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Smile Downplays Manifesto Destiny

Pop music Band members warn against fashioning a 'statement' from lyrics on new CD.

November 24, 1998|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Within months, Smile had graduated to a major label, signed by Atlantic Records, which reissued "Maquee" in mid-1995 and sent the band off on several tours, including slots opening for Everclear and Silverchair. "Staring at the Sun" got airplay on modern-rock stations, and Smile stayed on tour for more than half a year.

But the Cinderella story hit a pumpkin patch when Atlantic, as often happens with large record companies, went through a management shake-up. The people who had signed and promoted the band were either gone or moved to other jobs, and Smile wound up having to work with an artist & repertoire executive they felt didn't understand the band.

"Girl Crushes Boy" was recorded for Atlantic in 1996-97, but, discouraged by delays in the process, Smile's members asked to be released from their contract. Being set free gave them time to re-record three excellent songs they were dissatisfied with--"The Best Years," "Too Many Reasons" and "So Different Now"--and to add an additional track, "This Freaky Slow Dance," that reflected the band's frustrating experience with Atlantic.

The new album broadened Smile's approach, adding synthesizers and organ for extra color, and deftly varying guitar tones to help lend a sense of complexity and allow songs to flow and develop rather than being locked into static riffs.

Among the sources echoing through various songs at various times are Sonic Youth and Pink Floyd, the taut, austere attack of English post-punk band Wire, the aggressive-yet-lilting pop-rock of Matthew Sweet and the heart-on-sleeve emotionalism and hefty punch of Foo Fighters.

Smile auditioned for other big labels after leaving Atlantic, but decided that the courting game could consume another year or more without an album coming out. So it returned earlier thisyear to Cargo/Headhunter.

That could present further business uncertainties--the San Diego label is negotiating a new deal for distributing its releases--but Smile felt that, after a four-year gap between albums, it was time to get back into circulation.

Keeping the Day Jobs

"The smartest thing for us to do right now is concentrate on California and the West Coast," Rosas said, rather than try immediately to reassert the national presence the band enjoyed three years ago.

The band members aren't giving up their day jobs. Thomson, whose credentials include backing Stone Temple Pilots front man Scott Weiland in his mid-'90s side project, Magnificent Bastards, and, more recently, playing in John Doe's band, is a graphic artist.

Reeder sells advertising for an Orange County magazine group that caters to pet fanciers. Rosas is rock 'n' roll's king of caffeine, having developed a side career working the counter at coffeehouses: He has completed a trifecta of sorts over the years by working for the Renaissance Coffeehouse chain, Starbucks, and Diedrich Coffee, including postings at the Tustin Marketplace and Fashion Island that allow him to keep tabs on the mall culture he can't seem to help decrying in his songs.

"My first job ever was as a butcher's assistant, which lasted only two days," Rosas said. "There was a coffee shop down the street [from where he lived] in Irvine, that I wanted to work at because this girl I liked worked there. I just got sucked into that wild scene."

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* Smile, Pseudo Cipher and the Killingtons play an all-ages show Saturday at Room With a Brew, 13120 Philadelphia St., Whittier. $7. 9 p.m. (562) 693-2739.

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