Smokes are in the process of expanding, but this time they’re looking to steer clear of 11-member jam bands.
Their sweat-inducing rock is rounded off with a little melodrama and a love of syncopation. Starting off as a guitar / violin duo three years ago, the band will play their first show as a four-piece tomorrow at the Piccolo Rialto as part of the Passovah Summer Fest.
Singer/guitarist Nick Maas and violinist Patrick Cruvellier moved to Montreal to study at McGill, but stayed for the music. They were first in a “crazy weird prog fusion band” called Bananafish, working together musically – and becoming roommates – since then.
“We needed to figure out what kind of band we wanted to make. We knew we wanted to play some rock and roll,” Nick says. “I hadn’t sung in six years playing in bands, and I felt that I had a lot to say.”
Patrick started playing violin at age 6, but decided to move away from studying sheet music when moving to Montreal.
“I definitely have a passion for it, though I think I never fully connected with classical music,” says Patrick, who played for years in orchestras and string groups. “I got kind of burnt out on it and realized I’d rather be playing music with my friends.”
They started playing with drummer Jeremy MacCuish two years ago, the two working on what would eventually become Smokes for a year before that.
MacCuish played drums in Parlovr, who signed to Dine Alone Records before going on hiatus last year. They met Parlovr singer/guitarist Louis David Jackson at a call centre (that happened to employ several musicians that they would eventually share the stage with) soon after leaving McGill.
They started rehearsing at the Torn Curtain, the practice space also used at the time by Parlovr.
“They were a huge influence for me, a really awesome band in Montreal at the time. We got to hear a lot of them, and we thought, man we’ve got to get him in our band,” Nick jokes.
Now adding Andrew Miller from The This Many Boyfriends Club on bass, they get to expand things a little more, and finally have someone to take care of the low end.
“It frees us up in some ways, now I don’t need to play power chords,” says Nick.
“There are some great things about being a trio, it forces you to try different things,” adds Patrick, “but there was a certain point that we realized a lot of what we want to be doing is playing high energy rock music. We realized sometimes we were dumbing down ideas just to fill out the frequency range.”
The band released the Unlucky EP last November with Dan Lagacé behind the board at Breakglass Studios and recorded it all live off the floor.
“[Lagacé] pushed us to do something we wouldn’t have done if it was just the three of us going into a studio,” says Nick.
Now they’re working on a full-length with the opposite approach, doing the writing and recording over several months, at the Rosemont studio where Les Breastfeeders record their stuff, engineered and mixed by Marshall Vaillancourt (who plays in Archery Guild and No Aloha) and Miguel Marcil-Pitre.
They intend to release two songs this fall, with plans to release the album next summer.
As they grow their sound, they’re trying to be ever-more concise. While Nick grew up in Milwaukee listening to jam bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish (hence Bananafish), he’s now less about self-indulgence and more about structure.
“I used to have an instinctive backlash to short, poppy songs but I kind of grew out of that. Living here in Montreal there’s so much variety that I just decided to go to shows all the time, and as see much local music as I can,” says Nick.
“[With] a lot of musical friends, some are making rock music, but it’s not the predominant [genre]. People are so supportive and it’s nice to get that cross-pollination.”
Patrick also plays with the guys in Saxsyndrum (who both used to be in Bananafish), and also plays with Ohara, (who’s also playing the Piccolo Rialto tomorrow) and Year of Glad.
He’s “the high-demand violinist, no one cares about guitar players,” jokes Nick.
“It’s not about the genre necessarily, we just hang out and go see each other’s shows. In a community where loud rock music isn’t really the focus it’s awesome to see people that are super supportive. If you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t really matter.”
Smokes play the Passovah Summer Fest with Frog Eyes, PS I Love You, Nanimal, CTZNSHP, Cat Pontoon, James Irwin and Ohara August 21 at the Piccolo Rialto.
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