Smith House: The Interview
You may have seen these guys busking on a corner and didn’t realize they are Smith House, a local duo who have performed not only outdoors but also in many local coffee houses and venues over the past three years. Barrett Muth (vocals, guitar, piano) and Zach Brown (vocals, guitar, drums) have been friends since high school, and they are dedicated to creating and performing what they term “organic” folk music. I had a chance to meet with them over coffee to get to know what makes them special.
I’ll begin with their self-written bio: Smith House is Barrett Muth and Zach Brown, two Colorado artists who for the past three years have been allowing their love of music to foster community and conversation in and around Colorado Springs. Their folk style is the natural conjunction of classical training and a love of all things organic, influenced by the tenets of authentic community spurred and cultivated by the downtown CS scene. Smith House retains the ideals of the house in the Old North End for which it is named and the energetic musicality of street performance.
Barrett is classically trained in voice and on piano, and Zach on percussion, each playing in bands in high school. Both have since learned several stringed instruments, from guitar to banjo to bouzouki. They came together because of similar philosophies of music, which became the cornerstone of Smith House. They believe in “organic” folk music, or music derived from their life experiences without being “defined or concocted.” Their basic philosophy is, “If we can affect people in the same way that we have been affected, we have accomplished our mission.”
They met at Smith House, a house in the Old North End of Colorado Springs, which hosted dinners, gave travelers a place to stay, and where conversation and music were a constant. It seemed rather romantic and Bohemian to me, but that’s exactly how these guys are. They are laid-back and, as they term it, “pacifists,” which lends a certain relaxed humility to their music and performance.
And now for the interview:
DeLyn: Why did you decide on Smith House as a name? How did you originate?
Smith House: We were playing occasionally at a house in the Old North End that used to be owned by someone named Smith, and it was a place where people had dinner, stayed over, and played and conversed about music. After playing together for a while, we found ourselves leading some of the impromptu music that came up, so we decided to make it official, naming our duo Smith House to honor the place that gave us our start.
DeLyn: What made you choose folk as a genre? What inspires you?
Smith House: We had tried other styles of music before, having played in rock bands in high school and performing with different musical groups (Barrett was Tevya in his high school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof), but folk music seems to fit our personalities best, and it is the best way to convey how we feel. We are inspired by our experiences, and we consider our job done if we can help the audience feel the emotions in the songs. That’s why it’s organic: it’s not planned or structured, and we are not obsessed with perfection. We also are not limited to just duets; our good friend Brittany Ware plays violin on a few songs and has been featured in some of our videos, and Shawn D’Amario, who is an amazing banjo player, wrote a critical melody for the song “Torn.”
DeLyn: Do you ever want to go national, to become famous? What are your goals for the future?
Smith House: We are humble with music and with each other, depending on one another for validation. Although we are optimistic about where our music is going, it’s about the experience and the friendship more than the fame or the money. We both have day jobs, and Barrett has school, so we prioritize those obligations with our music. We are happy doing just what we are doing, creating community through music. If fame and money come our way, that’s great, but they are not our goal.
DeLyn: How do you operate? How do you resolve disagreements?
Smith House: We don’t really have set rehearsal times or regular practice. We get together and play for fun and inspiration, and if one of us comes up with an idea, the other sees what he can add to it. We don’t really have too many disagreements; we are both pacifists, and we trust each others’ judgment. If one of us disagrees about how something should go, we listen to the other person and incorporate changes when suggested.
DeLyn: You said you spent quite a bit of time busking. What did that do for you?
Smith House: Busking is hard. (Busking is standing on street corners, playing to passersby). That’s really how we learned the culture of different cities. We got a different reception in each one. We’ve busked in cities all down the West Coast, like Portland and Seattle, as well as here in Colorado Springs. It’s a lot harder to draw an audience when you’re busking, because you have to work for the attention you get, and to make yourself heard over the noise of the city. Getting people to stop and listen is worth the hard work, and there is nothing like knowing a city that way. You get to know your music really well, too.
DeLyn: What is your favorite venue, and why?
Smith House: The Wild Goose Meeting House. It has an intimate, warm setting, and we enjoy the challenge of performing to grab attention, but still being ambient. It’s not like busking at all, because some of the audience comes there specifically to hear us. It’s gratifying to know our music moves people, because that’s what we really want: to affect people the way we have been affected.
DeLyn: Would you rather perform live, or work on recording?
Smith House: Live performance, for sure. We prefer to play for an audience. Recording is still kind of new to us, and our sound guy is still learning how to get the right mix. We like responding to requests and playing what feels good, rather than rehearsing and repeating songs in the recording studio. We are taking a small break from live shows right now to make our new album, but we need more funding to make it happen. We hope to have the new album out in mid-summer.
DeLyn: What medium of promotion do you think works best for you? How are your Internet sales going?
Smith House: Word of mouth, especially. We do have over 450 likes on Facebook, so that’s good, and people have been buying our CD, The Raw and Rich. We probably sell more hard-copy CD’s at gigs than we sell online, but that’s positive reinforcement that we’re giving a good live show. It’s hard reconciling the idea of organic, spontaneous music with the technology required to promote ourselves in today’s world.
DeLyn: Any upcoming gigs?
Smith House: We will be playing at the Ivywild School on March 12, and at The Gold Room on March 20, followed by the Wild Goose on April 2. We are sort of in forced hiatus right now, because Zach cut his finger pretty badly (He showed me. Ouch!). We aren’t in any rush. Down time gives us more time to think about new music.
Smith House is more than just two guys playing music and harmonizing. They are dedicated to sharing their music and creating community through it. Check them out at a live gig, or listen now. You can also help fund their next album.