking Through Some Issues’ but it sounded too wimpy,” says Jesse. By simply subbing out every ‘think’ with a ‘drink’ (“Had some issue I needed to drink through/I been drinking hard about it and I wanted you to know/Lately I’ve been drinking about you) he manages to breathe a bit of whiskey-scented freshness into an old country trope. On the flip side there’s “Sunshine” and “Grace and Glory” with their beautiful, acoustic arrangements and tear-jerking harmonies.
“Playing a Part” puts a barnburner of a bow on the whole thing. Alternately an unlikely love song and a fed up middle finger, this more than any other song on the album paints a clear picture of four guys on stage just playing their guts out. Across the board you hear the intimacy the band shares as friends and musicians, but “Playing a Part” nails that rowdy, playful energy that makes their live show such a blast to watch and has made the band stand out in a scene bursting with talent.
Talking about the Providence scene inevitably took us to the tragic passing of Brown Bird’s David Lamb, Smith&Weeden whom they’ve dedicated the album to. “It’s something we felt we should do,” says Ollie. “He was pretty important to all of us.”
“Dave, MorganEve and Mike Samos were the first people I met from the Providence community,” adds Jesse. “Seamus and I were struggling to figure out how to make things work, but seeing bands like Brown Bird and seeing that they were in a similar wheelhouse and that people liked it was a huge inspiration to us.”
That inspiration has taken them a long way and the Providence scene has benefited from Smith&Weeden’s efforts to put the roll back into rock and roll. In September they plan to hit the road to Nashville, but until then keep an ear out for them around town. Summer’s coming fast, and there’s no summer music like some good old rock and roll.