Interview: April Smith

ilona pamploma sits down with April Smith of the retro-pop band April Smith And The Great Picture Show …

April Smith and I caught up at Archetypus in Edgewater N.J., for a long overdue catch-up session. After a night of nachos, a vegetarian Mediterranean platter, and blackberry tea, we reminisced on old times and what we can expect for the upcoming year.

We first met in 2005, when we bonded in Asbury Park’s local music scene over our mutual interest in local artists and thrift shops. Since then, she’s gone on to open for major music acts and opening Lollapalooza in 2009. 2010 brought her track “Terrible Things” not only a new music video, but also the song for Showtime’s Weeds Season 6 teaser. You may also recognize her voice in this summer’s Colgate Wisps commercial and in an NFL women’s wear commercial featuring Alyssa Milano.

Ilona Pamplona: My goodness, April, you have had a great year! I know I am missing some 2010 accomplishments –what are some other highlights?

April Smith: It has been a wonderful year, thanks! We’ve gotten a lot of love from radio. “Colors” was NPR’s Song Of The Day back in February and I was featured on All Songs Considered, previewing our Newport Folk Festival performance. In April, we competed in A Prairie Home Companion’s Battle of the Bands at NJPAC (the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark) and won, which really helped launch the album. This great radio station, Spokane’s River in Spokane, Wa., really gave us a lot of support and added the music. We’ve been to Spokane three times this year, and the fans and supporters there have treated us like family. The New York Post, Paste and Esquire hare just a few publications that have mentioned us as a band to watch. And we’re on the best-of-2010 lists for Amazon, Paste and more. It’s been really fantastic.

IP:Our friendship totally started over the mutual appreciation of Jimmy Gnecco/Ours. Loveletterboms, your first album, was very alt-rock. The new album that the masses are familiar with has a completely different sound. How did the switch occur?

AS:It wasn’t a conscious effort — I just started writing differently. I think my lifetime influences, like Big Band and Swing, really started seeping in to my writing. It started with “Wow And Flutter” and I remember thinking, “My fans are not going to like this.” So I played it at a show and everyone really loved it. I stopped worrying about whether people would like the new songs and just started playing them. It’s really a departure from the old sound, but I think that every artist should evolve. That’s what you hope for.

IP: Songs For A Sinking Ship‘s genre is not so easily definable. You’ve been invited to Lollapalooza and Prairie Home Companion. How do you define your new sound and who do you see yourself playing with in the future?

April Smith And The Great Picture Show's retro-pop sound is loved by everyone from local fans to TV ad editors.
Photo: Eric Ryan Anderson

AS: I call it Retro-Pop. It’s swingy, it’s upbeat and poppy, but it’s really not entirely mainstream. I think people have a hard time explaining what we sound like. And to me, that’s great because I know we don’t fit into any one genre. I could see us playing with bands like Fanfarlo (who we toured with back in February 2010), The Avett Brothers, Old 97’s, Dr. Dog, Jenny Lewis, She & Him, Regina Spektor. I think we fit well with artists who create their own sound.

IP: Dan Romer of Ingrid Michaelson fame worked with you on the new album. What was it like to work with him?

AS: Working with Dan was great. It was all very laid back and we recorded most of the album in his basement. When I tell people that the album was recorded in his basement, they never believe me. I’m really happy with the way it sounds.

IP: You’ve spent a lot of time on the road recently with a band full of guys. What is van/road culture like, and how did you manage sharing so much time with all that testosterone?

AS: My bandmates are bunch of amazing guys, so going on the road is always a good time. [Bassist] Stevens is our resident foodie, specializing in pickles and jerky. [Lead guitarist] Marty [O’ Kane] is our comic relief and uke-shredder and [drummer]. Nick [D’Agostino] is our bookworm. So, it makes for an interesting combo. They’re so sweet and funny so — it’s always a pleasure to go on tour with them.

IP: Is being a vegetarian easy for you on the road? Do you have any suggestions for other touring vegetarians?

AS: I also eat salmon and some other seafood, so it’s not too hard to find a meal on the road. And with Stevens on board, you know you’re going to discover the best cuisine that every city has to offer. But I think that it’s hard to eat healthily on the road in general when you’re a touring band at our level. I’d suggest picking fruit and vegetables at those rest stops instead of fast food or junk food. Cheese is so hard to pass up, but if I eat an apple with it, then I won’t eat as much, and I’m eating some fruit. Trick yourself if you have to.

IP: Was there a city that was the best/worst when it comes to vegetarian-friendly places?

AS: We’re usually not in any city long enough to explore much. But I’ve been to Portland a handful of times, and there’s this great hotel called the Jupiter Hotel. They have the best veggie sausage breakfast biscuits I’ve ever had. And I’m a big fan of coffee, so Portland never lets me down in that department either.

IP: Your Facebook status updates were pretty funny when you were on the road — from commentaries on Steven’s flatulence to requests to perform exorcisms on your tour buses. What is your favorite and least favorite part of being on road?

AS: My favorite part of being on the road is seeing the fans again and finding out what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. My least favorite part of being on the road is being away from my family and friends, especially during the holidays. But this past Thanksgiving, we were in Spokane, and Kristen from KEZE invited us to her family dinner. It was honestly the next best thing to being home.

IP: I read about bands who have pre-show rituals before hitting the stage. Do you and the GPS have any rituals?

AS: I used to watch The Royal Tenenbaums before every show a few years ago. It would just put me in the right frame of mind. Now, I don’t really do anything. Maybe I should start a new ritual this year.

Performing live at Lollpalooza '09.
Photo: Eric Segal

IP: Many moons ago, we went to a show at the Knitting Factory when the venue was still in Manhattan. We were in the basement room and Paul Rudd was there for the headlining act. I’ll never forget — we were giddy like two school girls. Since then, you’ve gone on to meet Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, interview Gaslight Anthem for, sing with Matt Pinfield for a Weezer concert, even chit chat with Vincent D’Onofrio backstage at a sold out Florence and the Machine show (way jealous!). Do you ever get starstruck? Anyone in particular you loved meeting? Anyone, you are hoping to meet?

AS:I was pretty starstruck meeting Rita and Tom. And having Vincent introduce Matt and I was really incredible. I try to be respectful because I’m sure they get swarmed with fans all of the time. Before Christmas, I saw Rufus Wainwright on the street in Union Square, and I wanted to tell him he is beautiful. But I immediately thought better of it. I met some truly amazing people at PopTech in Maine. I met people that are using technology to make positive changes in the world — they are the REAL rockstars. I’d love to meet Richard Branson someday, too.

IP: It’s interesting because now a days — people are really looking to meet you. I heard you filled a 500-person theater in Washington the day after Thanksgiving — and you were the only act on the bill. Surely, this was no modest task. Did you expect such turnout?

Photo: Eric Ryan Anderson

AS:We really had no idea we would sell that many tickets on the day after Thanksgiving. It was such a success due to the hard work of Kristen Kurtis at KEZE and Wayne Larson, the promoter we worked with. They worked so hard to make sure everyone of our fans out there knew we’d be at the Bing Crosby Theater that night. The fans who came out to see us really made it on of the most amazing shows we’ve ever played.

IP: You have thousands of friends on your Facebook fan page and Twitter pages, many of which ask you to play not only all over the country, but all over the world. How does that make you feel?

AS: It’s great to know that people from all over the globe want us to come play for them. I sometimes feel badly because we still have not toured outside of the U.S., and those fans are getting anxious to see us. I think sometimes they feel that we don’t want to come to them, which is certainly not the case at all. Hopefully, we’ll do some worldwide touring this year and that will change.

IP: In our time knowing each other, we’ve spoken a lot about vision boards and power of the laws of attraction. If we were to create the April Smith And The Great Picture Show 2011 wish list, what would we find on it?

AS: I think you’d find late night TV and Ellen on our wish list for 2011. I also think some touring in Europe and U.S., more licensing and a spectacular video for “Colors.” which I think will be the next single. I’d also like to be working on the next album by the end of this year. But most of all, I’d really like to tour with some other great artist.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.