By Peter Vesuwalla
CALGARY – “Some people like to collect places they’ve been, but you can be just as happy staying where you’re at!” says Chicago-based Thompson Springs singer/guitarist Matt Smith reflecting on his recordings and riding out the hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle of the touring musician. He adds, “Some people are trying to check things off, so it’s something to keep an eye on. Like, ‘Why am I going to this place?’ But it was cool growing up. My dad’s a pilot for United Airlines, so I had some access to flights. I was pretty spoiled.”
The 26-year-old formed the trio, with drummer Jacob Bicknase and bassist Andy Giotia, two and a half years ago to record songs he’d been writing on the road, but realized he’d have to keep travelling if he really wanted to spread the music. Rather than simply compiling destinations, Smith collects stories wherever he can find them. Tastefully arranged, dreamy, sometimes mournful rock songs of fleeting love from the band’s two self-released EPs, Artifacts (2016) and Fond Regards (2017), came from experiences in places as far-flung as Australia, the Netherlands, and one from an unusual encounter in El Paso, Texas about a victim of the I-35 rock thrower, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for hurling rocks at passing cars on a Texan freeway.
“He (Ken Johnson, severely injured from a rock) was in Austin driving in his car and someone threw a rock off a highway overpass and it hit him in the face, and he still had the rock in his head. He was just a wild card. He was at our show just writing poems, and he ended up giving me one of his poems, which I wrote some music to. The song is about imperfections, like, if you see the imperfections in people, instead of seeing them as bad, see them as just part of who they are.”
On the road, Smith absorbs more bewildering stories. He’s halfway reading two biographies, one on Jon Landau, the music critic who became Bruce Springsteen’s manager and another on former president Harry Truman.
“Crazy dude,” says Smith. “A farmer for like eight years in Missouri in his 20s. (He) had nothing to do with politics until he was in his mid-30s, just a really mid-Western work ethic and values, then he has to deal with crazy decisions like atomic bombs.”
For the most part, though, Smith doesn’t dwell on politics as difficult as that sometimes is. “It’s hard to really avoid. I think it’s good to stay in the loop, but it’s lately been unhealthy to be following everything, because it’s just insane. Every day some new crisis is going on, or a crazy tweet that came out, so trying to stay involved but also stay mentally sane,” he relates.
“Lately, I’ve been doing carpentry, so that’s been cool. I think it’s good to get your mind off whatever art you’re doing so when you come back into it later you feel refreshed instead of thinking about music all day. I’ve mostly found writing the music is just putting yourself in a situation where you can make something unique. Just picking up the guitar every day and just trying random shit. Some people say they can’t write songs ‘cause it wouldn’t be unique, but I guarantee it would be because no one else is experiencing the same thing you are.”
Thompson Springs play Oct. 25 at The Palomino (Calgary).The Palomino, Thompsons Springs