Interview with Drew Smith of THIRTY SILVER
You announced your latest release Welcome Home will be your last since Thirty Silver is disbanding. Explain the reasons the band is breaking up.
It was just time. It sounds trite, but Joe and I hit a point where we had to sit down, talk, and realize that we both wanted different things, and that it didn't make sense to continue playing music together. We had recorded Welcome Home, and we wanted to go out on a high note by putting that out before we split.
How long had you and Joe been working together? Were your differing personal tastes in music getting in the way of your songwriting, or were there different goals you had in mind?
Joe and I had been working together for almost four years; he joined a band that I'd started in 2013, then he and I decided to start Thirty Silver in early 2014. I think a mix of factors contributed to the split; partially personal taste in music, and that leading to different goals for what we wanted to do. Joe is an amazing metal drummer, and the past year or so my interests have drifted more towards more straight up rock and roll and blues music.
Were you always a fan of blues and rock while working as a musician? What rekindled your interest in it?
I grew up on the blues and rock and roll, in addition to all the punk and metal I listened to. So it was a natural inclination to go back to it. Being in a band and meeting a lot of other musicians, I got turned into artists like RL Burnside and T. Model Ford by some of them that I became friends with, and so my interest in hill country blues especially really started to spark.
Describe hill country blues and how it differs from traditional blues.
I think when most folks think of traditional blues, they're thinking of things like Delta and Chicago blues, which I love, don't get me wrong. Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, they're all great. Hill country stuff though is steadier, it's a lot more focused on the hypnotic groove and less on the chord changes. It's music that's meant to get you moving. You're looking at guys like R.L. Burnside, T. Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough, and them; dudes that weren't as famous because they didn't really leave Mississippi. But hill country and delta blues aren't entirely separate; they're like cousins, y'know? Almost brothers. I like all kinds of blues music, so it's all gone into the blender for me and I can just hope that I do it some justice.
What was the band you began in 2013, and what led to Joe becoming their drummer?
I was in a band called The Silent Order in 2013, it was more of a noise/alt rock band; Joe stepped in to do drums after the previous rhythm section, a bass player and drummer, left.
Was The Silent Order your first working band? Was any material recorded and released by them?
The Silent Order was the first band I was in that really accomplished anything. We only recorded one EP, Opportunity In Chaos, that isn't available anymore.
How many songs did The Silent Order record for Opportunity In Chaos? How many copies of this EP were pressed upon its release?
The Silent Order did seven songs for Opportunity In Chaos; I want to say we probably did like 75 copies of the EP, and people seemed to like it. We were just starting out so it's kind of hard to gauge. Some of the songs stuck around in our set list even after we started Thirty Silver; Holy Dust and Hangman's Joke, off Welcome Home, are actually two of the oldest songs I've written.
How many copies of Opportunity In Chaos were distributed to fanzines and webzines for review?
I sent out a lot of advance downloads, it's been years, and I didn't hear a lot back. It's always a grind in the beginning to get started, which is something I try to tell people when I meet new folks starting out.
Describe the songwriting and recording process of Welcome Home? Was it recorded independently or at a studio with professionals assisting you?
We recorded Welcome Home in the same space where we recorded our last few CDs, which was a converted practice space in Charlestown, Massachusetts with our friend Dave Sage, who's an amazing live engineer. We then sent the tracks to be mixed and mastered by Dan Bee out in Iowa, who's also worked on the last few CDs we've done. As far as soundproofing it so we could use it for recording that was strictly a band effort.
How much practicing and recording equipment was moved into your practice space? Will you and Joe still be using it with new bands or looking elsewhere?
We had a drum set, a rotating cast of amps and guitars, and some interfaces and microphones. I'm not sure what Joe's going to use it for, but all my stuff is out of there while I look for a new base of operations.
How many bands had their material engineered by Dave Sage? How many of your full lengths did he contribute to?
I'm not sure how many other bands Dave has worked with. He's getting off the ground with engineering but has a background in live sound, and I love that we're able to work together. Dusk and Welcome Home are the only two CDs I've had the pleasure of working on with him with Thirty Silver, but I'm definitely looking forward to working with him in the future.
Had Sage helped Thirty Silver for live performances? How often did the band get to perform?
Dave had actually run sound for us once or twice, and had hopped onstage with us a few times for a couple of Misfits covers at benefit shows. All total, Thirty Silver had just shy of 150 shows in the three years we were together. We toured through the Midwest, upstate New York, New England, the tri-state, and a few shows in the south.
Do you have any performances uploaded to Youtube or other sites? Recall some of Thirty Silver’s more memorable shows.
I don't know that we have anything uploaded to YouTube that's live, at least not on our old channel. I like to think a lot of our shows were memorable. Big ones that stand out for me are one time on tour, we were the openers for a couple of popular local bands, and we were running late from a flat tire on the road. When we got there and threw my board and guitars onstage, the next band having told us already that we could just borrow their drums and roll, I turned around and realized that the place was totally packed out. That was a good feeling. A room full of strange faces to entertain. And back in 2014, we played one of my favorite little clubs up here in Cambridge, Club Bohemia, for a memorial show to a friend who'd passed a few weeks earlier, and the energy was great; everyone was a friend, everyone was there for her memory, and it was amazing.
How many demos, EPs and full lengths were released by Thirty Silver altogether? Will you keep them posted to social media sites for streaming?
Thirty Silver managed a pretty prodigious output. We had three full-length CDs, two EPs, plus a handful of other songs. The last two EPs, Dusk and Lost Saints, and Welcome Home, our last full length, are gonna stay up on Bandcamp for streaming and download, but all our merch is sold out. People should go grab 'em.
Why did you decide only to stream your last three releases instead of all your releases?
We'd decided with our first two CDs to purposely make them limited releases, so it just seems to make sense to keep the streaming and downloading offline for them. Nothing against those two CDs, but it was a decision we made when we were recording them, and one that I'm fine with sticking to.
You planned a brief tour to support Welcome Home upon its release, but ended up doing a single farewell show. How and why did the scheduled tour fall through?
All I can really say is that a decision was made not to do that tour, and to go through with it would have felt like cheating everyone out of something authentic, which is the last thing I'd ever want to do to people.
Describe how well Thirty Silver’s final performance was received. How much word of mouth advertising went into it?
The last show went pretty well! We played with some old friends and a touring band from South Carolina that I'm friends with. The whole show was sweaty, raw, loud, and real. It was a great time. And we told everybody they should be there; those who made it, enjoyed it.
How much independent press did Thirty Silver receive? Did your farewell performance receive favorable reviews?
We got some independent press, but I never paid too much heed to how press we were getting. If folks were talking about us, great. If not, we were doing it to make music and not to get talked about, so it didn't really affect me that much. Since the last show crept up on us like it did, we didn't really get coverage on that, but the folks there enjoyed it.
Are you involved in any new projects since the disbanding of Thirty Silver? Do you plan a solo project or are you considering working with other musicians?
I’m actually working on a solo project blending blues, rock, and punk called Hidden Knives. I haven't actually been working on Hidden Knives that long. I've been turning over the idea for a while, because there were always things I was coming up with that didn't really fit into the context of Thirty Silver anyway. But with Thirty Silver splitting up at the end of June, it just seemed like the time to kick it into gear and get rolling. I'm actually still figuring out just what I want to do. I'm open to working and collaborating with people who are comfortable working with a bandleader; not everybody is and I get that. I am treating it like a solo project with valued co-conspirators.
How much do you think Hidden Knives will differ from Thirty Silver this early in its development?
I mean I think they're both going to share some serious DNA, but Hidden Knives is just a lot closer to what I'd like to be doing at this point in time. Going back to the roots of everything and updating it, playing a 21st century kind of blues. One thing that drives me nuts is that people get it in their heads that the blues needs to stay frozen in the form it had in the '50s and '60s, when the greats from those days were playing modern blues for themselves, and I don't see any good reason to be chained to staying in that same mode.
How did you come up with the name Hidden Knives? Is the band name intended to mean anything?
I definitely have a story behind the name and an intent, but I honestly much prefer that people draw their own conclusions as far as what the meaning is.
Has anyone contacted you with an interest in working on Hidden Knives with you? How much additional input would you be open to from new members?
I've actually had a lot of people step up and say that they wanted to work with me, on Hidden Knives and other things I might have in the works, and it's been really heartening. I think every musician brings something different to the table, so I'm open to input from other folks who are playing on things and have skin in the game. I think it'd be stupid not to at least be open to the possibility that somebody has a better idea than I might have.
Are the people who contacted you about joining the band experienced musicians or fledgling newcomers?
Mostly experienced musicians, folks I know through life and my own trip through the music world. I certainly won't discount somebody just because they're new, but I've been lucky enough to get offers from some folks that I love and respect who have busted their asses in music already and are great musicians. Everybody who's offered is somebody that I respect the hell out of as a musician, I'd say that's about what counts in my book.
What connections do you see between blues, punk and rock that would strengthen Hidden Knives’ sound?
Rock and punk and metal and funk, soul music, rhythm and blues, even hip-hop, have all grown out of the blues. Willie Dixon, who was an amazing blues songwriter and musician back in the heyday of Chess Records, said "the blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits", and I really find that to be true. The way I see it, the blues is like a microcosm, you can find everything in it, and everyone can find something. Even Greg Ginn from Black Flag has said that he considered what he was doing to be the blues, just his very personal blues. And that's the thing for me. If you look at it long enough, you can find entire worlds in it. Willie Dixon and the blues loom large over rock and roll. Dixon had a huge role in the success of Chess Records, whose influence is still trickling down to this day. He sued Zeppelin. He's right in the DNA of rock.
How much blues influence have you noticed in classic and modern punk? Do you see any of it in metal?
I think that for me anyway, the blues influence is there, even if there's a reaction against it by trying to avoid it completely. But maybe that's just my bent way of looking at it. But a lot of punk is the blues, to me. The "standing against the world" kind of stance, the progressions. English punk growing out of pub rock helped, too.
Explain what Chess Records is and how much material can still be found from that label.
Chess Records was a record label out of Chicago back in the '50s and '60s that was responsible for putting out a ton of great Chicago blues artists; Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Etta James...just a ton of 'em. They laid a lot of the groundwork for rock and roll. You can find almost anybody that was on Chess these days, and I'd say that if you're into rock and roll, you should dig into the back catalog there.
What is the story of Willie Dixon suing Led Zeppelin? What were the reasons he sued them and what came of it?
I love Zeppelin, but at this point it's pretty well known that they nicked a lot of things from older blues artists. Dixon ended up suing them over using some of his music and his lyrics without credit for two of their songs; it's the reason he's credited on "Whole Lotta Love" now, actually.
Is it better for a band to progress and grow on their own terms as opposed to changing to become people pleasers?
Growing and doing your own thing. Trying to please people solely for the sake of pleasing them has never, in my experience, worked out well. I'm sure it's worked for somebody though, and maybe this is why I'm where I'm at and they're where they're at! But no, I mean for me, I'd keep doing what I was doing if nobody else liked it, just because it's what I do and what I like. You have to be true to yourself first and everything good will flow from that.
Artists who grow on their own terms have far more longevity than those concerned with pleasing the people. Many musical trends and genres that became trends died out after a few years while artists not as well-known still attract fans.
I just think that chasing trends is a fool's errand. I think following a pack and sniffing after accolades and pride is a dumb way to do anything; I know people that do that, start bands and start tailoring them to be what they think people will like, and those bands inevitably end up being, in my opinion, not good.
How many songs you have written and composed for Hidden Knives so far? What is inspiring the lyrics of these songs?
Right now I've got about a dozen or so songs written and arranged for Hidden Knives. The inspiration is coming from all sorts of places. I am definitely going to wait for people to hear what I've got to say.