Shawn Smith Talks About Hearing His Hit on Muzak
Attempting to schedule the interview with Shawn Smith, vocalist for Brad, nearly took as long as the band did to get a new recording contract. Three weeks went by before I was able to speak with Shawn via phone. Smith was taking time between recording his solo record and returning to the road with Brad, supporting their newest and third release, Welcome to Discovery Park. “We leave tomorrow for a tour [of the States] then we’re going to Australia,” said Smith in a curt, but polite manner when asked about the delay.
It was only a few months before that Brad was playing showcase gigs in California searching for a record deal. “When we [Brad] went in to record in 2001 we didn’t have a deal,” Smith nonchalantly explains of the long wait. “No one wanted to sign us. After we were signed, we cut new songs.”
“Yes You Are,” “La La La,” the first release from the album, and “Drop It Down” were all recorded during the new studio sessions.
The idea that Brad was without a label is somewhat of a strange occurrence, yet indicative of the current state of the music business, considering their “super-group” status. Brad consists of Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, and Shawn has seen recent success with Pigeonhed (a song of theirs appears on an episode of HBO’s The Sopranos) and Satchel, which features Brad drummer Ragan Hagar. Another current member, Jeremy Toback, an original member of Brad, has made a name for himself with his solo career.
The fact that Brad’s second album, Interiors, released by Pearl Jam’s label, Epic, featured a Billboard Top 100 hit, “The Day Brings,” also compounds the oddity.
Even more surreal to Smith is that “The Day Brings” has been regulated to Muzak extremes. Smith doesn’t seem bothered by this though: “Once maybe twice I heard it in the store•my mom’s heard it,” Smith reveals with a slight chuckle. “I heard it in a local supermarket. I was kind of depressed and heard it and was like ‘How can I be depressed with that playing?'”
Although, Interiors was critically and commercially recognized, Welcome to Discovery Park should finally rest any criticism or debate as to whether Brad is a “side-project” and cement them as a very capable, energetic, and versatile rock band. Their transformation from “getting together to record” to a viable band has been slow. Smith explains: “It is a natural progression based on a decade of being together. We haven’t really consciously stepped away from it [being categorized as a side-project]. The press has paid less attention.”
This development with the internal factors of the band goes beyond what the press decides to brand the band; it filters through into the studio. Gossard, for instance, felt comfortable enough to bring in lyrics for “Sheepish” and asked Smith to sing. “It’s fun to interpret,” Smith remarked as to why he would agree to sing another’s lyrics. “It’s a little different, it’s fun in its own way. I don’t like to do it very often. I certainly respect [Gossard]•I had the freedom to take a stab at it, and he liked what I did.”
Smith, however, is just happy to be recording and performing his songs. “I’ve never really had a main group,” he explains. “It may be different with Stone (Gossard). Just getting to make a record is huge because it’s so expensive.”
Welcome to Discovery Park at times feels like an expensive, over-the-top record from a 1970s classic rock group. “Brothers and Sisters” builds to a slow, raucous chorus while giving us an anthem for the ideal family. “Shinin'” draws heavy on rock’s early days as an offshoot of rhythm and blues.
The album even has a few ’70s style ballad-like songs. “Never Let Each Other Down” features beautiful, ethereal harmonics, and is coupled with Smith’s baritone; it places the listener in a near trance. The companion piece, “If You Could Make It Good,” continues the melancholy but maintains a sense of hope: “If You Could Make It Good•Well, I want to find out.” It builds to a crescendo of Smith’s stuttering piano and Hagar’s accented drums, and then very easily, and just as quickly, rescinds.
“It’s interesting you would notice that,” said Smith after being asked about their tonal similarities. “They were done at the same time. I was coming from a different place (when I wrote those songs).”
When asked about the songs (and album) apparent likeness to soul or gospel music, and other critics comparing him to “soulful singers” Elton John and Prince, he responded in his usual modest way. “I’m influenced by these people. I don’t like (the comparison). I don’t really know what ‘soulful singer’ means.”
Whether it is working on his solo album or numerous other projects, or if it takes years to release another Brad record, it is only hoped that Smith and company can continue to mature; so far Welcome to Discovery Park is an excellent example of “friends for ten years” getting together and recording a great album.
Note: The actual interview with Shawn Smith was conducted on October 3, 2002. I have only myself to blame for the delay. Since the original interview, much has changed in Brad-land.
First, it appears their third record label, Redline Entertainment, a subsidiary of Best Buy, has adjusted its business model by concentrating on “action sports.” They have dropped their music division and release VHS, DVD, and games with titles such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. There is no word as to another Brad record.
Second, Brad completed an international tour, finishing in Australia in early 2003.
Third, Shawn Smith is still working on solo material, and plans a U.S. release later this year. Smith debuted many of those songs at Seattle’s Chop Suey in May 2003.