The four members of Dayton’s own Smug Brothers are hanging around Kyle Melton’s kitchen on a cold February afternoon. Inside one of the small rooms that have been designated as the office, the Beatles come blaring out of the computer stereo speakers. Deep, raw cuts, along with some of their usual hits flooded over the entire house. The group is awaiting local photographer Jay Woessner as he will be updating the bands press photos today. In only a few weeks away the Smug Brothers will be releasing their latest album Woodpecker Paradise, and the band has their hands full. After photos are taken, the band plans to practice some of the new material. Woodpecker Paradise reunites Smug Brothers with longtime producer, and former member, Darryl Robbins.
As I took off my coat, and placed it in the living room, Melton asks if I would be interested in having a beer. “We have high brow beer, and non-high brow to choose from. Feel free to pick whatever,” he says to me. I choose the non-fancy beer, which is Genesee-one of bassist Larry Evans’ favorite selections. Having known that Evans enjoys Genesse, I also have drunk the beer before and became a fan of it also. I make mention to bassist Larry Evans that he is partially to blame for my appreciation of the beverage.
“Really?” says Evans with a shocked look. I explained to him that I took a case over to a get together over the past summer. I received a mix reaction from the party goers when I arrived-ranging from some that were enthused to know that I knew what the beer was, to outright ribbing because of how cheap you can get it.
“Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Evans, ever so kindly says to me with compassion written all his bearded face.
The conversation between everyone jumped around from topic to topic. Baker begins talking about a recently purchasing an amp that now has been blown out. Even though Baker claims it’s pretty old, Melton makes mention that he may know some people that could possibly repair to amp. The discussion then shifts to how the popular 80’s television show Cheers opener has a longer version to it online, and it’s actually good. Baker’s girlfriend declares that she wants to make a trip over to Ghostlight Coffee, and would like to know where it’s located.
Within a half hour or so at being at Melton’s house, Woessner comes to do the photo shoot. The first location was inside the small kitchen. Woessner flips and fluffs the curtains some to block some of the light reflected in. After the photos were shot in the kitchen, everyone is directed outside. The band stands in front of an old, decaying structure that closely resembles a barn. After the shooting of the new pics was finished, we moved downstairs to where the band practices.
As you walk a little farther into the basement area, you stumble upon the recording equipment placed on a table, with a cushioned couch placed beyond it. Stacks of cassettes are laying around behind the boards. The few demo cassettes that sit on the table are just the tip of what Melton has. He has archived most of the demos of his early bands, including a jam band he was part of in 1994-1996 titled Critical Mass. “I have hundreds of tapes of every live show we did (laughter),” says Melton. This space is also where most of the Smug Brothers are recorded. In the beginning stages of recording, Melton and Thrasher will lay down the basic tracks with demos on a four-track cassette machine, then pull from the best songs. With Woodpecker, Smug Brothers went to the studio to lay down the tracks with the whole band together for the first time as the new lineup. While the end result is a more polished album, the band’s mid-fi sound that their fans have come to love stays the same. Smug Brothers follow the Bob Pollard blueprint of quick songs but tight in structure. Much like Pollard, the finished product is also a perfect blend of catchy guitar riffs and vocals, and Thrasher’s fantastic work on drums.
The members of the band take their spots within the second area of the basement. Stone walls encase the practice vicinity, and colored LED lights hang loosely on the beams above us. The space isn’t made for tall people like myself and Evans, as we had crouch down some while walking around. Luckily for Evans, though, he has a spot where he can stand somewhat normally. After mic checks from Melton and Evans are situated, the group begins to torch through songs of Woodpecker Paradise.
Going into the tenth year of existence, it’s amazing to see how Smug Brothers have blossomed into what they are today. The duo of Melton and Robbins were in the rock group Montgomery Greene at the time when they begin what would be Smug Brothers. The plan was to be a recording band, and nothing more. The duo released their first album under the Smug Brothers moniker Buzzmounter in 2005. A couple of years later, Robbins and Melton went back to work on some new material. They enlisted a local musician to do some of the drums for the new music who had runs with legendary local bands Swearing At Motorists and Guided By Voices. Robbins and Melton loved the drummer’s style, and were eager to include him into the project. That drummer turned out to be Thrasher. With Thrasher getting involved, Smug Brothers started to take off.
Since then, the group has gone through various lineup changes, with departing members going to other projects and ventures. Jason Short, who played with Melton in Montgomery Greene, played two songs on Fortune Rumors. When the decision was made to start playing live, Marc Betts (also from Montgomery Greene) and Baker joined Smug Brothers in 2009. In 2011, Betts left the band. The group had a small sabbatical for a short time, back in 2012. Smug Brothers had recorded On The Way To The Punchline with Robbins, but the members got tied up in other things. Melton and Thrasher were heavily involved in setting up another Dayton Music Fest. Baker was playing in a couple of other bands around the area. The band’s bassist Shaine Sullivan became heavily involved with the purchasing of what is now Canal Public House. When Melton and Thrasher wanted to get the band rolling again, Sullivan bowed out. Evans hopped onboard shortly after, and the rest is history.
The week of the album release party I join Thrasher and Melton for drinks at one of our favorite meeting spots. It’s always a pleasure to sit with two of the pioneers that will be engraved in the history books of the Dayton scene. Much like the day of the photo shoot, our conversations bounce around with ease. Melton and Thrasher talk about how with the latest lineup, they feel that it’s fresh. “I feel like we are just at the tip at whatever this band is going to be able to do,” Melton says. “The four of us are at a pretty good page.”
With everyone being excited with the release of Woodpecker Paradise, Smug Brothers have already been setting their sights on getting some new music rolling. Melton and Thrasher have already laid down some tracks, while Baker and Evans are beginning to get their parts put together. Smug Brothers would love to quickly release as much material as they can. “I just want this songs out,” Melton says enthusiastically. “We can sit here and work on them, pick the best ones…do a thousand different things. At the end of the day, why? Let’s go with our gut. What sounds good? Is that right? Great. If its not, say no. Redo it.”
“We are still making up for lost time, too,” Thrasher added. “And we love to make songs. So it all feeds together.”
Like most of the times we get together, our conversation bounces around. Melton mentions that he would love to take the trip around the United States and see the open land sometime.
“Got to do it at least once, man,” Melton says.
“Probably better when you’re younger (laughter),” Thrasher quips.
“True, but you see I would have perspective, be able to appreciate it more,” Melton responds back.