It's only rock 'n' roll

Smith & Weeden hit the mark with their debut LP
By CHRIS CONTI  |  April 23, 2014

AIMING TO PLEASE S&W with their name up in lights. [Photo by C.W. Almeida]

Smith & Weeden’s highly anticipated full-length debut is set to drop next week. Consequently, it may be time to ditch the broad “Americana” and “indie-folk” tags we slap on any band incorporating banjos, whiskey, and head-to-toe denim. Smith & Weeden kick up dust with country-fried hooks, big guitar leads, and harmonies while paying homage to influences like Willie and Waylon, the Band, John Prine and Beggar’s Banquet-era Stones. Expect a jam-packed (and likely sold out) AS220 when Smith & Weeden headline the official album release party next week (the 3rd).

Co-founders Jesse Emmanuel Smith and Seamus Weeden started as a duo (under the name King Falcon) around 2007 while attending college in western Massachusetts (they met while slinging produce at a local grocery store). Weeden relocated to Austin after graduating while Smith stayed behind in Providence, where he would eventually meet bassist Ollie Williams and drummer Max Fisher from the band MOGA. The four musicians hung out while both bands performed at SXSW. Weeden eventually moved back north to his hometown of Pittsfield, MA, and rejoined Smith as a duo with the idea of a rotating rhythm section for live shows, but the chemistry while jamming with Fisher and Williams was undeniable. The newly minted foursome cut a demo EP in 2011 in an old farmhouse.

“We had so much fun playing and recording together that Smith & Weeden became a four-piece,” Smith said when I checked in to chat up the new album. Fisher left the band (amicably) shortly after recording the full-length and the multi-talented Dylan Sevey, who also serves as lead guitarist and vocalist for the Gentlemen, stepped in.

Smith & Weeden have some Rhody luminaries in their corner: John McCauley enlisted the band to perform at Deer Tick’s Folk Fest after-party last year as well as the memorable Dudesmash at the Met. S&E were also featured on an episode of Meet Me At the Met, and a successful $4000 Kickstarter campaign allowed S&W to record at the Columbus Theatre with the Low Anthem’s Jeff Prystowsky and Ben Knox Miller. All of which led me to inquiring about the band’s overall sound and the “Americana” and “indie-folk” tags, though there are plenty of straight-up rock and roll cuts among the 10 new tracks. Smith dismissed the overused and generalized labels; ironically, I caught up with him while he was on a road trip down south for some camping and fly-fishing, and sightseeing in Gettysburg. (Dude, that is so Americana!).

“We are a ‘rock and roll’ group, plain and simple,” Smith said. “I’ve always balked at the way those terms are thrown around today, it just seems too vague for any band not playing metal, modern rock, punk, or hip-hop.”

Smith continued, “I mean, what the heck is ‘Americana’ anyways, or even ‘folk’ music in general? Doc Watson is folk music, so how are you going to label Mumford and Sons in the same genre as Doc Watson?

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