Next Big Things 2011: Smith Westerns

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Smith Westerns, shot for SPIN in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 4, 2010 / Photo by Mads Teglers.
WRITTEN BY
Jessica Hopper

Home sweet home: Chicago
Expect: Baby-faced lo-fi assassins, all grown up, sorta
Must hear: Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum), out now

Reviled as much as they're revered within the Chicago rock scene for their precociousness and fast start, Smith Westerns may have cleaned up their sound, but their impish attitude remains intact. "I'm so tired of being described as 'bratty' or, like, 'scrappy,'?" says Cullen Omori, 20, frontman for the band he began with his little brother, bassist Cameron, 19, and guitarist Max Kakacek, 20, three years ago as high schoolers in Chicago. "If we were a bunch of fucking 'tards, we wouldn't be doing what we are doing at the level we're on."

Tug-ging on a lock of his long black hair, Omori makes plain that being in this band is their life: "We don't really do anything -- listen to music, write music, practice music, and talk shit. About everyone. We don't have any hobbies."

Like Redd Kross and the Replacements before them, Smith Westerns began as puerile garage punks, but scrubbed of the scuzz-fi husk that defined 2009's self-titled debut, they were revealed as pop savants, slouching toward early-'70s guitar bliss -- ghosts of Marc Bolan and George Harrison tangle heavily with Omori's teen ennui on the quartet's sophomore album, Dye It Blonde.

Led by earwig first single "Weekend" and its boys-about-(boring)-town video, Dye It Blonde is a clear bid to break out of the basement, but Omori insists that their newfound clarity is merely a result of the album being made in a proper studio with a producer. During a year of heavy touring -- as handpicked openers for Girls, MGMT, and Florence and the Machine -- the band got a glimpse of what the next level looked like and are interested in an upgrade. "Opening sucks," says Kakacek.

Adds Cullen Omori, "When it's some 13-year-old girl with her head down looking at her cellphone or some dude from the Jersey Shore there laughing at you, it's like, 'Fuck you, asshole, these tickets were 40 bucks -- we are getting your money.'?"

He pauses. "Even if it's, like, a penny per person."

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