JUNE/JULY 2005
Illustration by Charles Burns

Smoosh

[ASYA, 13, AND CHLOE, 11]

“THERE WERE ALL THESE GUYS WITH MOHAWKS IN THE CROWD AND IT WAS ALL SMOKY, SO HER MOM DOESN’T LET HER COME TO MY SHOWS ANYMORE.”
Every musician should:
Build a tree house
Throw oranges at Eddie Vedder
Bump stomachs before a show
Refrain from yodeling

When I first put She Like Electric, the debut album from the Seattle band Smoosh, on my stereo, I was pretty sure I’d entered a time warp. What I was listening to was actually the great, lost Kate Bush album of my youth, the first demo she ever made, before the suits got involved and her songs became ornate and kind of self-important.

A half hour later—the platter clocks in at a svelte thirty-two minutes—I’d dropped the Kate Bush theory. Electric is way too far-reaching. It careens joyously from introspective ballads (“Not Your Day to Shine”) to spiky indie rock (“Massive Cure”) to anarchic school bus chants (“The Quack”), without striking a single false note. If the band’s feel-good single “Rad” does not compel you to get up and dance, you are either dead or, perhaps more unpleasantly, a Republican.

The album’s range is all the more amazing because of one simple fact: Smoosh consists of only two members. Asya, thirteen, writes the songs, plays keyboards, and sings (in a mesmerizing alto). Her younger sister Chloe, eleven, drums. This last sentence somewhat understates the case. More precisely: Chloe drums like Topper Headen used to drum. She is an utterly fearless, spastic natural.

As happens when I encounter an LP of such unexpected beauty, I had a very hard time getting the thing off my stereo. I kept forcing all my friends to come over and listen to Smoosh and then spoiling the experience by babbling about how amazing they were, how the songs made me want to bang my head and hum along at the same time. My friends, somewhat accustomed to this pattern, nodded and listened patiently, then swiped my loaner copy. A week later they called me to report how now they couldn’t stop playing Smoosh.

It was clear I needed to schmooze with Smoosh. I contacted the folks at their label, Pattern 25, and a week later, we had a date. Because I live in Boston and the band lives in Seattle, the interview was conducted telephonically.

A possibly gratuitous author’s note: Because of the uncanny vocal similarity between Asya and Chloe, as well as the fact that they speak very quickly, I interviewed them one at a time. For the sake of continuity, I have occasionally interspersed their comments.

—Steve Almond

I. “WE WEREN’T TRYING TO TELL
A STORY, WE WERE JUST TRYING
TO CRACK EACH OTHER UP.”

THE BELIEVER: I love the name Smoosh. How did you guys come up with that?

ASYA: Um, let’s see. There’s this band Smashmouth, and we liked how that sounded, so we came up with Smoosh. We just liked the sound of the word. But we pronounced it Smush [rhymes with bush]. Then people started saying it Smoosh, with the ooo sound. So it became Smoooosh.

BLVR: How did you guys come to record She Like Electric?

A: We had recorded a demo CD, but then we started getting bigger shows and we needed a better-sounding CD. We got this offer from Pattern 25 and we were like, that’d be really cool. My dad helps us a lot, but he doesn’t really know about music. We needed some help with that.

BLVR: Was it weird to go into a studio?

A: Not really. We thought we’d go in there and be singing a lot and doing all these tracks and it would be really tiring. But it was super fun. We got to know all these cool people, and it wasn’t all work the whole time. They had this tree outside the studio, and we made a treehouse kind of thing, really high up in the branches. After we recorded something, we could go play, and then we’d go back and record something. We played most of the songs live; all the instruments were live. On a few, we would go back and do the singing again, and there were a few dubs on the piano. But for some we kept the originals. They asked us about everything. We got to decide, so there wasn’t anything on the album that I didn’t like.

BLVR: How did you guys start playing music?

A: It was just, like, at a certain point I started making songs and then Chloe got her drum set and started lessons, so then we were making songs together and stuff. I’ve played piano my whole life.

BLVR: Your whole life?

A: Maybe not my whole life. But at age one, we had this really low keyboard and I used to use it to help me stand up and bang on it and stuff. I must have been like, “Hey, it makes sound!” I remember playing at two or three. When I was five, in kindergarten, I made these songs for talent shows and won some awards and stuff. I made a lot of those songs. They were kind of easy. I remember one was called “Wolfgarden.” I wrote that when I was four or five.

BLVR: Will it show up on the next Smoosh album?

A: I don’t know. It had some, let’s see, some C chords with the left hand and then, I guess I forget now. But when I was ten I played it just to remember, so we do have tapes of it somewhere.

BLVR: I love how different all your songs sound. How do you write a sad song like “Not Your Day to Shine” and then a fun song like “The Quack”? Do you have to be in a certain mood?

A: We were going to record the demo when I made “Not Your Day to Shine.” It was right before we left, and I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I was just watching everyone getting ready to go. I wasn’t thinking about what I should say. I just wrote some words and the song came out. “The Quack” was just like a funny song. Me and Chloe had that one for a long time.

CHLOE: We would just sing those words back and forth to each other and think of other funny things to say. The quack is back. The Bonedaddy. We’d say it all low-voiced. Sometimes in the back of the car, sometimes sitting around at breakfast. We didn’t know it was going to be on the CD. We weren’t trying to tell a story; we were just trying to crack each other up.

II. “I’D LISTEN TO (SLEATER-KINNEY’S)
LYRICS AND WRITE SIMILAR STUFF—
BUT I DON’T COPY.”

BLVR: You guys have some pretty high-profile fans. I heard that Cat Power does a cover of one of your songs.

A: Yeah, we played with her and Sleater-Kinney at this one show and now she does a cover of “Rad” at her shows. A bunch of people have told me that. I wish I could get to see her do it.

BLVR: Was it exciting to play with those bands?

A: We hadn’t really heard their music before. But after playing with them, we got their albums, and now we like them. It was the same thing with Pearl Jam. Eddie [Vedder] is friends with Jason [McGerr], who teaches Chloe drums. He’s the drummer for Death Cab for Cutie. So Jason told them about us and they came to see us play, and I guess Eddie wanted to do a show with us, so we opened for them.

BLVR: That must have been a pretty big show.

A: Yeah, like 1,500 people or so. We hung out with Eddie backstage and it was fun. He’s nice. I knew he was pretty famous and everything, but I didn’t want to be, you know, stupid-amazed.

C: We were playing around with oranges. Eddie would do this thing where he’d pretend he was going to throw it, like, really hard, but then bring it around his back. And then Jason did this thing where he bounced the orange off the muscle of his arm.

BLVR: You weren’t nervous?

C: I was really nervous before the first show we ever did. But I’m usually not nervous anymore. Me and Asy do this thing before shows sometimes where we stand ten feet away from each other and run toward each other and bump our stomachs, and it makes me not as nervous. Or sometimes, if there’s oranges or apples backstage, we’ll throw them at each other at the same time and try to catch them. It’s not like a ritual or anything, like, “If I drink this water an hour before we go onstage I won’t be nervous.” It’s just stuff we do.

BLVR: I’m guessing you guys listened to a lot of music growing up?

A: I listen to a lot of—what’s his name?—Louis Armstrong. My mom is a fan of his. And Cessaria [Evora], which is like classical. She’s a singer. My dad bought this CD called Interpol and we listen to that a lot when he drives me to school in the morning. I really like it. I get inspired by a band. When we listened to Sleater-Kinney, we made a lot of rock songs. I’d listen to their lyrics and write similar stuff—but I don’t copy.

C: You know how Janet, the drummer from Sleater-Kinney, hits her toms a lot? I thought that sounded so cool. So on the song “Massive Cure,” I did the same thing. I pretended that the toms were my snare. I’d be doing the normal hi-hat beat, but with the toms rather than the snare. I listen to all kinds of music except for one kind, but I’m not going to say what because I don’t want to be mean. [Pause] OK, I don’t like country. At all. I mean, Pearl Jam has a tad bit of country in some songs and I like that, but just plain country, no. No yodeling. I like hard rock but not when you can’t even hear the singer. Like a song that has a boy singer, not a soft song, and the person’s just screaming the whole time and the drummer’s banging and the electric guitar is just going crazy. I love the Blood Brothers, though. They’re one of my total favorite bands.

III. “THEY THINK IT’S COOL
IF YOU’RE A GIRL DRUMMER.
BUT WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
WE’RE JUST DRUMMERS.”

BLVR: How much do your friends from school know about your music career?

A: They know about it; my old friends don’t really care that much. My new friends care about it more. But I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging. Besides, it’s not like I’m some mega–pop star. Some people who aren’t my friends think it’s a big deal, because they think anyone who gets to play with someone famous is famous themselves.

C: There are some people who are like, “You’re in a band? They say it all mean. I had this one teacher in third grade who was really strict. The rest of the class was always perfect and didn’t miss anything. She always got really mad if I had to go drum practice, even if my mom signed a note, so she knew why I missed class, but she’d be like, “Are you feeling better?” And I’d say, “But I’m not sick.” She almost made me cry. I’m in fifth grade now and my teacher, Ms. Reams, is really cool. The only thing is she’s not very organized. You know how most teachers are all organized? Anyway, I showed her our old website. And I have this new friend, but she doesn’t believe I’m in a band. For most of my friends, though, it’s kind of old news.

A: We don’t go to school every year. It’s every other year, because we do home schooling.

BLVR: Which do you like better?

A: Um, with home schooling we get to be with the family more and we get more time to work on our music and make new songs. But in school you get to see your friends more. It might be more like being a normal kid.

BLVR: Do your friends come to see your shows?

A: Not so much, because they start kind of late.

C: My one friend, this girl named Sara, came to my show at this bar and there were all these guys with mohawks in the crowd and stuff and it was all smoky, so her mom doesn’t let her come to my shows anymore.

BLVR: What did you think of the guys with mohawks?

C: I don’t care. I think it’s cool.

BLVR: What’s it like for you guys to deal with fans who are so much older?

A: Sometimes it feels strange. Some people think it’s cute. But, you know, even if we are younger, we’re all kind of doing the same thing. We’re all musicians. I hope people don’t think of us as any different.

C: I know a lot of people who are like: “Oh my gosh! She’s a girl drummer!” They think it’s cool if you’re a girl drummer. But what’s the big deal? I know a lot of girl drummers. We’re just drummers.

A: The cool thing is just being able to play. Sometimes, when I’m playing, I’ll make it louder, like if it’s a rock song. But then other times I don’t sing as crazy, or I’m not as much into it, and it gets me down a little. I like it when people dance. That’s the best. If we get dancing or a big clap, I get all happy.

C: I totally love it when people dance! It gets me more into the music. My face bursts into this big smile when we do something really good. I try not to smile but I can’t help it. I also enjoy writing songs. I’m trying to practice my singing, but most of the time I don’t have a mic. I do get a mic for “Bottlenose” sometimes, but I hate doing the sound checks. One day I was doing the sound check, saying “One, two, check, check,” for, like, an hour, and Asy was laughing at me the whole time.

IV. “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO ARGUE
WITH YOUR SISTER. BUT THEY’RE
NEVER MENTAL FIGHTS.”

BLVR: Do you guys have a set practice schedule or anything?

A: [Laughs] No. Not really. It’s not like our parents say, “You have to go practice now!” That would be weird. We play because it’s fun. I’m never like, “We have to go write a song right now!” We just go down to the basement to play. That’s where our playroom is. Or actually, it’s in our guest room right now. It was in our parent’s bedroom. It’s pretty much wherever we have space for it.

C: Sometimes I’ll hear my sister playing piano upstairs and I’ll be like, “That sounds cool,” and want to go play with her. That’s how we come up with new songs. But we do have to practice before a show, so everything’s tight. And sometimes we’ll say we’re going to practice after school, then we forget and our mom or dad will say, “Weren’t you guys going to practice?” And we’ll go, “Oh, yeah.” If we’re practicing at night, we’ll have to turn it down really quiet, so we don’t keep people up. I have to practice with the quiet sticks. They’re like these littler sticks with a plastic thing, so they make like a tsk tsk sound instead of a boom boom. It’s much more fun to play at shows because it’s way louder. Sometimes, when I go to a drum lesson and I make up a really cool beat, I can’t stop drumming.

BLVR: Is it tough being in a band with your sister? Do you guys ever fight?

A: We do sometimes. It’s impossible not to argue with your sister. But they’re never mental fights. They don’t last long.

BLVR: You guys have another sister who may join the band, right?

A: Yeah, Maya. She’s eight. We want her to be in the band, because we want a bass player. She has a lot of other stuff she likes, so she needs to decide. But she does the artwork for our CDs, so she has a role in the band already.

C: There’s four girls altogether, including Scout. She’s one-and-a-half. Plus there’s a girl dog and a girl cat. We used to have boy gerbils, but both of them died of old age. We have some baby gerbils now and I think one of them is a boy. Plus we have fish outside. I think they might be dead. It’s really dirty in their pond, because there’s a tree above it and stuff drops down from the tree. We don’t feed the fish. What do fish eat?

BLVR: I don’t know. Maybe algae?

C: Or maybe smaller fish.

BLVR: What do you guys do when you’re not making music?

C: We love soccer. We’re both on select teams. That’s different from the rec league, kind of more serious. It’s tough, though, because our coaches are really strict. They want for soccer to be, like, our main activity. You have to try your hardest every single time or they make you run. My team has won the state cup every single year, so everyone’s, like, super committed.

BLVR: Will you ever have to decide between soccer and music?

A: I don’t know. But we’re definitely going to make a second album. We keep making songs. I mean, I want to do music all my life, as long as it stays fun. Plus, our grandmas like to come see our shows. We did a show with the Presidents [of the United States of America] and they came to that one. They’re totally into it.

Steve Almond is the author of My Life in Heavy Metal (Grove, 2002) and Candyfreak (Algonquin 2004). His new book is The Evil B. B. Chow & Other Stories. Details and other perversions at www.bbchow.com.

Illustration by Charles Burns

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