Thursday, June 13, 2013
Interview with Jason Smith
Jason Smith is the singer and guitar player for the local Oklahoma City rock band Traindodge.
I first heard the band Traindodge back in the late-90s when they opened up for Kansas City rockers Season to Risk when they played a show at Music Dimensions when they were located on Meridian in OKC.
I was drawn to them immediately.
I first met Jason at another Season to Risk show. The show was at the Green Door on Western in OKC (which is now the Conservatory). Traindodge was not playing that night but Jason was at the show and he had a chance to talk a bit.
Over the years, even with my moving to Seattle and back, Jason and I kept in touch and have run into each other at various local shows.
Traindodge has a new album about to be released at the end of the month. It is called Supernatural Disasters and from what I have heard from it, it is sure to be another great offering by the band.
I did an interview on my radio show last night (Otter Limits Radio).
SL: When did the band get together and how?
JS: Rob and I are brothers so we’ve always sorta ended up playing together. Growing up under the same roof and simultaneously getting into the same music probably didn’t hurt, either. Our bass player, Chris Allen and Rob and I all played in a band called Fiver for three years prior to this. That band gained a member and then lost a member. The music changed significantly at that point so we just decided to start from scratch with a new name. We played our first show as Traindodge in July of 1996.
SL: What is the story behind the name Traindodge?
JS: There really isn’t one. Corey Feldman said it in the movie ‘Stand By Me.’ I checked the dictionary to see if it was a real word. It wasn’t. So I just assumed it hadn’t been taken as a band name. That was all we needed, really – something fairly neutral that hadn’t been used yet. If I had known that we’d still be a band in 2013, I might have chosen something different. 17 years in, I suppose we’re stuck with it. We could have done way worse, though.
SL: How would you describe the music of Traindodge?
JS: I just tell people we’re a loud rock band. Because it’s true. Elaborate stylistic descriptions sort of annoy me. Usually it hides the fact that a band doesn’t have good songs. The easy answer I was giving five years ago was that we were a cross between Fugazi and Rush. That probably isn’t accurate today but if that idea intrigues you, you might like us. We’re loud, heavy, fairly proggy at times. I shout a lot. Beyond that, we’re just concerned with dynamics and songwriting. That’s what I like as a fan. Interesting descriptions don’t always translate into interesting songs. Just give me some music that I’ll remember tomorrow. Otherwise, I couldn’t care less if you have a trombonist or a triangle section or seven drummers.
SL: Who are some of your influences and/or what bands first got you into wanting to play music?
JS: For me, my first exposure to real loud rock music was Queen via the Flash Gordon soundtrack which I still worship. After that, it was Van Halen that really blew my shit up. I’m going to try my best and speak for the entire band here – collectively, I’d say the core common roots of the band would be Sabbath, Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, Rush, Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy…we love all that old shit. Really, though – it wasn’t until the late 80s/early 90s when we all sort of discovered underground music and got schooled in that ethic that we realized how feasible being in a band was. Fugazi is a landmark band in our lives - massive. They broke so many so-called rules. They really opened my eyes in regard to what a band could get away with stylistically. They were influenced from a lot different types of music and turned it into their own language like it was second nature. Once you start following bands like that, you inevitably discover tons of music and labels that are doing cool and interesting things off of the radar. And we were certainly paying attention. Early on, we were very influenced by a lot of Kansas City bands, too. Molly McGuire, Season To Risk, Giant’s Chair and bands like that were a big part of our early style. But Fugazi was key. They convinced me that we could do it.
SL: What is the songwriting process like? Does the music get written first and then lyrics or vice versa?
JS: Music first, lyrics last. Always. My priorities are the same as a listener so I guess that just carried over. I barely know the words to my favorite songs. I’ve tried to get better at it over the years. I think our vocals and lyrics gradually improve with each record. I really do put the time in. It just takes me forever to get around to it. I had months to write lyrics for the new record but I accomplished almost nothing. I had to schedule the vocal session and buy a plane ticket before I could get serious about it. Deadline fever, I guess.
SL: How was the songwriting and recording process different on Supernatural Disasters than some of your other albums?
JS: Very different this time. Rob and his family moved to Atlanta about a year and a half ago. So, we didn’t have the luxury of breaking the songs in as a unit every week like we were used to. The entire album was demoed on Garageband and we would just email demos back and forth. We’d listen to the songs a bunch and tweak things here and there. Arrangements would get changed or Chris would add bass fills. It actually ended up working out pretty well – knowing that full blown practice sessions were limited, it was important that the demos were complete and fully realized. And Rob being in Atlanta was actually convenient because we recorded the album with our good friend Dan Dixon who was in a great Atlanta band called Dropsonic. We’ve been friends with Dan for 10 years and had always talked about recording with him. So, with Rob and Dan living in the same city, it seemed like the perfect time to work together. They were able to get a lot of preliminary work out of the way before Chris and I had to show up. Rob recorded all of the drum tracks without Chris or myself there which was a first for us. On prior albums, we would set up like we would live and play along with Rob. Usually we could get a lot of the bass and guitar recorded at the same time with the drums. So, this was the first time that we captured each instrument separately.
SL: How did you get involved with Little Mafia Records?
JS: As with any mafia, I am adhering to the code of silence. Though, Gianni Santillie booking local shows for us since 2000 might have had something to do with it.
SL: What are some of your favorite venues to play?
JS: Man, I struggle with this mainly because the venue is such a small part of the equation. It’s almost never about the room itself. The first time we went to L.A., we played the Troubadour. It was a trip playing such a legendary, historical place but there was next to nobody there. As cool as that was, it’d be ridiculous of me to rank it as one of my favorites. We’ve had better shows in basements. There are dozens of clubs in the Midwest that we’ve had really incredible shows at over the years. But we’ve had off-nights in most of those same rooms, too. Again, it’s more about the bill and crowd than it is the venue. Those essential variables change nightly. Really, any show with cool, interesting bands and people up front having fun gets it right.
SL: What bands have you toured with and who are some of your favorites to play with?
JS: We toured with Riddle of Steel from St. Louis a bunch. They broke up a few years ago but we became really tight friends. We did three tours with Dropsonic from Atlanta, too. They were absolutely stellar. I never saw them do a bad show. Same situation – you spend that much time with a band who are solid people, you’re gonna have rad friends by the end of it. Same goes with Roma 79 from San Francisco and Self-Evident from Minneapolis. Disguised as Birds from Milwaukee is another one of our favorites, though we haven’t really done a full-blown tour with them yet. And touring Japan with Balloons in 2005 was an incredible experience, too.
SL: How would you describe the music scene in the Oklahoma City area?
JS: As someone who has been going to shows in the area for 20+ years, in my opinion the scene has never been better than it is right now. There are certain rooms and bands that I wish were still around but overall, there is just way more happening today than I can remember. There were a few years in the 90s that were pretty dismal. Little Mafia just released a really great box set of ten local 7”s – all the bands totally unique from each other. It’s a really cool package and a really great snapshot of what’s happening right now. There were barely enough bands with their shit together in the late 90s/early 00s to have put something like that together. I’ve never seen the DIY circuit this vibrant. We would have killed for this kind of network in town when we were 24, 25 years old. I worry most of the newer bands aren’t realizing how good they have it.
SL: What's next for Traindodge?
JS: SUPERNATURAL DISASTERS will be available at the end of June! Release show is on Saturday June 29th at the Conservatory in Oklahoma City. Our friends Self-Evident and Found Footage are playing. Don’t miss it! After the release show, the album will be available through us at our shows and through our website – www.traindodge.com . iTunes as well. We’ll be doing a handful of shows in the Midwest throughout the summer. We’ll evaluate our plans from there. We’d really like to go to Europe on this album. We’ll see what we can cook up.