Restless songsmith

Steve Smith finds a home for his rock in Boston
By MATT ASHARE  |  February 27, 2008

Four years ago, Steve Smith was sitting pretty with three Grammy nominations and, in the end, the 2003 award for “Best Electronic Song” thanks to a tune he’d composed about a break-up with an old girlfriend, a partnership with London DJ Paul Harris, and a Mitsubishi advertisement. Originally written as an acoustic lament but spiced up by Harris and producer Ben Harris (no relation) with house beats, “Days Go By” fast became the calling card for a project dubbed Dirty Vegas. Suddenly, Smith was on top of the pops. But as he recalled a week ago Wednesday, as we sat with drinks at a booth at the Middle East in Central Square, he wasn’t quite happy, and throughout Dirty Vegas’s two-disc career, he continued writing introspective, confessional songs on his acoustic guitar.

Good thing that, because, a year ago, Smith left Dirty Vegas and his native New Eltham (in South London) behind not for a penthouse apartment in NYC or a hip bungalow in LA but for a nice family house in Scituate, on Boston’s South Shore. His creative juices flowing, he hooked up with another British expat resettled in Boston, former Cornershop sitar player Anthony Saffery, and began work on what would become his solo debut, This Town (G.A.S.).

“I just loved a lot of the music that came out of this area,” he said as he waited for Saffrey to show up, just a few hours before they were to celebrate the release of the new disc with a show upstairs at the Middle East. “But the move was just kind of impulsive. The hippie in me has to be somewhere where I feel creative. When I lived in London and since I’ve been a professional musician, I’ve always kind of disappeared, gone to different places, searching for inspiration — the San Juan Islands up in Washington State, or Cape Cod. Never sunny places for me. I get nothing from Florida or Los Angeles. I’m just not that kind of person. Maybe it was listening to Quadrophenia too many times as a kid: I just need to go down and sit on the shore when all the shutters are down on the shops. So I just got a hunch that this is where I needed to be. You haven’t got this cutthroat-ego thing that you’ve got in New York, and you haven’t got this inflated-ego thing that you’ve got in Los Angeles. The heritage of Boston music has been great for many years, and I needed a dose of decent indie rock, which is what I found here.”

At first listen, This Town is a big departure from Dirty Vegas, which is perhaps why his new version of “Days Go By” is the last track on the disc. But it’s not exactly lo-fi indie pop, either. Strumming acoustic guitars, tinkling piano notes, and a steady backbeat pick up steam behind a spoken-word bit by actor John Savage as the album opens with “This Town,” an atmospheric track that details Smith’s thinking behind his move from London. “A different name, a different place/I’ll disappear without a trace,” he sings against ever surging electric guitars.

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