BLUES IS SMYTH
Steve Smyth’s second album is called Exits but he is entering the public consciousness in a big way after starting off playing Nirvana covers
With his gravelly, wolverine howl it is no wonder the coyotes heckled back when Steve Smyth recorded his latest album in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills last year.
The itinerant NSW bluesrock musician had just finished a tour supporting Angus and Julia Stone when they lent him their band to record a demo in LA.
This made its way to Joey Waronker – drummer for the likes of Thom Yorke and Beck – who offered to co-produce the album Exits in his Echo Park studio along with Gus Seyffert on bass (The Black Keys, Norah Jones).
“Beck was one of my first concerts I went to on my own. To be able to work with him was phenomenal,” says Smyth, a carpenter by trade.
The son of travelling ministers who built churches from scratch, Smyth often had a stage full of instruments at his disposal and at eight he stole his sister’s guitar to play Nirvana covers and never gave it back.
His second album Exits, bears signs of all his greatest influences: Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Neil Young and Howlin’ Wolf. But it was a veteran American musician named Jack Lowry who taught him the most.
“He’d point at the page and say ‘What does this say?’ I’d say ‘This means this to me’ and he goes ‘Well I don’t believe you, I don’t believe how you’re singing, how this is coming off out of you, I don’t believe these words’.
“If it’s something that’s not 100 per cent or honest, it’s just going to lose everything you set out to do, to express. The song is king and you got a responsibility to do it justice.”
Exits moves from sepulchral rock ( Get On, Shake It) to achingly sparse, melodic balladry ( Digital Heart, Manuscripts) in the blink of an eye as it showcases a voice that is equal parts Eddie Vedder and Scott Walker.
Smyth, also a dab hand on guitar with a poet’s turn of phrase, fills out his sketches of songs with brushstrokes of strings, keys and pedal steel.
“Every opportunity which comes along I grab with both hands and do my best,” Smyth says.
Smyth is continuing to travel across North America, Europe and throughout Asia.
“I’ve got a problem with saying ‘No’,” he says with a laugh.
But of course, like most musicians, he says he would not have it any other way.
NSW blues-rock musician Steve Smyth’s latest album received a kick along from Beck.