Smokehouse - Band Reflections

Smokehouse was crazy, man.

     Of all the bands I’ve played in, of all the musical projects I’ve involved my time and energies in, Smokehouse is probably the one closest to my heart. What can I say? It was my first band.

     The band “officially” started when I was in eighth grade, but Brad and I (and Clay, separately) had been getting together to make noise for a year or two before that. Brad and I were sort of thrown together by fate. When I was in sixth grade and he was in fifth, the music teacher at our school tapped us to perform the music for some kind of school show (along with Michael O’Shaugnessy, Brad’s cousin). It meant the three of us wouldn’t have to be on stage and sing, so we were down. I don’t know why we, specifically, were asked to do it… there was at least one other competent (and older) known drummer in our school… several piano players (I played piano for the show)… only Mike seemed to be the sole competent instrumentalist in his field (guitar).

     We went into a classroom, just the three of us, and were tasked to come up with a name for our “band.” I have no idea what we came up with, but I remember literally crying with laughter after like five minutes. That was my first hang out with Brad.

     Whatever we chose, they nixed our name, and slapped us with Nonfiction in the show program… which is kind of like a metaphor and omen for the ruckus and outrageous shenanigans that were to follow.

     Brad and I got together as friends after that and started jamming – with me on guitar now (I had just started learning, but I was picking it up pretty fast).

     Separately, starting the summer before eighth grade, I’d started jamming with Clay.

     At some point, that eighth grade year, the three of us came together in Brad’s garage, and Smokehouse was born. We mostly used Brad’s brother Sean’s gear and equipment – mics, PA, etc.

     I don’t think we played in front of anyone for at least a year. But we got together, every weekend, and we’d play and play and chill and play some more – recording the sessions onto a tape recorder – then we’d walk latenight down the country road to 711 to get cappuccinos and walk back, listening to the tape. I think this is how we started to not suck.

     Man, talk about a power trio. There wasn’t one weak link there. Each of us was so completely and utterly his own self, with such completely and utterly different and unique powers, yet overlapping in such a fluid and electric weave of connection. It was basically impossible to contain or shape the beast that was Smokehouse. But I tried my best, sort of.

     We started out playing pool parties, school talent shows, church basement dances, impromptu house parties, outdoor birthday parties… just whatever/whenever. Brad’s dad Johnny built us a portable, fold-up stage. We bought our own PA from a church yard sale. We just did it, man. Whatever it was.

     As high school wore on, I started needing to balance Smokehouse with OK Fireworks and my brother’s music, not to mention school, my own personal life, etc. Smokehouse was definitely the wildcard in this equation. I didn’t ever know what the hell was going to happen when we got together. But it always, without exception, rocked. Sacred chemistry, I guess.

     Our senior year in high school, we landed a cool Wednesday night residency at the only real bar in our hometown. That was probably the most professional we ever got. School ended, we moved away and went on to other things. Smokehouse still lives like a psycho ghost animal in my psyche; the buzz that that band generated in my guts and heart simply will never go away or stop vibing.

     I guess that’s all there is to say about that, for now.

     I miss that band.

     Unfortunately, we never quite got it together enough in time to capture any good recordings of the band. The truth of the music we made will have to stay mythical – living on in the memories and hearts of the people who were there to witness us at our best (and worst). The three tracks on the Bandcamp page (see “Associated” on the Home page) are 8-track experiments, done in the summer of 2004. I had just gotten my first 8-track, had no idea what I was doing, and we set up a Shure 58 mic in the garage and blew out four tracks in one afternoon (only two of which – “The Garden” and “Gold & Confusion” were listenable enough in quality to release, in my assessment). “Trashcan Man” came first, earlier that summer (hence the even poorer recording quality), while Clay was gone for some reason. Brad and I had formed a two-man side project spinoff punk band from Smokehouse we were calling Dedsmellyface. I’m pretty sure I wrote “Trashcan Man” that day – after we dyed our hair black with dye from CVS – and we recorded it later that afternoon or evening, our great friend Jeanne Courtney on the couch as our loyal audience.

     It’s a god damn shame, but that’s really all there is. I guess you had to be there. But maybe these half-assed haphazard 8-track recordings will suggest a spirit to you of what once, on peak performance days and nights, was the glory beast that was Smokehouse.

 

Connor Charlton

 

May, 2020