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The Smashing Times: "Most of Touring is Just Hanging out and Travelling. I've Been Really Lucky to Have a Good Touring Unit That Gets on Well"

Towards the later half of 2023, The Smashing Times were on the road continually from playing shows in London and Paris to later touring both the West and East Coast in America in support of their latest album This Sporting Life, released on K and Perennial Records last November. The new album showcases the Baltimore band weaving in their literate jangle pop reverie with a more shambling and richer sound that pays nods to Television Personalities, The Cleaners From Venus, Jacobites, and Game Theory. The album's effusive charm also elevates the artistic reach of the band's endeavors, yielding in once again a number of wonderfully memorable songs, deepening their devotion as a pop band. To dive deeper, I caught up with bandleader Thee Jasmine Monk to learn all about how the new album felt like a breakthrough for the band, the highlights of last year's tour, and their upcoming spring shows with home-recording pioneer Linda Smith.

Photo by Kevin Daniel

First tell me what you've been up to lately? What have you been listening to, reading, or spending a lot of time doing?


Thee Jasmine Monk: I really like this question. During the winter I read a lot. Zelda and I are really into living cyclically so we post up in the winter and drink tea and read. I finally found a copy of Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa at Value Village and I'm currently ripping through that one. Just finished  another reread of the Vertigo Shade, the Changing Man comics as well. I've watched Billy Liar and Alfie a couple of times in recent weeks. Listening wise its Liege and Leaf by Fairport Convention, Hunky Dory by Bowie, One Year by Colin Blunstone, Violent Change, Famous Mammals and I just did a first listen of the Uni Boys latest record Buy this Now. It rips, lots of cool chord progressions and interesting melodies and arrangements. The Clientele and Spiral Dub have been on the turntable also as well!


What were some of the highlights from your U.S. tour last November? 


Staying with Hayes and Jolie in Olympia, meeting Calvin Johnson, staying with Britta in San Francisco and Corey in Los Angeles! There were soo many good times and the shows were amazing. We've started to see some recurring faces and that is really comforting. Zelda and I just had another sprout so she couldn't come on the tour but we had Staisch from Children Maybe Later and Almond Joy on second vocal and percussion. What a pleasure! We played about 37 shows in 2023, it was pretty brutal at times to be honest and I was worried everyone was getting burned out but the vibes were splendid all of the November tour. Most of touring is just hanging out and travelling, I've been really lucky to have a good touring unit that gets on well. 


How exactly did you all meet and form The Smashing Times? 


Originally Zelda and I started the group with Ole Johnson who played bass on the singles and the first two albums. He also did the art for those and he's made some cracking new art for the reissue that will be coming out. We only did one tour with that lineup before this local band Corduroy sort of went on hiatus and we cannibalized Paul and Blake from that group. Then Ole didn't want to do as many shows as we were playing so we asked Britta in on bass. 

Photo by Kevin Daniel

How do you think you've grown together musically over the last few years? What are your thoughts looking back on past tape releases like Come Along With Me or Bloom


I think we started off pretty strong to be honest. Bloom was really a high point for me as a songwriter and I think the recording is really interesting, I love that record. I was listening to the first couple cassettes the other day and the guitar sounds weird to me, like really distorted or something but the songs are good. Some people have remarked that This Sporting Life feels like a big leap but I think that's just that we worked with our friend Miles [Waltuck] on that and the sound is cleaner and more refined, which isn't necessarily the direction we are heading in. There are a lot of punchy shorter songs more in the mod revival vein on TSL which tend to be more constructed and I think that gives off the vibe that we have changed but its not true. Its like the countryside vs. the city. We are wrapping up an album that I think ties it all together really well. It will all make sense soon. 


Your latest album This Sporting Life was one of my favorite releases last year.  What can you say about the making of the album and when it was recorded?


It's the first record to feature the new members which breathes a bit of new life into it. We used a preamp that we borrowed from a friend and I think that accounts for the compressed sound of a lot of the tracks. I won't be doing that again. The high points are not what we expected. We worked with our friend Miles who is a treasure to be around. I learned a lot about setting boundaries and asserting myself, which I sometimes did not do. 


How did the songs progress from their initial demos? Were there any that turned out entirely different than you had expected while experimenting with ideas? 


Yes, a lot of these songs were demoed with the original lineup and came out a lot faster on the final recording which is still jarring to me. That song "Tuesday, Coming into Time" was really strong on the demo but it didn't reach the same heights on the LP. "Glorious Tales of Wes," "Dream of 1000 Cats," and "Rowan Morrison" are the high points for me. 

Let's dive into some of the songs here. How did the track "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" come out?


This is sort of a mod revival type track. Paul and I really love Sham 69 and Cock Sparrer and I think you can hear a bit of that.


What can you say about "Whatever The Postman Says"? 


He's a dirty little lad, that postman. Always leaves the neighborhood layabouts satisfied and wanting more. Enough is as good as a feast! 


How did that track "Where is Rowan Morrison" come together? Also, what do you remember most from making its music video?


It has some weird chords, I found the demo and really liked the chorus melody so I worked out the arrangement. The double 12 string guitar solo is fun live...it was inspired by that song Jean's not Happening by the Pale Fountains. Jolie from K came out and stayed with us in Baltimore for a couple days, we were doing warmup shows before going to London and Paris. The basement flooded and some of our gear got fucked up and becaus we had rats all summer we had to bleach everything. It was really hot and we had to shoot all those forest scenes in about half an hour before heading out to play a show. Jolie was really fun to work with and hang out with. 

What was the vision for "Peppermint Girl"? 


It's supposed to be like an old Sesame Street song. I really like the jazz freakout midway through, that's Jordan Pantalone of Almond Joy/Spiral Dub on the saxophone and Britta playing some wacky bits and I think they did some singing too. I built this one up really slowly and Zelda and I re-tracked all the guitars and vocals last minute. There was a different arrangement before that just wasn't hitting. 


Which song from the record means the most to you (and why)?


Probably "Glorious Tales of Wes." It's about a friend who lives in Japan. I've always been jealous of him for living that dream. I don't think its been easy for him but he comes from a middle class family and can do things like that. I had to think of more practical considerations. I'm obviously bitter. 


What were the inspirations behind the cover art? 


At first, the teapot man had a big eyeball for a head but everyone said that it looked like a Residents cover. I think it was Zelda's idea to make the head a teapot... I had some mockups that looked like the cover of a TVPs record but Paul pushed me to do something more original. Jolie and Hayes at K/Perennial wanted to keep going with the art format that we started with Bloom. I like it, I'm glad I let people weigh in or I don't think it would have turned out so well. I was pretty pissed off at the time though.

Photo by Kevin Daniel

How has the K Records treatment been since the release? What are your thoughts being on such an influential label? 


It's been great! They are always available and quick to respond, I feel like they have given us alot of attention and collaboration. It seems like the perfect place for us ethos wise. 


What are your thoughts on Baltimore's current music scene? Who are some of your favorite bands and venues there?


There's a man who performs under the name Jingles, he has a tape label and a pretty informed aesthetic. We are really into that guy's stuff. We just started playing with Linda Smith last summer and are planning a tour with her in the spring. She's a legend and has been a vocal supporter of the group for some time. Other than that, there's lots going on but it's sort of all over the place. 


What else is on the horizon for you and The Smashing Times this year?


Reissues of the tapes on vinyl, another new record, some music festivals and light touring around those, a spring toot with Linda Smith, and we are trying to do the UK in the fall. The other big thing we are working on his hitting the Midwest. Hit us up if you have any contacts in the Midwest or can suggest cool bands to play with. We book all our tours and we need those address books! 


This Sporting Life is out now on K and Perennial Records.


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