Interview with Smoke Signals

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Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, metal band Smoke Signals released their debut full-length album, ANXIETY, today. Catching up with Britton Shrum (clean vocalist and guitarist) for the band, he opened up about the unique writing and recording process for ANXIETY and also talked about the dark, but relatable themes that are found throughout the tracks on this new release.

For those that don’t know, how and when did Smoke Signals form?

Smoke Signals initially originated as an internet project in the fall of 2013, but after Rob Bollig (bass) and myself (Britton Shrum, guitar and clean vocals) moved to Little Rock, AR in January of 2014, we decided to make it a live band. We had previously played in another national touring band and decided to pursue Smoke Signals full time.

Coming from Arkansas, has the local music scene influenced Smoke Signals in any way and if so, how?

I would say a little, at least in the beginning. On our first EP, we were a lot heavier and we wrote music that we were hoping people would want to go crazy to live. The scene here is very hardcore and slam influenced. Though subtle, we had a few of those influences in the beginning. Over time we have gravitated towards more of what we grew up listening to. ANXIETY is very inspired by Deftones, Killswitch Engage, and Meshuggah. All bands that Rob and I grew up listening to, as well as some of the other members.

Your debut album, ANXIETY, comes out September 12th. How long were you in the studio for and what was the overall writing and recording process like?

Writing this album was definitely interesting because unlike most albums, there was no pre-production process. We wrote in the studio, the relationship we built with Simon Pettiford (producer) was very unique. He really wanted to push the sound of the album as far as we could, considering this was his first “big project” in terms of recording a full length album. So, we actually wrote about 36 song skeletons in the studio before we picked our favorites and then finished up the ones we liked the most. All in all, we were in the studio for about 8 months. Half way through the album process, our vocalist at the time (Hayden Valentine) was dealing with some very serious health issues and he just couldn’t do it. Hayden had decided to step down as our vocalist for the time being to focus on his health. After trying out quite a few people to fill his spot, it became clear that we weren’t going to find anyone quick enough to finish the album before our deadline. So, Hayden decided to step back in as our vocalist to at least finish the album. There are definitely a few themes on the album that have to do with the entire situation. After our tour in January of 2016, it became clear that Hayden wasn’t going to be able to continue with us due to his health. So, our good friend George Rich stepped in as our vocalist and he has been doing absolutely amazing.  

What inspired the artwork for ANXIETY and does it tie into any themes that can be found on the album?

I actually do all of the designs for our band [and] I really struggled with trying to create artwork for this album. I wanted something that looked appealing and approachable, but it needed to have the depth that the album has. To me, the albums over all theme of depression and the effects that it can have on a person, needed to be a big theme for the artwork as well. Crows represent death and the woman seems to be falling which represents the plunge into darkness that depression can take you to. In total, I made eight different pieces of art for this album and this one just seemed to resonate with everyone the most.

Since this is the debut album from Smoke Signals, did you feel any pressure during the writing and recording process or feel like you had certain expectations to meet with this album?

Honestly with this album, the biggest pressure was to make sure that we were writing what we genuinely wanted to play. With our EP, we were really focused on the current trends that had been happening during that time, which wasn’t a good idea in our opinion. With this album, we didn’t really pay attention to trends. We didn’t want to recreate something that someone else had already been doing. We wanted to dig into our roots and make a piece of music that meant a lot to us and seemed diverse compared to other current bands. We knew it had to have depth, dynamics, and we wanted it to be relatable. The album is also very diverse, and touches on a lot of themes of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety as well as some songs that have much more personal experiences. At the end of the day, we just wanted to make an album that we were proud of.  

Being a part of a music scene that is over saturated with talent these days, in what ways do you think Smoke Signals stands out from other bands in the genre?

Speaking personally, I feel that Smoke Signals stands out from the rest because we aren’t afraid of being “real”. We talk about things that are personal to us and we bring as much energy and emotion as we can into our music. Many bands these days will just throw some lyrics on top of their riffs and they are just vague enough to appeal to the masses. Carbon copy bands that don’t have any real emotion behind them and more and more bands coming out that just want to sound like the band before them. No one is pushing the limits and that is a really sad thing in my opinion. If you see us live, you shouldn’t expect to see five people on stage standing still, just playing their songs. You should expect a lot of energy and a lot of movement so don’t plan on standing still. Our simple paragraph “bio” says it all:

“Smoke Signals is metal band from Little Rock, AR. Blending a wide range of influences to create a refreshing vision in a genre becoming known for it’s cliches, Smoke Signals seeks to bring something to the table that is heavy, catchy, raw, visceral, emotionally charged, and above all else…REAL.”

What are your plans for the rest of the year (in the studio, touring, etc.)?
September 15th – 18th we will be doing a short run through Texas. Also, we’re working on being out for 18 days in December. Probably scatter some shows out between now and the end of the year as well. We’ve already started pre-production for the next album and we hope to start tracking that at the beginning of next year, at the latest. We basically just plan on staying as busy as possible.

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Their debut album, ANXIETY, is out now!

Interview by Rachael Dowd

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