As I approached a bright green house with a welcoming yard, the sounds of a nearby band practice hit me like a wave. I rang the doorbell a couple of times (drums are loud, you know) and was soon greeted by the biggest hugs and warmest smiles. Ah yes, I was in Smokey Brights' territory now. Welcome to Kim West and Ryan Devlin's house.

Smokey Brights (endearingly referred to as Smokeys) were born in the Devlin/West household in 2013. The group also practices there. In a cozy little basement with groovy wallpaper, Devlin’s head nearly grazes the ceiling. Instruments and gear fit like a Tetris puzzle, but the space is inviting. I began to think about all of the songs written there, and I felt blessed to be inside. 

The group is fronted by West (vocals/keys) and Devlin (vocals/guitar). While the two are married, this isn’t a husband-and-wife band. Nick Krivchenia (drums) and Luke Ragnar (vocals/bass) have been members for almost a decade—a feat fairly unheard of these days. Despite differing backgrounds and zero blood relation, Smokey Brights is a family band more than anything. 

Brittne Lunniss

After showing off the practice space and showering me with offers of beer, water, and whatever else I could possibly need—West, Ragnar, Krivchenia, Devlin, and I headed outside. A picnic table chat about life, friends, and the industry soon turned into a conversation about their heavily anticipated fourth studio album, Levitator. 

“We wrote it during the most locked down moments of COVID,” said Devlin. “A lot of the music is focused on self-empowerment… With the title Levitator, we were thinking about this magical act of helping yourself rise up. A lot of the songs are about moving in and through toughness.”

Smokey Brights put out their previous album I Love You but Damn in 2020, right before the world came to a pause. While the group participated in several livestreams throughout the pandemic, the momentum and heart behind performing just wasn’t the same. To remedy this loss of connection, Smokeys began writing. In fact, the group wrote a completely different album before Levitator. West elaborates, “We wrote one record, which began when we first started meeting up as a band again. It was pretty and very jazzy, but I think it was more about processing.”

Brittne Lunniss

“They’re good songs!," added Devlin. "But it almost made us more sad… so we made a switch while still dealing with the same emotions.”

Will you ever hear this sad and jazzy record? Probably not. But that’s okay. It was all part of the journey to Levitator. 

Levitator is a fun and refreshing Smokey Brights. “Humor became a big part of the record. We almost never do that!” Devlin laughed. “For example, ‘Just Wanna Be Yours’it’s a silly song! It never happened! West has never spilled a glass of red wine on my mom’s white couch! It’s like a rom-com of a song.” 

Brittne Lunniss

In addition to a fresh new tone, the group has also come out with a new sound. “We switched from sad jazz to alternative rock. I was listening to a lot of Weezer and Third Eye Blind. A lot of radio rock from the ’80s and ’90s. The reasons we picked up instruments in the first place.”

Levitator was recorded and produced by Andy Park and, due to COVID, Smokeys primarily worked with him virtually. “When we recorded with Andy, it was also the first record he made in person [since COVID began]," West said. "He was working with people all over the world, but by sending remote tracks. We were finally like, ‘Let’s just get in a room and do this.’ And that’s what we did. This record felt more intentional because it had to be.” 

I appreciate a good love album (and Smokey Brights have several), but Levitator is more than that. It plays with relatable human moments as if to say, “We’ve been there too.” Musically, Levitator sounds polished. Like, really polished. A benefit of maintaining the same players for years. The record is serving '90s alternative and '80s pop. It’s fun and synthy. Loud and boppy. Locked-in, epic group harmonies with choruses that will have you dancing in your living room. Or car. Or shower. Or wherever else you choose to consume Levitator. Favorite driving-with-the-windows-rolled-down tracks include “Just Wanna Be Yours,” “Sad Boy Song #39,” and “No Getting Out” (recently dropped in a post-apocalyptic-themed music video directed by Eric Luck).

Levitator serves as a reminder that sometimes you have to push through the sad jazz before arriving at true joy. As for what’s next for Smokey Brights? “We’re so fortunate to have the opportunity and space to make music, and we want to keep creating,” said West. “We want Smokey Brights to be a 50-year band! This is our fourth record, and we feel like we’re just warming up.” 

Levitator celebrate the release of Levitator at the Showbox Fri June 2 at 8:30 pm with Sera Cahoone and La Fonda

Brittne Lunniss