No one said growing up would be easy. When the members of Smith Westerns released their self-titled debut, all three were teenagers, leading critics to spend as much time talking about age as they did the quality of their songs. “We were tired of the fact that every review would use some dumb [description] like ‘youngsters’ or ‘ramshackle,’ frontman Cullen Omori says.
Throughout last year, the Chicago rockers toured in support of their infectious lo-fi effort—a scenario that forced the band to grow up fast. “I think that [for us], the first time I was ever on my own was also the first time on tour,” says Omori. “You go from being in school and at home to being on the road, being at a bar every night.”
Opening for veteran indie-rock acts including Belle and Sebastian, Girls and MGMT, Cullen Omori (vocals), Cameron Omori (bass) and Max Kakacek (guitar) grew up musically, as well, returning to the studio with a more mature perspective. “When we signed with Fat Possum, they wanted us to make more of a record that was like the old [one],” Omori says. “But what we wanted to do was make something that was super-produced and super-layered … and show off that we can really write songs and play our instruments.”
The result is the glistening Dye It Blonde, an accomplished record from a band still refining its sound. After abandoning their lo-fi philosophy, the Omori brothers and their bandmates embraced influences like John Lennon, Big Star and Oasis for their new sound. “I think we try listening to the most popular, big bands—we’re not trying to find obscure bands,” Omori explains. “It’s why the big bands are popular—because their songs are great.”
In replicating these large acts, the Smith Westerns have made it clear that they’re no longer starry-eyed adolescents.