by Robert Bell
Little Rock trio The Tricks just released its debut full-length. Members Gabe Smoller, Alexander Jones and Jason Griswold recently sat down for a chat with Times intern Abigail Nixon about recording their album, their favorite venues and the logistics of long-distance collaboration.
Can you give us a brief history of the band? How did you all meet and how long has the group been together?
Gabe Smoller: Alexander lives across the street from me, we’ve been best friends since we were like 14. We started playing music together just about as soon as we met. We kept in touch [and] decided to take it seriously after we both graduated. Our first drummer left right around the beginning of the summer, actually. Jason moved in here in November and just did us a huge favor and jumped in as a drummer. Jason’s a fantastic drummer, which works out… he’s just kind of like a local legend.
So this new album is your first one. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process? Did y’all have anyone local that came in or was it all self produced?
GS: It was all three of us. We kind of arranged everything and played all the instruments. We did it over at Jason Tedford’s studios, Wolfman Studios. It was the most fun we’ve ever had.
More after the jump.
Alexander Jones: Yeah, we got it done really fast, honestly.
Jason Griswold: It was a span of two weeks.
AJ: Drums were first.
GS: Jason, on drum day, was hysterical. He was just a fuckin’ machine.
JG: It was like, six-and-a-half hours.
GS: And then Jason hung out in the studio though, like the rest of the time. He would come in the studio when Zander and I were doing our tracks and he would just sit and listen to the drum tracks and just be like “You guys got a machine in there? That sounds perfect!”…like a real smug asshole…
JG: But I wasn’t being serious.
AJ: It’s 12 songs.
Ok, well what do you think of online music sales? Obviously you’re not opposed, cause you had your stuff streaming and now you’re selling it online.
AJ: People can make their own decisions about distribution. We have friends from college…that are not going to buy a CD… That’s the good thing about the internet. I guess I don’t agree with the ethos of “I wanna have physical copies of everything,” but some people really like it and really prefer it.
GS: Yeah, and some people really like album art. Honestly, our album does look really cool and it’s kind of worth paying for it for that. I’m down with breaking even. If we don’t lose money on it, then I’m pretty happy.
OK, going back to album art: Why Abe Lincoln?
GS: That’s a big question! We seriously got a lot of shit over it last night! One guy thought it was George Bush…
AJ: Frankly, to answer the question, we kind of stumbled upon it because really, the origin was a show poster.
GS: We needed a public domain image
AJ: And none of us are really well versed in, like, crafting a poster…
GS: As demonstrated by all of our posters… but it has worked to our favor. I like having that recognition, like Abe Lincoln wearing glasses equals The Tricks. I think the shitty explanation that I tried to attach to it after the fact has to do with how much I like the anachronism of Abraham Lincoln wearing goggles that obviously did not exist at the time he was president… and that’s somehow saying something about us negotiating these different time periods of music or something like that.
AJ: We’re really, really influenced by 1860’s folk.
Tell us a little bit about your first album. Is there a central theme?
GS: For a while we wanted to try to make it sort of conceptually centered around this fictional entity named Marjory. And at some point we had decided it was about murdering Marjory, but I don’t know if that’s really where it ended up. I don’t know what to do with a song like “Newspaper Sluts,” when you attach that narrative to it.
You guys have been compared to some pretty big groups in these recent reviews that you’re getting, is there truth in the comparisons?
GS: The Pixies are probably, like, all of our favorite band.
AJ: We all have a lot of shared favorite bands so it’s kind of like, when you play music you learn by listening in a lot of ways.
GS: We’re a three piece, and we play guitar, bass and drums. So what can we get away with doing that? The Pixies are the ones that we just sort of end up channeling.
Let’s see, here’s a big one. How do you define success?
AJ: For The Tricks? Let’s see… I think that we’re having a really good time. So that’s success. And also it’s nice not to lose money when you’re making music, ’cause it’s expensive. We’re successful enough to have people enjoy it.
GS: Have fun and not spend money on having fun.
AJ: I want people to like it — that’s success. The best part about it, I think, is stuff like last night. We played for a ghost town up in Eureka Springs.
GS: Yeah, there might have been like 10 people there. We played for three hours, and we just started taking requests of songs that we had never played together.
AJ: It was a really cool venue too. I’d like to plug The Squid and The Whale ’cause that place was so cool…
GS: It’s in a cave! And it’s pirate themed! All of the gear, all of their microphones and cords and shit are kept in a treasure chest. They have pirate punch and there’s a shark hanging from the ceiling. It’s awesome.
Well, what is your favorite place to play?
JG: I really like playing at Smoke & Barrel in Fayetteville, but I lived in Fayetteville for like five years… second is White Water, really.
GS: White Water also just has the most “cred,” you know? I feel like I’m playing in front of more strangers at White Water. I mean I love playing for my friends and stuff but they’ve all seen us a million times. And there’s always that sneaking suspicion that they’re just up there out of obligation.
AJ: I think mine is probably actually Vino’s. If it’s a good night, and there’s a packed house.
GS: Also their new sound guy is fantastic.
AJ: The cool thing about Vino’s is that it’s just so…
GS: It’s legendary!
AJ: Yeah. Well, it’s old school, and it’s kind of a weird room, and there’s always, like, glass breaking up at the front, drinking pale ale.
GS: Eating pizza…
How has living in Arkansas or the South influenced your music, if at all?
GS: I’ll say this: I never would have had the balls to try to take a band as seriously as I’ve taken it here when I was living in New York. I mean in Arkansas, or Little Rock, I guess, it’s an exclusive music scene. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but there’s always something going on. If you want to go see a show, it’s there.
JG: It seems kind of easier to do things here just because it’s so small. My experience in Portland with the few bands I was in up there was really different. It was a lot fun, and we did make some money, and yeah, we did have a lot of fun playing up there and we played with a lot of great bands, but there’s just so many people up there that it was really hard to get recognized. And if you’re in a band in a larger city, there’s gonna be twenty other bands that sound just like you.
Did you guys grow up with people playing music around you? I feel like there are so many people in the South that play music, whether they’re in a band or not.
GS: Zander’s dad is a drummer. My mom is a flautist. My brother is an oboist. I’ve been playing violin my whole life.
JG: My dad and my uncle played guitar in a band, like in the late ’70s and ’80s.
GS: [To Alexander] Your dad has been playing since, like, the ’60s.
AJ: The cool thing about Arkansas and especially Little Rock is that the people are generally helpful. I mean, I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but after the show it’s like “Hey dude, let’s do it again.” People are kind of loyal to bands. They’ll go see shows again and again. I mean, in Fayetteville for example. It was the first time we’ve played there… we find out that the PA blows in Eureka, and the sound guy at Smoke & Barrel goes out of his way to try to find us a PA, at a different venue in a different city.
GS: There was nothing in it for him. And then the random guy who doesn’t know our band at all in Eureka Springs hooks us up with a microphone, a mic stand, everything we need to make this little show in Eureka for 10 people happen.
AJ: So that, I think, is something that might be unique.
GS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so nice.
What do you guys do when Alexander is off at school?
AJ/GS: We write stuff.
How does that work with one person so far away?
GS: Well, the way it works is that one person writes a song and then sends it. It’s not even really a collaborative thing until everyone gets back… One person takes the initiative, gets inspired to write and record a demo, and then it becomes a full band thing.
AJ: I mean, if we’re writing while we’re all in the same zip code, it’s a lot more collaborative. And it kind of changes the sound, which is interesting.
Do you guys have plans for touring outside of Arkansas any time soon?
AJ: We got an offer from St. Louis that we got at this show last night. We’ll see what happens. We’re looking at Memphis, that’s kind of the logical place to do it.
JG: If we were to do a tour, our next one would probably be just a regional tour.
Final question: What are your long-term goals for the band? What does the future hold for The Tricks?
AJ: Well, we don’t know.
GS: We don’t know at all.
AJ: That’s the beauty of not really know what the fuck we’re doing in the first place.
GS: I’ll say this though: everything that we do, that’s happened to us, feels like progress, a step in the right direction. I’m just kind of along for the ride, really.
JG: That’s the way I feel about it, too. Basically I think what we’re gonna do is just keep on doing what we’re doing and just see what happens. That’s pretty much all you can do, really.