Smoosh sisters Asy and Chloe are supernatural creatures of sound. Music is what they were put here to do. They are emitters, a telepathic battery of keyboards and drums, imbibing horchata, and they have just self-released their third album, called Withershins. For the past two years, Smoosh have been living in Sweden, writing, honing, growing, and adding their 13-year-old sister, Maia, to the mix on bass. Now 18 and 16 years old, respectively, Asy and Chloe have amassed much experience from playing shows worldwide and touring with such bands as Bloc Party, Tokyo Police Club, Eels, and the Dresden Dolls. Smoosh have been a band for 10 years, but in some ways, they’ve just begun. We spoke and played the video game Galaga. They destroyed me then gave me chocolate ice cream.
How did the song “We Are Our Own Lies” come together?
A: That was one of the earlier songs written for the album. I wrote the melody playing a rented piano in our old apartment in Seattle, looking out the window and watching people around the neighborhood. I like to start songs that way. It’s like watching a story; the music or melody instantly comes to me when I look at a person for some reason. The song was left alone for half a year, then, in a little cabin in the countryside of Sweden, we worked out the rest of the parts and drums.
What’s the song about?
A: It’s about people and little personal traps we can all get ourselves into. It’s about psychological issues people can struggle with when they get too tangled up in their lives. Like, living a really busy life in the city, we can kind of become our own worst enemies. I love big cities, but I think we all need to get away and take a break from time to time to get a Taoist, outside perspective on our own lives. Otherwise we can get so caught up in everything, even irrational things, and our emotions can build up inside of us until we can’t really control the way they are released.
Do you have a process when you write?
A: The writing process for this album was pretty different than for the other two albums. For most of the songs on Withershins, I wrote the melody first, in a cabin in Sweden, and went a bit crazy using Logic putting everything together. We wanted to go somewhere with a different culture, language, and environment to get inspired. That’s why we went to Sweden. I spent a lot more time on the vocals in this album—I had a lot of fun layering harmonies on Logic and putting effects on them.
C: It was a pretty strange way for me to write the drum parts for this album, because I wrote most of it in the barn of that countryside cabin. I used a little tape recorder to record the drumbeats so that I could remember them but later accidentally erased all the recordings! I was so mad that day.
A: Yeah, I remember that. What did you do to that tape recorder? I found it crushed behind the couch.
Was your songwriting different for this album? Has your songwriting changed over the years?
A: I do think my songwriting has changed in some ways. I think the songs on this last album wouldn’t work to be written the way our older songs were written. We used to just go to our instruments and jam together, kind of writing the song as we played. We didn’t use computers, and everything happened live. Sometimes we’d even improvise songs in the studio [“Massive Cure” and “Organ Talk”]. Now, we like to blend things together, different sounds and instruments, and the computer works great for that. It kind of opened a new world to us, being able to write songs on the computer and record sounds wherever you are!
The arrangements and compositions on Withershins seem a bit more complex. How do growth and experience and playing a ton of shows translate through to your songwriting?
A: I think it makes sense that the compositions on Withershins are a little more complex, because there was a big gap between this album and the last album [Free to Stay]. There were four years where we were working on songs and playing live. We were so ready to write an album when the time came around where we weren’t touring and had time to devote full concentration to writing. When we were on tour, we wrote down all our ideas. Whenever I got inspired by something or thought of something I wanted to try in a song, I would write it down. We wanted to expand our sound by trying a lot of new things on Withershins. I hope that our experience and growth as a band translates through into the songs. Some of the songs were slightly older [like “Great Skies” and “In the Fall”] and were played live many times before being recorded for the album. I think they have a different sound and feel than the ones that were written later, mostly on the computer, and were more new to us as a band.
Where do you want to go musically? Besides gangster rap.
A: Well that’s about it, actually. You know, Chloe and I have actually been really interested in trying to write some hiphop songs—or music a lot more electronic than stuff we usually do. I haven’t thought so much about what the direction of the next batch of songs will be. I know we had a great time experimenting with different music styles and going to a different place to write music, so I would love to learn about another style of music and incorporate it into our next batch of songs. A lot of people are doing that right now, and I think it always has a really great effect. There’s also still a lot of ideas that didn’t get used for Withershins, so we have those to build off of! Earlier today, we were at a music store because Chloe broke her kick-drum head, and I was trying to play the harp. I really want to learn that instrument for some reason. Every time I see one, I have to go up to it.
Where did you record the songs for Withershins? Who produced?
C: Most of the album was recorded at Two Sticks Audio. We didn’t have a producer for the album but had the engineers Jackson Long and Michael Lerner, who helped us—they were so much fun to work with. The earlier songs on the album were partly produced by Jason McGerr. A couple songs were recorded at our friends’ studio in Welland, Canada, and were produced by them, Daniel Romano and Julien Brousseau. They also played on those two songs, “Bridge No. 219242” and “The World’s Not Bad.” That was fun—they are from the band Attack in Black, and we had met them earlier while on tour with Tokyo Police Club. It was really great to work with them; we improvised a lot.
That’s Phil Peterson on strings right? How did y’all hook up with him?
C: We knew him from the band Tennis Pro; we played with them a long time ago. We were really eager to have strings on the album and were so happy we had Phil Peterson and Victoria Parker play on “We Are Our Own Lies” and “The Line”—they really brought a whole new feel to those songs.
A: Yeah, they’re really amazing. Their string parts added so much.
How did the recording go? Was it hard or easy?
C: The recording went great. Jason’s studio is so great—I can’t believe how much work he’s done with the place. I loved playing drums there. I really could get any specific sound I was looking for because he had the hugest selection of drums to choose from. So that was really a treat. I think it was a little more difficult for Asy to let go of the original versions of the songs that she had recorded on Logic in Sweden, so we ended up keeping so many sounds from the original versions in the songs. In a lot of the songs, you can hear really low-fi-recorded distorted vocals or wind or a car engine starting, on “Finnerödja,” “Call of the Mid Afternoon,” “Aaarplane Song.”
Where in Sweden have y’all been living? What’s it like? How’s your Swedish?
C: We were living in Stockholm, went to school there and tried to learn Swedish. It was a lot of fun; it was so different there. We really enjoyed it (besides the weather). It was really cool to try to live a whole different lifestyle.
A: Yeah, coming back to America was really interesting, also. It made me realize how huge of a difference there is between the U.S. and Sweden. It was a really great experience, though, to be there for two years. We met some really great people and some great bands. We saw a lot of moose. There’s no shortage of moose over there. None of us can get the Swedish language perfectly, though, except for our 6-year-old sister, Scout. I should probably go practice right after this interview. Same with you, Trent, since you say you’re learning Swedish.
Did Smoosh play many shows over there?
C: We didn’t play so many shows while we were there. We were mostly taking a little break, but then I got sick of not being very active musically, and I think we all got really anxious. Now I’m so happy our album is finally out; it’s so nice to be playing again.
A: We were working on finishing the album while in Sweden. It was mixed by Don Gunn over e-mail, which was difficult, but turned out great. Then we took time rehearsing all of the new songs, and Maia started singing backing vocals and playing her bass with a bow.
Have you discovered any good Swedish bands?
C: Yeah, there are a ton of really cool Swedish bands, here are a few: Little Dragon, Noonie Bao, Lykke Li, Fever Ray, Dungen, and a lot more.
Did you miss anything about Seattle while you were away?
C: Yeah, definitely. We all really missed the whole Seattle community, I missed the Seattle Drum School, and we missed a lot of the show places, because before Asy was 18, we all couldn’t really see so many shows in Stockholm. They don’t have as much all-ages shows. I missed Capitol Hill and a lot of Seattle friends. It was so nice to go back and see everybody again.
A: Yes! I missed Burrito Express, Gorditos, the great show places, Bumbershoot, KEXP, my cat and dog. I missed playing ultimate Frisbee, because it’s not so popular in Sweden. Also, the whole time I was in Sweden, I really wanted Toll House cookie dough.
What’s this about you being able to chug 164-ounce cups of Amp energy drink mixed with horchata?
C: Strawberry-flavored horchata is what I really want to try.
A: I just learned the secret family recipe for horchata. YES.
So you’re in the States for the summer, then you go to Spain? How long will you be there? Will you go back to Sweden?
C: We might stay in the States a little longer than just the summer. Yeah, we are planning on going to Barcelona for a year. We went there for the first time last summer and all loved it so much. We haven’t planned on going back to Sweden, though, but want to go back and visit sometime in the near future.
A: I’m really excited to try out living in Spain. I don’t know much about the music scene there, or the culture. There’s a lot to learn! I also need to work on my Spanish.
What’s this about poop on the drum stool from Eels?
C: There were a lot of funny stories from the Eels tour. That whole tour, the Eels and us were all playing so many pranks on each other. One show, I went onstage to play, sat down at my drum kit, and found a swirl of poo on my snare. Fake poo. The Eels are pranksters. I was glad it was fake. It looked real. We stopped off at a gag shop, so we were playing tons of tricks on them, too.
A: This one time, Chloe needed tape five minutes before we went onstage, so I found a razor blade and cut her a piece, and ended up cutting my finger but didn’t have time to get a Band-Aid. Then when I was onstage and started banging my fingers on the keyboard, it started bleeding insanely, all over the place. It looked like a murder scene up there. And that day Owen Pallett had to borrow my keyboard after I was done with it!
What is it about Galaga that makes you want to play it for six hours a day? I guess after three gallons of “Ampchata,” you have no choice.
C: I think you were the one who ended up having horchata every day and was insanely good at Galaga (also the Donable), but YOU, we have an intense picture of you playing that game.
A: Yeah, we have proof. Man, it’s a dangerous combination, that Amp and horchata. Since I’m terrible at video games, I would get so angry and aggressive. I would be like an Ampchata machine.