If you haven’t already immersed yourself in Dojo Daze, the new single from S.J. Smith, stop what you’re doing and go listen to it now. The track is a brilliant blend of indie-psych sounds, perfectly showcasing Smith’s songwriting capabilities.
So fresh off the track’s release, we caught up with the artist himself for a run-down on some of the artists that helped shape his unique sound.
With an amazing new single fresh under his belt, we caught up with S.J. Smith for a run-down on 5 artists that helped shape its sound.
I’ve been a huge fan of Cloud Control since first hearing the Dream Cave album back in 2013. That album was massive for me, it was around the time I started trying to break away from the “folky singer-songwriter” mold I’d set myself in during my teens. I was beginning to loosen up a bit and write more freely, and more importantly, learning to have fun. Dream Cave really helped with that. On the surface, it’s this fun and catchy alternative / indie-rock album, but if you listen closely, from start to finish, there’s so much subtle cleverness hidden in both its composition and production. I could probably dedicate an entire essay to it, but instead, I’ll just say: if anyone hasn’t given that album a close listen, it’s definitely worth it.
I’m going to confess that I wasn’t one of those musicians who listened to cool music as a kid. I didn’t have any hip relatives with eclectic music collections, and I certainly didn’t listen to Talking Heads until my late teens. One of my lecturers actually got me on to David Byrne’s book, How Music Works, which I think is around the time I started digging deeper into his music. Since then Talking Heads have been one of those staple go-to bands for me – one that I can chuck on when I don’t particularly feel like listening to anything. They just have that magic energy that pulls you in, no matter what mood you’re in and makes you wanna smile. I actually think it was my producer, Robin, who pointed out that Dojo Daze had a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, with the syncopated rhythms and random percussive elements… so I just kinda leaned into it and decided to make those percussive bits a main feature.
I’m probably one in a million musicians who have been influenced by Barnett. I don’t think my music sounds much like hers, but her songs have definitely taught me a lot about writing. I was actually introduced to her whilst working the mixing desk at a sideshow she did up in Brisbane, years ago. I worked at a little cafe / bar run by the band The Grates, called Southside Tea Room – from time to time they’d invite amazing artists along to play these cool intimate shows, and I had the privilege of mixing the sound. I hadn’t listened to her music at this point, and I remember just being in awe of her lyrics, and the way she delivered them. I went home that night and listened to all of the Courtney Barnett I could find. Since then I’ve been trying to work out how she seemingly effortlessly spins these truly honest and sometimes mundane thoughts into lyrical brilliance… still haven’t figured that out though.
These guys are a favourite of mine. I got sucked into that Twilight Driving track like everyone else and had it on repeat for weeks. Oh Inhuman Spectacle was a huge album for me too, it was released at a time when I had just started writing again after a very long break, and I’m so glad I was introduced to it when I was. It’s another album with these subtle genius moments hidden all throughout, and also their sound is just so unique. They’re the sort of artist where if someone asks you to describe what they sound like, you’d be better off just playing a track and letting them work it out. I really envy artists like that. I guess these guys inspired me to take a tiny step outside of my comfort zone, and start sculpting a unique sound of my own. I’m not there yet, I don’t think so anyway, but these days it’s always on my mind when I’m writing.
Bowie’s 2016 Blackstar is nuts. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of that album. It’s so eerie and chaotic, with these grand and triumphant moments scattered throughout it. Bowie’s music has inspired me in a lot of different ways over the years, but this album in a different way, it actually inspired me to pick up the saxophone again for the first time in 6 or so years. The sax parts in Blackstar contribute a lot to its overall vibe, especially the first few tracks. I used Lazarus to practice on and just played those smooth caramelly swells all through the song. I’m not even slightly close to the skill level of Donny McCaslin and his ensemble, who play on the album, but it’s safe to say that Blackstar got me in the mood for playing saxophone on Dojo Daze and the rest of my album.
Dojo Daze is available now. Listen here.