In 2011, Chicago glam-garage dude-gamines Smith Westerns impressed with their sophomore effort, Dye It Blonde, an album of lush melodies and golden guitar equally inspired by Nuggets, T. Rex, and '90s Britpop. Just out of his teens, lead singer Cullen Omori's lyrics were wistful and dreamy, replete with references to youthful love. But on their forthcoming album, Soft Will (Mom + Pop), out June 25, Cullen, his bassist-younger brother Cameron, and guitarist Max Kakacek don't sound like kids anymore.
In addition to a fuller, more synth-y instrumental palette, Soft Will's lyrics find the elder Omori graduating from lyrics of green infatuation to melancholic realizations like "I know it's hard to be alone," from shimmering album-closer "Varsity."
The band will be touring North America through the fall, stopping at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco in August and at Austin City Limits in October. We caught up with Kakacek and the brothers Omori at the chic Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn a few days before they began their tour to talk about some of their favorite things.
Cullen: When we were on tour with MGMT [in 2010], we were on a bus [through Europe]. They would have a day off or something so to make it affordable or whatever and we would play shows in between those shows on our day off — in the middle of nowhere. It would be like playing European Appalachia or something like that. Weird places. It was fun.
Max: Landshut, Germany. It's in the middle of nowhere.
Cullen: Yeah, it's in Bavaria.
Max: It's this really creepy, scary place. We played a dinner party.
Cameron: There have been a lot of good ones. There was that place in Santander, Spain outside of Bilbao. We played a family pizza party at this weird bar. That was fun.
Max: There was that time we played where we sat around all day and ate peanut butter sandwiches in the mall.
Cameron: That was in Denmark, right? In Helsingor. Yeah, we played for like three people in a garage. Playing those were definitely some favorite memories of shows.
Cullen: Sometimes [on the bus] everyone will have their headphones in listening to different music, and then we'll all start playing air instruments. Then we'll try to play them all in time with each other, like someone's playing drums and someone's playing saxophone — that's pretty fun.
Max: Yeah, or we'll make really offensive [Xbox] avatars of each other.
YouTube Magician Videos
Cullen: I like to look at all those things on YouTube that show you how magicians do their tricks; debunk the magic. I like to watch how they use misdirection to create illusions.
Cameron: Escape videos are great. Like those ones where you go like this [smashes invisible wall] and break the things open. Or you learn how to escape from duct tape with your shoelace — if your hands are tied with duct tape.
Camero We eat it a lot 'cause we're always on the road, you know?
Cullen: I think everyone's in agreement that Popeye's is probably one of the favorites among us.
Cameron: I like Long John Silver's a lot, most people don't.
Max: I remember a Burger King we went to in the middle of nowhere that was, like, the best Burger King we ever had. Culver's is good.
Cameron: Culver's is really good. Whataburger is good. In-N-Out not so much.
Cullen: I hate In-N-Out. It sucks. Ugh.
Cullen: Chicago has influenced us a lot. We write all our music there. We wait to write our music there; we don't write on the road. I used to live with Max and a couple other guys in the band, and now Max is with the other two dudes in the band, and I live down the street. It's pretty tight-knit.
Cameron: A community.
Cullen: In Chicago I feel like there's an anonymity where you kind of do whatever you want and don't have to deal with anyone influencing you. You can kind of just be alone. You can choose who you want to see there, since it's a really big city and everyone's really spread out. They're either on the south side or the north side. The north side has a lot of the DIY spaces and all the music stuff is kind of happening. And the south side is kind of where all the art kids' lofts are and stuff. We stay on the north side even though we're Sox fans.
Cullen: We're all Blackhawks fans.
Cameron: Blackhawks, Bulls.
Cullen: Well now the thing is everyone was really into Derek Rose, thinking we were going to win the Eastern Conference Finals. But then he tore his ACL, so now everyone's really big hockey fans since they're in the finals. And the Bears, we all love the Bears, except that the Bears haven't had a star player — like, at least we have Derek Rose on the Bulls and Kane and Toews on the Hawks. [Bears quarterback] Jay Cutler married . . . who did he marry?
Max: Kristin Cavallari.
Cullen: Like, what the fuck? That's gonna affect our season.
Cameron: The best part about going to that studio [Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas] is they have a lot of nice instruments. So there was a Fender Precision [bass], I don't remember what year it was, but it was real old, it sounded cool. That's what was used pretty much on all the songs.
Max: My [favorite] was this synth, this old ARP string ensemble that was used on old disco records in the seventies, and like, the Cure used it. That was nice.
Cullen: When we were recording they had all these really nice guitars in the studio, and I've always played a Strat, that's my guitar. That's the guitar I got from my dad, and since then I've had a bunch of Strats. So they had a '60s Strat [at the studio]. It was super-expensive, and that was probably my favorite guitar. There was another guitar there also that was Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar, it was a Telecaster, and his huge belt buckle had scratched a hole in the back of the guitar from playing it all the time. That was pretty cool. But not as good as the Strat.