Hotter Than a Pistol

Smith Westerns shoot out of Chicago with a hook-laden new record

Listen once to Smith Westerns' Dye It Blonde to pick out all the reference points, then listen some more for the gleeful abandon evident as this young Chicago band makes The Beatles, T. Rex, Brit-pop, David Bowie and power-pop signifiers in their own slapdash image. Guitarist Max Kakacek doesn't dodge those influence questions, but instead admits that he's more drawn to songs than certain bands or music genres. Random songs that one member ends up digging will get passed around by the four guys in the band. At times, it’ll serve as a springboard for their own ideas. “Certain things creep into our songwriting,” Kakacek says. Singer Cullen Omori brings about the Brit-pop appreciation that is at the heart of Dye It Blonde's best moments, specifically the love for big moments that made Oasis the brief kings of Brit-pop. “For me, Suede was a bigger influence than Oasis,” Kakacek says. Omori and Kakacek are joined in Smith Westerns by drummer Colby Hewitt and bassist Cameron Omori, Cullen's brother. The brothers, as well as the rest of the band, get along well, Kakacek notes, adding there’s little chance of the Omori brothers becoming feuding siblings like Oasis’ Gallaghers. The band of barely 20-somethings received a bunch of buzz in 2009 with their self-titled album and have just released their second album, Dye It Blonde, on Fat Possum Records. The release has cemented just how well-deserved the praise has been. Songs like “Weekend” and “Dance Away” leap from the band's garage-rock roots to embrace a bit of glam rock glitz and power-pop oomph. Around the time of the album's January release, the band had toured Europe opening for MGMT for about a month. The experience helped Smith Westerns step up their game on stage, Kakacek says. “It was cool to see how they approach performance,” he says. Kakacek said the first album was recorded in the band’s basement without too much consideration of who might listen. After signing to Fat Possum, the band knew there was an audience out there ready to listen to new Smith Westerns by the time they recorded the new record. That attention didn't create pressure to deliver though, Kakacek says. From day one, Dye It Blonde had no burden of not reaching lofty expectations. “Even when we were doing the demos, we were confident that they were better than the first record,” he says. After recording what Kakacek says were fairly well-thought-out demos, the band went to New York to work with producer Chris Coady. Coady helped the band realize some of the sounds they wanted on the album. Compared to the basement where the band previously recorded, the professional studio provided a wider selection of instruments, but put the band on a 30-day time crunch to finish the entire album. The songs for the record were written during the year previous to the recording sessions, in bits and pieces. Kakacek says he and Cullen Omori usually do half and half on the songwriting, with Kakacek taking guitar parts and Cullen Omori doing vocal melodies and lyrics. As pieces are created the band seeks to save them, whether they become full songs or not. “We kind of record as we write,” Kakacek says. Those pieces then can resurface as parts of other songs down the road. “We will mix and match until we find the right fit,” Kakacek says. “For this record, we went through a lot of different parts and we threw stuff out often.” The band’s other two members will weigh in on what works and what doesn’t. Kakacek says the criticism is always constructive and the disagreements never get aggressive. “We’re never at each others’ throats or anything,” he says. The approach also leads to experimentation for the young band, as they figure out how to match the sounds they make with the sounds they are trying to create. “We're ambitious enough to keep moving forward,” Kakacek says. Smith Westerns w/ Unknown Mortal Orchestra play the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., Wednesday, Feb. 23rd at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit

posted at 04:33 pm
on Monday, February 21st, 2011


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