"We never would've put this many acoustic songs on a record. [But] no one has accused us of getting old and getting soft yet," said singer/guitarist Kyle Melton.
Earlier this year, Columbus-via-Dayton indie-rock act Smug Brothers released Attic Harvest, a crowd-funded album that offered rewards for various levels of contributions. At the highest donor level, the band promised to record a personalized song.
“We will give you a list of titles to choose from, you pick the one you like, and we'll write and record a song for you!” the GoFundMe campaign promised.
“After the fundraiser was over, I contacted [the funders] and said, ‘Would you like an acoustic song or an electric song?’ And they picked,” said Smug Brothers singer/guitarist Kyle Melton. “I would give each person a list of five titles, and they just picked from the list of titles. So they had no idea what they were getting.”
Melton described this collaborative creative process as a form of “chance music,” in which an element of a piece of music’s composition is left to chance. “Instead of prescribing what to do, you just basically roll the dice and see what happens, and that's the result,” Melton said. “So instead of me picking what songs to do, let random people pick titles and see how that goes.”
A few of the songs had been sitting around for 10 or 15 years, and others Melton had recently written. But all the donors had to go on were titles like “Lazarus Ambassadors,” “Statistical Dream Cat,” “Genie Flipped My Stitch” and “Horseshit Trivia.”
“The guy who picked ‘Horseshit Trivia,’ he's one of our die-hard fans. He's over in Liverpool, [England]. I sent him the list of tunes … and he's like, ‘Oh, I absolutely want a song called ‘Horseshit Trivia,’” Melton said. “I'm glad you can find people in the world that understand how fun that is and just want to go for it. That's all we're trying to do with this stuff — to have some fun."
After the release of Attic Harvest, Melton assembled all the requested songs together and realized they could actually form a complete album. So after getting permission from the donors, the band compiled the songs onto new record All Blur and Spark, which Smug Brothers will celebrate with a release show at the Oracle on Friday, July 26.
“It definitely made me reevaluate what I do,” Melton said. “We never would've put this many acoustic songs on a record. If we put two acoustics songs on a record before it was like, OK, we're getting kind of soft. When we were putting this together I kind of worried about that. But the response so far has been pretty favorable. People dig it, and no one has accused us of getting old and getting soft yet.”
Attic Harvest and All Blur and Spark also document a band in transition, with members leaving and others joining. Since 2008, Melton and drummer Don Thrasher, a onetime member of Dayton legend Guided by Voices, have been the driving force behind Smug Brothers, but fellow guitarist Brian Baker (Brat Curse) and bassist Larry Evans became integral members of the band for about four years, beginning in 2013. When Baker and Evans moved on during the writing and recording process of Attic Harvest, Melton and Thrasher persevered, finishing the album with Melton on bass and adding Scott Tribble on guitar and keys.
Melton, who moved to Columbus from Dayton in 2015, also recently recruited Kyle Sowash to join the band on bass; the release show will be his debut performance as a Smug Brother. And Melton is also taking the reins on recording, laying down new Smug Brothers tracks with the band in his Berwick basement studio; the band currently has a batch of about 33 songs it plans to whittle down for release later this year.
“I have a background in recording engineering from way, way back, and I hadn't used it all these years ’cause it's easier to pay someone to do it,” Melton said. “But necessity is the mother of invention.”