May 26, 1998
by Matt Kessler
Smart Went Crazy's album CON ART (Dischord Records) was one of the most exciting albums released in 1997. They are now in the middle of a 5-week tour supporting the album. Unfortunately for us, the closest they come to Mobile is Athens, GA. Oh well, you can't win them all I guess. I'm just thankful for the album and if you have not heard Smart Went Crazy, I would recommend them to anyone from my 12 year old sister to my deceased Grandfather. Word up. This interview is with guitarist Jeff Boswell.
Q: How successful do you think CON ART is in expressing yourself? How does
that compare to your feelings about NOW WE'RE EVEN? Are you more happy with CON ART or
NOW WE'RE EVEN?
A: I think the whole band agrees that CON ART is a more successful album than NOW WE'RE EVEN. Part of this is due to experience, but also we have a new drummer and he has helped us, as well. The songs on CON ART were all written and developed as live songs whereas many of the songs on NOW WE'RE EVEN were written before we played out much. CON ART was hammered out on tours. As a result, it has a more cohesive feel and does a better job of expressing emotion.
Q: Which came first: the music or the lyrics? Which do you feel is more important?
A: The songs came in many different ways. Chad writes all of the lyrics that he sings and is constantly writing them, sometimes totally separate from the music. Hilary wrote the lyrics for CON ART. The music is often written collectively, though many times somebody from the band comes in with a single part to get things started. Most of the songs on CON ART, the music was put together in band practices and then the lyrics were added later, though they might have already been written.
Q: Who do you think your influences are as a band? Does this contrast much with
your influences as a guitarist?
A: The band influences vary depending on who you talk to, but I think everybody agrees on Fugazi as both a musical and ideological influence. Our band has an extremely wide range of influences and this has contributed to our diverse sound. It has also contributed to unfortunate clashes, as well. Chad always cites Elvis Costello, Throwing Muses, Tom Waits, American Music Club and the Beatles as his main influences. Devin and I agree on King Crimson and the Minutemen. Abram has a strong hip/hop attachment. Most of my guitar heroes are guys from the '70s and early 80's. Here are some of them -- Tom Verlaine, Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp, Andy Gill, Ricky Wilson, D. Boon, Angus Young, Neil Young and Pete Townshend. Ok, and Jimi Hendrix.
Q: On CON ART, you have two songs entitled "D.C. Will Do That To You." Are
you happy, unhappy, or both with your situation there? What do you think of the whole idea of a
scene mentality which seems to be heavily at play in D.C.?
A: "DC will do that to you" is a song about the homeless situation in DC. It is really bad here and is one aspect of why living in DC can be tough. I really like DC and its music scene though there are many aspects of DC that are really fu*ked up. It has tremendous disparity in wealth, as do many large Metro areas, and the inner city lower income situation is basically out of hand. DC does not have a state government to interact with like NYC, Chicago or Los Angeles. People here commute in from Virginia and Maryland, earn the big bucks at law firms etc., then go home and pay their taxes to Virginia/Maryland. The tax base for DC is pathetic and shrinking fast as inner city residents flee to the Maryland/Virginia suburbs. The Federal Government is in charge of keeping DC afloat and you know how convoluted that can get. DC's suburbs are consistently among the top 5 richest counties in the nation while the city itself is in total disrepair and debt. When our national school systems are ranked, DC's schools are ranked at the bottom, just above Puerto Rico. With all the money around here, you would think some of it could help the kids of this city! I could go on and on about this stuff.
On the other hand, the music scene around here is very involved with the community. There is a local organization called Positive Force that holds benefit shows giving proceeds to local charities and organizations concerned with helping those in the city that otherwise are underfunded. We played a Positive Force benefit last night at a church downtown. I had to flee a few over-zealous homeless people just to get into the church!! The night before last Positive Force hosted a show at the Black Cat with Girls Against Boys headlining. Fugazi has raised over one hundred thousand dollars for Positive Force over the years. In this respect, the scene here is really good.
Q: You are about to embark on a 5 week tour; are you looking forward to the
tour? Do you generally enjoy touring? Is there anything that sets this tour apart from other ones?
What are the best things about touring? The worst? Any funny anecdotes?
A: We are all looking forward to the tour, though it has been a lot of work getting it set up. We all work full-time jobs and it is tough marrying a full-time job with a touring band. The best thing about touring is that you get to be a professional musician and you can forget the daily grind. Playing shows every night is one of my favorite things to do in life. It really hones your skills on your instruments and you get to constantly play for different people - many of which haven't heard us before. I really enjoy traveling too, though it can get overwhelming, especially when the van breaks down or a show falls through. Some of our members like recording more than touring but for me, touring is the boss.
Q: If you could introduce one band to all of your friends who would it be and
A: The Bill Bruford, John Wetton, Robert Fripp era of King Crimson one of the best bands of all time. They are all such amazing players - soloing while playing within a song structure - unparalleled stuff.
Q: Are there any particular things about CON ART that you particularly like or
A: I really like the way it moves from song to song; it really turned out well this way. The songs were written over a 2 year period and we were concerned that the album wouldn't be very cohesive. We are all very happy with the way it turned out, especially considering the very limited budget we were working within.
Q: Are you guys more friends or band mates? Do you think that Smart Went Crazy
operates more as a band, as individuals playing together, or as a happy compromise between the
A: All of the above. Some of our songs have come from the band as a whole. Sometimes more from an individual. Chad works very much on his own in terms of the lyrics aside from Hilary's songs. We work as a happy compromise as often as an unhappy one! Sometimes we are a happy family, sometimes it is a dysfunctional one. Kim Coletta got us started on the dysfunctional family metaphor. I think a lot of bands fall under this moniker. Our band works so hard that we don't hang out much aside from practice, recording, touring, or local shows. Actually Devin and I are close to being best friends.
Q: What do you think of music criticism on the whole?
A: I am not opposed to it though it can get too self-important. Sometimes I wish I could hear music made by some of the critics!
Q: Please list your Top 10 albums of all time.
A: Oh no! Ok, I'll have to cheat a bit - in no particular order: 1. Television - Marquee Moon; 2. King Crimson - Red/Starless and Bible Black/Larks Tongues in Aspic (this should be a triple album); 3. Buzzcocks - Singles Goin Steady; 4. Beatles - everything post '65; 5. Neil Young - After the Gold Rush/Harvest; 6. Elvis Costello - My Aim is True/This Year's Model/Armed Forces; 7. Wire - Pink Flag; 8. The Velvet Underground; 9. The Jam pre-'81; and 10. The Minutemen.