It’s been two years since local musician Christopher Smith released what many critics have called his best effort; Earning Keep. Filled with enchanting guitar riffs and Smith’s transcendent vocals, Earning Keep seems to fill any room it’s played in with its sometimes dark, sometimes radiant melodies, highlighting not only Smith’s songwriting prowess, but his talent for creating whole atmospheres out of sound.
Now, after two years of anticipation, famed Vancouver musician Christopher Smith has emerged from the woodshop with Dralms, his new band– or rather, his old one. Smith still plays with the same loyal outfit of Shaunn Watt (Drummer), Will Kendrick (Keyboardist), and Peter Caruthers (Bassist), but says that this new project is taking him and the band in a new direction.
“…with Earning Keep it was a sort of singer-songwriter thing– the beginning to end was a very similar product” Smith explains. “Whereas now when I write new music by myself and bring it to the table with the band, it sort of heads in a totally different place from where it started.
“Well” he admits “not totally different, but enough.”
While Smith favored quieter, slower melodies on his solo efforts, Dralms, while composed of the same group of people, shows distinct differences from Earning Keep and the like. On “Divisions of Labor”, the first single off the group’s Crushed Pleats EP, a creeping bassline and a curiously timed drumbeat pave the way for Smith’s echoing whispers and Kendrick’s reverberating keys. Smith is a lover of juxtaposition– the cover art for the Crushed Pleats EP is a grim reaper in front of flowered curtains– and the increased collaboration within the group has allowed all of their instrumental strengths to show, creating a contrast that’s as eerie as it is hypnotic.
We met Smith in his home. More specifically, we interrupted him while he was enjoying his dinner of home cooked new potatoes and listening to experimental jazz, which played softly in the background throughout our time with him. We talked about his solo efforts, his album art, and even his vinyl pressings. In short, we had a lovely dinner with Dralms.
What’s DRALMS up to right now?
Right now now we are in the process of recording our first full length album, which will be coming out most likely in the spring or summer of 2015. In the meantime, we’ll be releasing a two-song EP, Crushed Pleats, through Boompa in Vancouver, Full Time Hobby in the UK, and Fat Possum Records in the States on September.
Aside from DRALMS, you’re a solo artist, and your last record was called Earning Keep. What was the reception like to that record?
I think the reception was okay– I didn’t really do as much with it as I would have liked. I also feel that album came out at a kinda transitional time for me, musically. Our sound was changing and heading in a certain direction… I guess I should back up. DRALMS is essentially the same band– is the same band that backed me up for Earning Keep and for all my solo stuff. DRALMS is an extension of that project, heading in a certain direction, playing a certain kind of music, and having me write certain kinds of songs. We just kind of got into that and brought it to a more band-oriented sound and a more band-oriented writing process. So while with Earning Keep it was a sort of singer-songwriter thing– the beginning to end was a very similar product, whereas now when I write new music by myself and bring it to the table with the band, it sort of heads in a totally different place from where it started. Not totally different, but enough.
Has adapting to the larger group collaboration been difficult?
I don’t know if it’s been so much something to get used to, because as I said, it was a very natural progression, and I’m very close to all of my bandmates. We’ve been playing music together for like 8, 9 years, so it kinda just happened. It’s not like I completely gave up the reigns either, but the band wouldn’t sound the way it does if it wasn’t for them. That goes for the first album too. It is more fun this way.
I was listening to the single “Divisions of Labor” and that track’s name and lyrics indicated some political ideology. Is that something you actively try to put out in your music?
Political views are something I put out very…literally. I don’t try to write songs that make it sound like a have an answer or a solid belief– obviously I do, but I’m cautious to be too direct with these things. On the album coming out and the EP, I definitely like to touch on some social issues, but in a roundabout way. I like to use pop music as a tool or veil to disguise deeper, darker things. So at some points that could come off as being political or discussing issues of gender and sexuality, or things that I’m thinking about on the album, it might not be totally on purpose– it just comes out, because I’m thinking about it.
On the subject of “Divisions of Labor”, that track’s producer, Andy Dixon, also did the artwork for Earning Keep. Can you talk about the artwork for your upcoming EP? I understand it’s a grim reaper, with flowery curtains in the background…
It’s actually this photo right here.
Oh wow, it was right behind me. That’s embarrassing.
Yeah, I dunno, there’s no real message in this, it’s all aesthetic. It’s just an image that I felt really fit the sound of the album. I like a lot of contrast and juxtaposition in songs, like maybe you’re taking dark things and presenting them in a soft or light way, and I think this photo does just that.
Sort of like what you were saying earlier, when you use pop music to introduce greater themes?
Definitely, though I don’t wanna suggest I’m a total crazy political or radical person– I understand there might be implications of that, and I can’t fight it forever, but I’m trying to avoid that.
A lot of musicians go through really bad names before they find a good one…
So you’re saying Christopher Smith is a bad name? [laughter]
Hey man you said it.
That’s my name!
I was actually just gonna ask what the worst name you’ve ever played under was?
I was in this kind of hardcore punk band when I was 18 called “No Dice”. I guess that’s a pretty dumb name.
Honestly? I kinda like it.
I don’t even know if I’d be even willing to admit to some of those names.
No Dice, that’s my best answer!
Something I wanted to ask about; on Earning Keep, for one of your music videos you had a metalhead headbanging, and you’ve talked about how black metal influences you. Care to expand on that?
I wasn’t really inspired to make my music by black metal– it was more of an afterthought. There’s a parallel to some of the subject matter in black metal and what I feel like I was touching on in the super-light music I was writing. I felt there were parallels to the black metal message, being it disdain for or rejection of organized religion, whatever. I kinda wanted to pull that in to highlight the juxtaposition of the sound and lyrics between metal and my music. I directed that music video myself, and I had had that idea in my head for a while so it was really fun to be able to write up a plan and just shoot it.
And finally, what’s next?
For DRALMS? Finishing this album, hopefully just touring extensively, playing live a lot and working on the performance and moving forward. I’m just itching to show people the new album. We’ll see how people respond to the EP– that EP is coming out in three different vinyl pressings, one for each region, so that’s super cool too!