All this week, Behind the Setlist is previewing Volume, a music festival in Spokane, Washington that features 100 artists in 10 different venues across two days. Our Spokane team will be on the ground May 31 and June 1. Until then? We are listening to as many artists as we can, previewing those who turn our ears.
Pro Tip: Check out the official Volume Spotify playlist for a taste of every band.
Smokey Brights @ Lucky You Lounge on May 31
There may be no more appropriate name for a band than Smokey Brights. Like the trendy (and tasty) hazy IPA beer, the name suggests a contradiction is taking place, or in the least, misdirection. Smokey Brights boasts a swelling, multidimensional sound of ’70s-infused rock, disco and funk. But the real magic happens in the empty spaces between the notes, the breaths between the bass drum and the bass line, the fading echo of a well-placed guitar lick, the haunting reverb of a vintage synthesizer. These are the moments that make you realize you’re dancing. You’ve been dancing the whole damn time.
Based in Seattle and fronted by husband and wife Ryan Devlin and Kim West, Smokey Brights has developed into one of Seattle’s most exciting acts. Behind the Setlist recently chatted with Devlin and West over email. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Smokey Bright has such a fun, rich sound that seems to borrow elements from every decade of music. Is it fair to say that the ’70s are a primary influencer?
That’s a fair characterization, yes. ’70s rock and roll, funk, and disco records are huge for us. We’re definitely not trying to be a “throwback” or “retro” band, however. Smokeys just try to make the best tunes we can. Melodic, ’70s-tinged rock and roll is just what naturally comes out when we play together as a band (maybe it’s Ryan’s mustache). We’re also obsessed with funky ’70s fashion (Kim is the queen of jumpsuits, as you may discover if you follow us on Instagram.)
Really, we’re eclectic listeners and try and draw from the best of every era. We grew up in Seattle on grunge and ’90s radio rock, which is also a big part of the Smokey DNA. We just love good grooves, big hooks, and songs that hit you in the feels, no matter what era they come from.
“Hell of a Run” has that type of bass line that makes me believe in rock n’ roll again. Any insight into where that song came from?
Some songs you labor at for months, or years, and some songs come fully formed. We wrote “Hell of a Run” in pretty much one sitting on December 21st, 2017, which happened to be the Winter Solstice.
“Hell of a Run” is a love song about taking risks together, making scary leaps into the future hand in hand. We had quit our full time jobs earlier that year. We were working part time, touring more, and pouring ourselves into our music in a bigger way. It was kind of a moment of transformation, or awakening for us. This song came out out of that: taking a mutual risk together with no assurances it’d work out. “It’s like crossing a river, you can see one stone and trust your toes to find the next one down.”
A love song would seem like the most obvious type of song for a couple of songwriters in love to make, but it’s surprisingly difficult when you’re co-writing to talk about your own relationship. We’re thankful this one came pretty much fully formed.
Also, glad you like that Luke Logan bass line. It’s a ripper.
What’s your favorite song to play live right now?
We have a song from our latest EP, Different Windows, called “Living it Up.” The chorus explodes live. It’s like a sucker punch. We go from quiet and vibey, to big and rockin’ on a dime. We love watching the way people react and move their bodies to that beat. That’s where the magic is for us, the live setting where you’re introducing a song you made in your basement to people who are feeling it in a real physical and social way.
What goes into the making of a great setlist?
A big deal for us is trust. As a performer, you have to earn it from your audience. If you start your performance out too aggressive, too sentimental, or too sleepy, you run the risk of loosing the listener right away. If you stay too static and predictable, the audience will get bored and tune out. If you’re too wild and unpredictable, the whole experience can be confusing or even alienating for the listener.
A set tells a story. We have a lot to say in our story, so telling it in the right order really matters for us.
If a Spokanite stumbles across Smokey Bright at Volume, what kind of show will they see?
At our set, a Spokanite will see:
A fabulous vintage Kim West outfit.
People in love doing what they love.
Sweat (a lot).
Any plans for a new LP?
Yes, the new full length is presently in the works. We’re writing like mad and are doing preproduction with a great producer here in Seattle. We plan on getting into the studio this summer. Expect new material soon.
These songs are the best we’ve made yet, without a doubt. We’ve been touring, pouring ourselves into the writing, and really sharpening up our sound. We really feel that this record will be something special and we hope folks connect with it. We hope it brings joy. (We could really use as much of that stuff as we can take right now.)