There are certain performances that stick with you–the kind that you still talk about years later. The first time I saw Dustin Smith & The Sunday Silos was one of these performances. Dustin Smith & The Sunday Silos was one of the first local bands I got into when I moved to Des Moines. A friend invited me to their show. They played at the Mews. It wasn’t a huge crowd. I stood right in front of the stage. After two songs, I was hooked. And halfway through arguably one of my now-favorite songs “Let’s Ride It” (free download here), I felt it. Dustin has the amazing ability to sing every song with such emotion and grit that you feel it deep down in your soul. I haven’t missed a show since–and they keep getting better!
His new album Northerner comes out December 8. Hit up the release party that night (dets here.) In the meantime, read this interview to see the long journey Dustin took to get to this album.
Band Bombshell: How’d you get started in music? Who were your influences?
Dustin Smith: Grew up with a father and mother who were active musicians. My grandma would always sneak us into the kitchens of bars or into their rehearsal space to get a glimpse of them playing. I would typically always wake up on the weekends to my parents singing songs while cooking breakfast. Watching the band, I always admired the drummer and pushed my parents to get me a drum set. They told me I would have to take a year of piano before I could start drum lessons. So I did! Kind of painful year of my mom always pushing me to practice piano. But it was all worth it.
BB: Did you always know you wanted to pursue music?
DS: I feel like it’s always been rooted in my blood and my hands. I went though that awkward stage in high school where I was busy being cool, playing football, drama, student council, singing, etc. But when I was a junior in high school I woke up and started getting serious about music. I started studying Jazz and Theory with Susie Miget and began private drum lessons again. During this time I also started teaching myself how to play guitar. Learning Bob Dylan and some Beatles covers. More just for fun, though.
BB: You moved to New York to attend The Collective. How did your experiences in New York shape you as a musician and shape your first album Summer Afternoon?
DS: New York kicked my ass. Kicks everybody’s ass. One tiny little island with thousand of amazing bands and musicians and thousands of horrible ones. Makes for a pretty competitive scene with lots of good teachers. At school I learned a lot about being a good and professional musician. I also met a lot of other players from all over the world. After hitting the practice room for 10 hours everyday, I would usually go home (like the broke starving college kid) and use my guitar as a stress outlet. Usually writing songs to get stuff off my chest. My friends and roommates picked up on my late night habit and soon asked to start playing in a band with my originals. At that point I was ready to try something new and apply some of the tools i’d learned in school. Summer Afternoon was the product of that time period. It also took us on the road and got me into a pretty cool scene of bands in NYC.
BB: Why did you decide to leave school and move back to Iowa?
DS: I had come back to Iowa for a summer to help with the death of my father. After that summer, I moved back to NY to enroll in the Jazz Department at City College. The next year was spent going through the grieving process and trying to get my band out on the road. As a drummer, I was also playing 3-4 crummy restaurant gigs a week. At a certain point of being in school, I got pretty sick of the politics and had this realization that what I was going to school for, I was already achieving on my own. In fact, it was almost a struggle to keep up with school with a busy playing schedule. I also had this realization that some of my favorite bands and singers were recording albums, living, touring, and doing what I wanted to do but in the middle of Nowhere Maine, Wisconsin, Oklahoma….. At that point I knew needed to have some rolling hills and a quieter place like Iowa back in my life.
BB: Your EP Burgess is deeply rooted in Americana and is a much different sound than your first album. What influenced this EP?
DS: Death. I feel like that whole EP is about transcendence through the death of my father. It really gave me the opportunity to put my whole life in perspective and figure out the best way to move forward. I was still heavy in the grieving process and used these songs and project as an opportunity to release some of feelings and also to meet some of the local musicians in Des Moines and get them involved with my music. Going through some of my dad’s old boxes I discovered a lot of old gospel and folk books from the ’60s and ’70s and some as early as the ’30s. I realized that this was what my father was listening to and learning about as a kid and when he was on the road for 13 years playing music. I fell in love with some of the old folklore and old gospel songs. I feel like those books and understanding of my dad influenced Burgess in a big way.
BB: You just got done recording your third album Northerner. What kind of sound can we expect from it?
DS: Northerner was a big discovery for me. It was long overdue on my part as I was really struggling trying to find a bigger sound. A not so folky sound. I had been working with the same group of dudes for a while and after a year of playing shows and trial and error, the sound of the band really started taking shape. As for the songs…..there’s 15 of ’em. Nothing really changes about my style of writing. I like writing about things that are real and mean something to me. And of course…. an album wouldn’t be right if it didn’t have at least one love song. I focused a lot on bass and drum sounds, bigger guitars, and also started messing with some horn lines. I’ve been listening to a lot of soul and old school R&B in the past couple years and feel that there could be some of that coming through.
BB: What’s your favorite song off of your new album?
DS: Favorite song…not a good answer to this question, but i’d probably choose the opening track on the album “Center Street.” Its got a pretty unique feel and was written about sad and forgotten time in Des Moines. In the 1920’s there was a lot of racism in Des Moines. There was a strip of bars and night clubs located right in the heart of downtown. These were black dominated. But these clubs were bringing acts like Louis Armstrong and Dizzie Galespie, just to name a few. In 1924 there were 2 marches of more than 3,000 KKK members storming through this strip and downtown Des Moines. Eventually this strip and all the black housing surrounding was torn down with no aid or relocation by the Interstate Highway Systems. I learned a lot of this in the historical building of Iowa and was soo moved at what little I really knew about the city I grew up in. So I wrote a song.
BB: If you could have one wish for your career as a musician, what would it be?
DS: One wish? To be rich and famous. Just kidding. I try and keep it humble. If I could pay all my bills playing my songs, I don’t know what else I could ask for. Maybe for other people to be inspired or moved by the songs. There’s been so many bands and songwriters who have totally shifted my views or helped me get through some tough situations.
BB: Why do you like the Iowa music scene? What local music are you a fan of?
DS: The Iowa music scene works together and is collaborative. It’s also a young and not so established scene. That keeps it exciting and interesting as it keeps growing. I’m a fan of anyone who plays music for the right reasons and is honest about it. Doesn’t matter whether it metal or classical. It’s hard work to be a good musician and to find your own voice. I really enjoy Maxilla Blue, Brooks Strausse, Canyons, and Paige Harpin just to name a few.