Smokey Brights expand their world.
March’s season-opening Sounders rally in Pioneer Square was a much different gig than their sold-out album release party at the Tractor Tavern in November, but Smokey Brights doesn’t say no to new fans. Which is why the anthemic indie-rock quintet has ascended steadily since forming four years ago: They maintain an edge while achieving maximum accessibility. We caught up with singer/guitarist Ryan Devlin, singer/keyboardist Kim West and lead guitarist Mike Kalnoky before the band shot a music video at a Georgetown warehouse.
You guys have evolved from a bunch of earlier bands—and even earlier incarnations of Smokey Brights.
Ryan Devlin: Our earlier recordings are twangier and a lot of our earlier bookings were with the Seattle indie-folk scene. But we made a conscious choice to move away from that. We all met playing in punk bands and we kept ourselves back from actually rocking out. At a certain point we were like, we’re rock guys, not Nashville guys! Let’s turn up! Let’s be weird! Once we mutually agreed to do that…
Mike Kalnoky: It felt natural. After a few years it took awhile to settle into who we are, and it just felt right.
Devlin: Suddenly we mutually figured out what kind of band we wanted be when we grow up. Like, this is what’s up and nobody else is pursuing this juicy vein of mid-’70s/mid-’80s rock ’n’ roll with synths in it.
Kalnoky: When Kim came and brought the synthesizer it opened up new sonic spaces. We were suddenly able to do all of these new things.
Was that a conscious decision on the band’s part or a more organic shift?
Devlin: It was conscious in that we recognized it was happening and decided to go for it when it sounded right. But I’m suspicious of bands that one day sound like one thing and the next day they sound like whatever’s popular. We’ve been pursuing records and sounds that we’ve always been into.
Kim West: We started playing music that we like to listen to. The synth was a part of it but it’s also a product of the five of us playing together really intensely for over four years and listening to each other.
You guys have carved out a solid fan base with a mix of professionalism and willingness to take risks.
Devlin: There’s been a massive dehomogenization of culture. You can, as an independent musician, do your thing, which is distinct from someone else’s thing, and still be successful.
West: There are fewer gatekeepers.
Devlin: Or you can circumvent the gatekeepers if you’re clever enough. That’s an empowering thing for an artist, especially in a band setting. You’ve seen the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo? Those guys had this distinct, almost indigestible sound at times. It’s as if they’re making up music for the first time. They were just so enraptured with each other’s ideas and striving for something together that that they created something that ultimately changed music in a wonderful way. I think that’s what a good band has to be.