During this winter's "snowpocalypse," I traded emailed questions for answers with Sidney Hauser and Natalie Barry, sax players and driving forces behind Seattle's modern jazz combo SmackTalk, about their new five-song release. Servin' It Hot is available digitally on March 7, and the release party is that night at Conor Byrne in Ballard.
Formed in 2016, SmackTalk makes party music for smart people. Their jazz chops fuse with funky soul and indie rock energy for a brand of modern music all their own. SmackTalk also is one of several New Cool favorites attracting a younger audience than that of traditional jazz acts.
Barry told me, "Jazz qualities are absolutely appealing to younger listeners, because everyone likes to emotionally connect with the music they’re listening to. I think that jazz tonalities are particularly good at doing that. There’s nothing that says that the jazz scene is only inclusive of people that are hip to complicated chord changes and fast, intricate lines...but jazz influences are exploding and showing up everywhere."
"We really can’t be confined to one genre," says band leader and primary songwriter Hauser. Pointing to her bandmates' diverse qualities, she explains, "we also have other musical interests that bleed into how our music sounds....hip hop and neo-soul (keys player Ori Levari), prog rock and indie rock (Barry), jazz fusion (drummer Luca Cartner), and even avant-garde (bassist Kelsey Mines)."
A important recent addition to the band, Emma Horton, sings with soulful beauty on Servin' It Hot's lead single, "Beams." A music video for the song has just been released, and Hauser says Horton is "like the element we had been missing." One of two collaborative compositions, keys player Levari "introduced this really cool foundation of neo-soul chord changes that we built everything else off of and Emma Horton fit right in the pocket," Hauser says.
As for the video, Hauser tells me, "we thought a music video on "Beams" would be super palpable for our audience too, since having some vocals out front makes it a bit more interesting to a broader audience than just our jazz nerds."
The video's director, Austin Fields, cuts between the band in a basement performance and day-in-the-life scenes of band members with large cards around their necks reading "Survival of the Richest," "Paycheck to Paycheck," "Good Career," etc. It's a bit reminiscent of Dylan's famous "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video, but tells a modern story of fighting against the ecomonic identities we're given by society.
While Horton's vocals are compelling on "Beams," the rest of Servin' It Hot is instrumental, driven by the alto and tenor saxophones of Hauser and Barry interwoven with the rhythm section. Barry says that while "saxes definitely lead the band musically, and that definitely comes through even on the vocal charts, really there’s intricate musical lines and interesting harmonies happening in every section."
As nearly all albums, in my opinion, SmackTalk's new release is a representation of what the band can really cook up live. For this young group, those live moments often occur at house shows, private homes without stages so that the distance between audience and band is at a minimum.
Hauser says, "people come up to the front and really engage with the music way more than a bar gig or a venue with a stage...the last show we played was very crowded and cramped. People were literally seeping into the foyer where we were performing, but that just made it even more fun. Someone could reach out and play a note on the keyboard if they so desired. And so be it!"
Barry agrees wholeheartedly, adding that as a bonus, "house shows are also super useful for connecting with other bands that are also making really cool music."
Needless to say, I highly recommend catching SmackTalk live. With the new EP release, you have a few opportunites coming up this month. Tonight, you'll find SmackTalk at Skylark Cafe in West Seattle. The official release party is next Thursday, March 7, at Conor Byrne Pub in Ballard. That show includes opening sets from their friends in Palatine and the Dylan Hayes-Xavier Lecouturier project DX-tet.
For those of you curious about SmackTalk's house shows, they're performing for "Hot Yoga" on March 22. The address will be released the day of the show, and Hauser adds, "please be respectful of the space and people who live there."
You'll hear the new EP recording of "Beams" on The New Cool this Saturday afternoon, and you can check out their live KNKX studio session version now:
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.