Interview with Brennan Smiley of The Technicolors

Photo: Ryan Fanizza

Whether it be metal, alternative, punk, or progressive, anybody who has been listening recently to the befuddling brilliance that is rock music has probably noticed that there is war being waged on the genre’s original organic ways. And as the battle grows drearier in the studio, an entire generation finds themselves protesting against yet another potentially exalted riff-driven rock ‘n’ roll track splattered across the ground and stomped on by the lingering synthetic beats everybody heard time and time again in the ’80s. Fortunately for the musical rebels who want Led Zeppelin with a new twist, there are bands like The Technicolors still around willing to fight for it. Simply, this Arizona-based four-piece is musical evolution done correctly by bringing together eccentric, often free-style guitar hooks reminiscent of the late ’60s-early ’70s with canorous rhythms and vocals more closely connected with today’s alternative music scene. The Technicolors have a sound that could easily amp up an arena but whose acoustic roots can also draw in even the harshest of hipsters. Most importantly, they believe in music that is fun, loud, and 100% organic.

Vocalist/guitarist Brennan Smiley helps us understand the importance of the acoustic guitar, the band’s beginnings, and the beauty of developing songs on the road. Check it out below.

The most intriguing thing that I gathered about you was that you produced ‘Listener’ yourself. How was it to produce your own album? Do you feel like anything was lost by being your own producer?

For this album, we all preferred it; especially me. When you have another producer you’re working with, you have an outside opinion, but this being our first record, it kind of made sense to produce it in a totally homegrown way. It felt right, even if we were missing out on what somebody else had to offer.

When you were producing ‘Listener,’ what was the most important thing about your sound that you wanted to pinpoint and bring to life? What did you want to create that you felt a producer couldn’t?

Just a big sound. Not to sound cliché, but we wanted it to be a very music-driven record. We didn’t want to overthink anything, but we still wanted to pursue an excellent record. That was the balance we were trying to find the whole time — not overthinking things, but doing everything to the best of our ability. We wanted a big, fun sound that wasn’t afraid to be dramatic at points.

So you wanted your sound to be very organic?

Yeah.

I read that you wanted to become a session musician. What prompted you to develop your own band as opposed to becoming a session musician?

My dad is a producer and we all used to live in Nashville. We moved to Arizona when I was a little kid. I grew up as a kid playing the guitar and I would start playing on the records that he was producing. Through that, I kind of fell in love with that special world and I enjoyed playing guitar on other peoples’ songs. Towards the end of high school, my dad challenged me to start writing songs and challenged me to make an EP. I ended up writing 12 songs. I didn’t know how much I would fall in love with songwriting and that was even before the performing came along. I just had no idea what was in store for me as far as how in love recording and performing my own original songs would be for me.

Since you became so used to your own original sound, how was it going into the studio to record ‘Listener’ with new members? How did that shape the album?

The good thing is that we had other songs that we had played for a couple of years as a band and we had toured pretty extensively. That was what really defined the type of music we wanted to make. Once we got off the road, we had a pretty clear idea of what kind of band we wanted to be and what kind of sound we wanted to make.

So putting together ‘Listener’ was more of a collaborative effort?

Yes, ‘Listener’ was a very proper band effort. It was a really good time.

The album sounds very ’60s-’70s inspired. Did you or any other band members take any inspiration from any modern bands or did you want to focus the album completely on the roots of rock ‘n’ roll?

Our favorite bands are a lot of older bands, but those aren’t the bands I’m necessarily listening to all of the time. But they’re the bands I grew up listening to like Zeppelin and The Beatles. But I am a huge fan of The Cardigans, and we really did want to wear our inspirations on our sleeves. So, we put a little Oasis in there, we’re big Strokes fans, early Killers stuff…

“Hollywood,” specifically, is very Zeppelin. When you were writing that song, did you intend for it to be so free-form or was it one of those songs that just developed as it went along?

That was probably the first song on that record that we wrote and it was a song I started playing with our guitar player, Mikey, before we were even The Technicolors. We were just under my name and we wrote it because we had an acoustic show at the Whisky [a Go Go] in Hollywood and we needed another song to play and we just wrote it and it was very spur of the moment. As far as the arrangement, we started playing that song as a band and we’ve been playing that song for about two and half years and it just evolved so much. The arrangement of that song was completely defined by being on the road and playing for an extensive amount of time.

When you’re writing, how does the writing process differ from creating the riffs in “Sweet Time,” “Divide,” and “Hollywood” to writing the more subdued tracks on the album like “Noah” and “Listener”?

A lot of the songs are written right on the acoustic guitar. I was always a huge fan of all of the acoustic stuff that Zeppelin did. That’s the type of stuff that got me into guitar. I always felt like that stuff was a little underrated. That is the part that resonates with me and has shaped me and has let me sit down and write darker or softer songs. And it’s all a combination of the Neil Young type of stuff meets the more artistic and creative…a little more ‘out there’ acoustic music from Zeppelin.

Are you saying Neil Young isn’t out there?

You know what I mean — from a musical standpoint. I mean, Zeppelin…every time I listen to a Zeppelin song it sounds like an orchestral arrangement with a rock ‘n’ roll band.

On the album, why did you make the decision to cover “Wicked Game”?

That was also for the live gigs. That was a song I heard growing up and I didn’t pay attention to it because I was young. But it always resonated with me. It meant something to me. The first time we played it, we didn’t even talk about it — it was a last minute decision. We needed another song to play. I just pulled it out and it was a free-form jam and it was a fun song. We do it differently live than on the album. But it almost became a part of our live identity.

Do you experiment with a lot of covers live?

We mess around. I’m not a fan of going too crazy with them. But we have a few songs that we can pull out if we need to, just for fun. We’re always conjuring up different ideas of what we can cover.

When you’re performing live, which aspect of performing do you find most important to you and to the fans?

I think the aspect of the way our songs translate and how it’s different from the album, but, at the same time, it still means the same thing. Our songs — [due to] the way that we recorded ‘Listener’ — we didn’t have too much time to play the songs out. They were recorded right after they were written. Now, when we take the songs out on the road, they become much more of what they need to be. We’re always finding new ways to change the song, but in a way that makes the song more honest and truer to its nature. People really connect with that, especially when they start going to more shows. They know they’ll be getting something different.

How was it performing at SXSW this year?

We were sick the entire time. So, that was a drag. But it was a good time other than that. I feel like it’s getting less and less about music, which is sad. It’s becoming more and more difficult for bands because everything is about being within the time frame and you have to adjust to it and really strip down what you’re doing so you’re able to get in and out of the set as soon as possible.

Have you guys done any other festivals in the US?

No, we have not.

Would you like to play Lollapalooza or Coachella or something like that?

Yeah we’re ready to do whatever is available to do.

Do you like the way your sound works in smaller venues or would you prefer trying out the larger venues?

We’re a very loud band, so we like bigger venues. We have a fair share of small venues that are awesome. We’ve had really good experiences at some very small venues. There’s a popular trend over the past two years at least — something I noticed when starting The Technicolors — everybody was trying to be smaller and be more segregated. We’re really big fans of people coming together and enjoying the music. Even if you’re a music snob or the person who just enjoys a good song — that’s something we really envisioned for us. We want a broad fanbase. Music is meant to bring people together. We like those larger venues where you have a more unique crowd. And sonically, as I said, we’re loud. We like big songs and big choruses.

As far as touring and as far as recording, what is the plan that you guys have in the future? Where would you like to be a year or two from now?

I honestly don’t know. I’m constantly writing songs. I’m always going to be the one who is ready to record another album, even right after an album comes out. We’re going to be doing a West Coast run in May and then we’re doing an East Coast run in June. As far as the future goes, right now, we want to be on the road as much as possible. We want to be in front of new faces as much as we can be. We feel we have something to offer that a lot of people don’t have.

This is my last question and I only have it because you had mentioned it in a quote and I’ve heard this from so many rock bands — why is it that so many rock bands do not want to take themselves seriously?

It’s funny because it seems like people say that and then you listen to them and that totally contradicts the sound of their music. People might say that about us too. What that comes from is that this is our first record. We didn’t want to have unrealistic expectations of the mentality of what this record should be. We wanted to be honest of where we were at and we didn’t want to make a record that sounds like we’re U2 or some crazy arena band. But we still have those aspirations. Don’t get me wrong, we put a lot of thought into everything we did, but there’s a line where you can over think.

So, like, third album, you’ll start taking yourself seriously?

Well, I guess we take ourselves seriously — not too seriously — but there’s a difference between taking yourself seriously and not overthinking things.

No, I get it. Just don’t be Noel Gallagher.

Yep!

Pick up The Technicolors’ latest album, Listener.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.