The friendliness in singer-songwriter April Smith's smile
has a girl-next-door quality, and yet, the vampiness in her stage
persona and the sultry caress in her vocal cuts project a siren's
lure. Teaming up with four musicians whom she affectionately christened
The Great Picture Show, Smith concocted a good-time traveling
band that crosses multiple genres and cultural differences to make
a brand of pop music that is genuinely infectious and built to put
laughter in people's lives.
Smith talks about how the band was formed in her native New Jersey.
"They all came along at different times. My bassist, I've been
playing with for a few years now, and we're really good friends. We
met in Jersey, and then we both moved to Brooklyn. And I knew Marty
from another band called Spiraling. He's a really well known
and respected New Jersey musician. Then we were lucky enough to find
our drummer Nick last year. He's one of the two newest members.
Our keyboard player Mike is Marty's friend and he's a real
cut-up, too...he's always making us laugh. I think we have the perfect
mix of personalities at this moment and I really hope we can keep
it going. These guys are really good to me."
The group's latest full-length recording Songs For A Sinking Ship
merges a number of vintage musical influences from swing, ragtime,
and big band to folksy cabaret and acoustic rock, inducing a modern
sound with Smith's own distinctive treatments. Smith admits, "I've
always loved swing and big band music. I think I was listening to
the radio as a child at my grandparents' house and I just fell in
love with the sound of the Andrews Sisters and Artie Shaw.
It's vibrant, upbeat and it makes you want to move. I love performing
with the guys and making a show really dramatic, and that's really
the essence of cabaret. I've always been into musical theatre too
so this is a way for me to perform my own stuff and get my fill of
the dramatics, too."
Produced by Dan Romer, Songs For A Sinking Ship is
a reflection of Smith's imagination as she reveals, "I usually
don't think too hard about the details when I write. The most important
thing for me is to really love the song and feel that it's strong
enough. When I work out the song with the band, that's when I figure
out which parts we can really bring out for the live performance.
I never write consciously because I think that takes away the honesty.
If it doesn't come to me naturally, it's probably not a song I'm going
to be happy with." She shares about her experience [working]
with Romer, "Dan and I worked together on the song 'Colors' a
little over a year ago and I really loved what he brought to it. It
just seemed like a natural fit for the sound that I wanted. So when
the time came to record the album, he and I had been talking about
working together for a long time. It was a really laid back process
and we just recorded most parts, except for drums, piano and strings,
in his basement. The whole thing was a lot of fun and I'm really happy
with the album."
She continues, "For the most part, we recorded the album at
Dan Romer's studio in Brooklyn, which is at his house. That's where
Dan does most of his work and he gets a truly amazing sound out of
his set-up. He just knows what he's doing and is so great at it. I
prefer that laid back setting as opposed to a bigger studio because
you're not locked into a schedule and you have a lot of freedom."
One track on the album that utilizes Smith's distinctive vocal punctuations
and dramatics is "Drop Dead Gorgeous". She muses about the
tune, "I think the line 'If you're just drop dead gorgeous, you
should just drop dead' popped into my head one day. That's usually
how a song will develop...I'll think of one line and then it will
sort of snowball into a whole song. It all came to me pretty quickly.
I kind of wish all songs were like that. I remember playing it with
the band the first time and everyone just sort of followed along.
After rehearsing it a few times, we played it live at the Highline
Ballroom and it's been a crowd favorite ever since."
Smith paved the way for Songs For A Sinking Ship with her
previous release Live From The Penthouse, a 5-track EP that
was used as her calling card into music festivals like SXSW and Lollapalooza.
She expresses about the two records, "I think the 2 recordings
are very different. I wouldn't say that the EP helped me launch the
album, but it did hold the fans over until we could get them a full
recording of songs. We recorded the EP at Tainted Blue Studios a few
years back but I think our sound has come a long way since then. I'd
like to do another live album soon. Ideally, I would have liked to
release Songs For A Sinking Ship a lot sooner, but it all worked
out. I'm not a patient person so it was hard for me to understand
that you need to give an album a bit of a runway to take off. It's
good to have management to talk sense into me."
Funding for the EP was made possible through an innovative website
called Kickstarter.com. Smith explains how she became involved with
the site. "Stevens, my bassist, sent me a link to a Kickstarter
project and I was immediately interested. I really love the way they
run the site and I believe that they really try to nurture all projects
equally. The platform is really perfect and I have recommended it
to so many people already. I'd love to do another Kickstarter project
in the future too. Maybe we'll have a fundraiser for our tour bus,
Norman. He's always breaking down. He needs an extreme makeover, just
not the cosmetic kind."
The EP launched April Smith And The Great Picture Show onto the music
festival and rock club circuit which led to some memorable moments.
She reflects about her experience at Lollapalooza, "I think the
most memorable moment was seeing the lawn in front of us filled with
people even though it was raining. We just couldn't believe that we
got such a great turnout. We were really nervous being the first band
of the entire festival, but it wound up being a real advantage. The
lobster corndog stand was pretty amazing too."
Smith, who was born in Toms River, New Jersey, has reached international
status in a relatively short period of time. She points out, "I
have a lot of Danish fans, which is kind of surprising but really
cool. I'd love to go to Denmark and tour so maybe we'll make that
happen soon. It's pretty remarkable what the internet has done for
music and art. As a kid, I never would have imagined that I'd have
fans ordering my music from across the world. It's wild!"
April Smith And The Great Picture Show are unlike anyone else in
mainstream pop, showing traces of big band jazz, vaudeville swing,
and cabaret-pop along with features of folk and acoustic rock. Smith
and her crew have a fresh sound cultivated from the fossils of vintage
pop and colonnade with showtune arches. Smith is indeed the girl-next-door
all grown up and ready to spice up the blandness of life's mundane
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