Go West, Young Man: An Interview With Smith Western’s Cullen Omori

Max Kakacek, Cameron Omori, and Cullen Omori

Originally Published In The Daily Free Press on 10/19/11

Indie-rockers Smith Westerns made a splash early this year with the glam-rock influenced Dye It Blonde, the young band’s second album. Hailing from Chicago, the trio embarked on a world tour that saw them festival-hop, headline gigs and play in support of indie-heroes such as Arctic Monkeys, TV On The Radio and Yeasayer. Before the band can return home and get some needed rest, they’re playing a final show at BU Central this Saturday with Camp Island (Doors at 8:30pm, show at 9pm). In anticipation of the gig, lead-singer and guitarist Cullen Omori spoke with The Muse’s Music Editor, Lucien Flores, about songwriting, touring and brotherly love.

Lucien Flores: Smith Westerns have toured in support of Wilco, Girls, MGMT and are currently touring with Arctic Monkeys. Who were you most excited to share the stage with?

Cullen Omori: Our track record as far as supporting goes is a dream. For some reason the coolest touring bands ask us to tour with them. For me, touring with MGMT was the best experience. Those guys, in my opinion, are one of the best current bands going; the most forward thinking and inventive.
LF: What was the “oh sh*t” moment when you realized that Smith Westerns could become your full-time job? Once you hit that moment were you confident with everything else that was to come?

CO: I don’t know if there was an “oh s*it” moment as much as there was a “what the f**k?”. After Dye it Blonde came out we went on a full US headline run playing small 300 cap clubs thinking there would be no one at the shows. A year before when supporting the debut we had played some of these venues to no one. But once the rooms started selling out it was kinda like what the f**k, really? Are these people really all here to see us and sing along knowing the lyrics? I’m honestly surprised that it connected with people to the extent it has and no wave of confidence has ever came out of it. I still worry about shows and whether or not I can write good music.
LF: What has been your proudest moment as a musician? Was it playing Lollapalooza, touring the world or achieving recognition from a musical hero?

CO: I don’t even know. This year has been great. Meeting people that in high school I would listen to their music religiously and have them come up and say they like the album is surreal. Being from Chicago, playing Lollapalooza was definitely a big deal for us; the support we get from the fans in Chicago is amazing. Going from playing 5 times a month at basement shows and at venues to 40 people in 2008 to playing to like 7,000 plus or something is great.

LF: Smith Westerns are playing at Boston University on October 22nd. How did this show arise and what do you expect from the audience? How do you enjoy playing college shows? Any favorite places to go to/things to do in Boston?

CO: Hmmm. We got an offer, and we like college shows. College kids usually love new music and I think they’re less jaded as far as appearing that they’re into the music. I’m never in Boston long when I’m there. We played Halloween there last year with Florence and the Machine. I told the crowd it was our last song and they let out the biggest cheer of the set. Hahahahahaha.

LF: Over the last year it seems like Smith Westerns have added more synths and pedals to the live act. What’s it like having a lot more to experiment with? What piece of equipment are you most excited about?

CO: We added a lot of extra gear because people like to hear the band closest to record as possible. It’s impossible to sound just like the record because it would involve like 10 musicians on stage so we try to compensate with our pedals and extra synths. I love delay pedals.

LF: What’s in store for the future of Smith Westerns? Have you started writing any new material? What do you hope the next album to sound like?

CO: Our touring comes to a halt after this show so Max and I are planning on getting another apartment together to work on the next album. Not much has been written just because touring makes you stressed and your mind is always occupied with something, which makes it hard to write.
LF: Could you tell me a bit about band’s songwriting process? I’ve read that it is rather intensive; does this make it harder to write on the road? I’ve also read that when you’re home in Chicago, you like to hole up in your house to write and decompress. What about your home makes it such a work-conducive environment?

CO: Being at home or anywhere where you’re not rushed is crucial for me as a songwriter. Chicago is great because in the winter it’s so cold that you have to hole up in your house. That’s when Max and I usually do most of our writing. It’s kinda ironic that people think our music is so summery when we write most of it in the dead of winter. Usually when we write, we write fragments of songs and then collage them together [during] a period of who knows how long, sometimes a week sometimes a couple of months.

LF: What are the best moments on the road? What places do you enjoy visiting most?

CO: Getting a day to [lie] in my bed all day. San Francisco is our favorite place to play on tour. We’re most familiar with that city, more than any other place besides Chicago and maybe New York.

LF: Obviously Smith Westerns have a pretty young – indie – fanbase, but how do you feel knowing that you’ve got fans well above their 40s? Does it encourage you to know that these people were the same that dug the musicians you’re influenced by?

CO: It’s all good. I want our music to appeal to everyone. We’re just making music that we want to hear.

LF: Let’s say there’s a Cullen Omori Music Festival. Who are your headliners and what band do you forcibly reunite?

CO: Just Smashing Pumpkins original line up.

LF: I’ve seen interviews in which you mention Oasis as one of your influences on Dye It Blonde.  Oasis is also infamous for the tension between brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher.  How are you and Cameron able to separate band/work issues from family life? Was it weird at first having your younger brother in the band?

CO: I hate Cameron.

Interview With Zach Carothers & Cullen Omori - Click For Full Size!
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