Tweenage band Smoosh rocks Seattle scene
Seattle Times staff reporter
An hour before the band took the stage at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard, word was already spreading that the drummer from Smoosh had pulled a total rock-star move.
Some pre-show rowdiness had led to a gash below her right eye. Yeah, it hurt, and yes, it would require medical attention, but she was there to play a show and the stitches could wait.
Never mind that she is 10 and got the injury while horsing around with her bandmate/sister; Chloe and Asy, 12, don't need to play through the pain to earn their cred.
Their two-girl band, Smoosh, has played the Showbox so many times they've lost count. They've got an album and their own fans — and they've opened for Pearl Jam. They've achieved preteen what most bands spend years trying to do.
"(Smoosh) aren't even teenagers yet," Rolling Stone said last year, "but their pensive lyrics, minor chords and forlorn melodies give their music the sound of moodier artists twice their age."
And yet here they are backstage, two tweens giggling wildly at nothing in particular, hopped up on excitement, wearing Converse and jeans — and just a little lip gloss for Asy — having an absolute blast.
It's not about trying to become famous. For Smoosh, it's about playing music and having fun.
"Sometimes we're pretty wild," Asy (pronounced "Aussie," short for Asya) confesses as she and her sister begin their pre-show ritual of taking flying leaps at each other. "It's just fun to be onstage and stuff."
Asy and Chloe are the eldest of four little blond girls from North Seattle. Their mom, Maria, is a doctor; dad, Mike, is getting his Ph.D. in pharmacology and chaperones the girls at their gigs.
Mike and Maria support their daughters' burgeoning career but keep a sharp eye out for potential problems. Pushy parents like, say, a Lynne Spears or a Joe Simpson, these folks are not.
"That's not something I aspire to be," Mike said, laughing. "A lot of people wonder if there are these crazed stage parents behind them, and I think that's a valid question."
They try to protect the girls by withholding their last name and what school they attend, but Mike acknowledged the privacy may not last long.
"If it's fun and it's positive, it's good," he said. "The girls have been so level-headed about all of this."
With Asy on vocals and keyboard and Chloe on drums, Smoosh serves up accessible indie-pop tunes. The girls have been compared to bands like Quasi and Le Tigre, with maybe a little Tori Amos thrown in — not so much the similarly young and blond family trio Hanson, though little sister Maya, 8, is learning to play the bass.
"I love their sound," said Jason McGerr, drummer for Death Cab for Cutie. "I think it's so innocent and at the same time kind of fierce."
Asy writes Smoosh's songs, with lyrics that come to her while tinkering on the keyboards she's been playing since she was 5.
"I always just liked to play, so I don't know," Asy said. "I just think of songs that sound good and I don't really think about it."
The band started when Chloe was taking drum lessons from McGerr at the Seattle Drum School. McGerr learned of Asy's songwriting and encouraged Chloe to play along, eventually helping the girls record a few songs.
"It was just a really fun and great thing to send the girls home with music that they were playing," he said. "I got a glimpse of the future these girls could have."
Thus was born Smoosh, a name the girls made up because they were listening to a lot of Smashmouth. Their first gig was at Cloud City Coffee in the Maple Leaf district.
"We were so nervous," Asy said. "We played, like, two songs."
But bigger venues were down the road, and now Smoosh regularly plays with such big names as The Presidents of the United States of America, Jimmy Eat World, Visqueen and MxPx.
They're scheduled to appear at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, in March, following a six-city West Coast tour.
They signed on with Seattle-based Pattern 25 Records and last summer released their CD, "She Like Electric," named after the hair-standing-on-end effect they got rolling around on their trampoline. During recording, they needed a break, so they did what any band would do: They went outside and climbed some trees.
And of course, with the album came notoriety, with profiles appearing in Spin Magazine and on NPR's "All Things Considered."
"I was really excited to be known more and have T-shirts and CD's and stuff, and be a real band," Asy said. "But I don't want to get big-headed, so it's cool, I guess."
The CD has sold about 5,000 copies so far, and the girls don't yet have any plans to record another. What money they make goes toward touring costs, with the leftovers going to the girls to spend as they choose.
"We didn't want the focus to change from the music to moneymaking," said Mike.
It's all in keeping with the what-feels-right Smoosh philosophy, which seems to be practice when you feel like it, have a great time at the shows — and quit when it's not fun anymore.
"Some of my new friends think (the band) is really cool," Asy said, "but they don't realize that I think it's pretty regular."
"Yeah, it's kind of old news," Chloe said.
But not to their fans. Paris Green and Max Sutton, both 12 and from Seattle, were digging the fact that Smoosh are their age at a recent show at the Showbox — a truly all-ages show, where elementary-school kids mingled with adults. Green and Sutton left their clot of friends to speculate on the band's success, and to figure out how they might pull off something similar.
"They're talented," Green said. "I'd like to talk to them because, like, you could ask them questions about how they became what they are."
"I think it's inspiring," Sutton added. That's just the kind of reaction the girls' parents want.
"The success ... has given the girls the chance to do a lot of fun things," said Mike. "I would hope [their music] motivates other kids to get out and do their thing, whatever that may be."
Green and Sutton's discussion of Smoosh's story spun into talk of guitar lessons and just how long it might take to become a band. But they'd missed their chance to ask the girls, who were already on their way home.
They had a lot of homework to do.
Lisa Heyamoto: 206-464-2149 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company