Electronic pop trio Smoke From All The Fiction are in motion to release their debut album, Transience, next week, and they will celebrate the occasion with a big album release party at Raleigh music venue Imurj on Friday, May 11. The trio features multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Cam Gillette, guitarist and drummer Nick Cercone, and singer and pianist Nicole Cates, and Transience showcases a unique and sophisticated blending of dreamy, dark rock with thoughtful, culturally savvy songwriting. The album release party at Imurj will include three other performing bands, free food, prize giveaways, and more. Tickets are 5$ and you can learn more at the night’s Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/430265434072439/
In hype for all of this, The Poke Around sat down with the band’s producer and frontman Cam Gillette to discuss everything from musical collaboration, to growing as an artist, to facing your own inhibitions.
What about making Smoke From All The Friction’s debut album has been unique or different to what you’ve done with songwriting in the past?
Cam Gillette: So, this is the first band where I did a lot of the stuff myself, as opposed to…previously, I’d work with a group, and we’d write all these different songs together. One person would kind of lead the charge, but it would definitely be a lot of people at once. After that, we’d record it all together and get somebody to mix it. I’ve replaced a lot of the roles in that, and in this project in particular, as soon as I have an idea I record a scratch track of it, and then I’ll send it to them, and they can bounce ideas off it. So it allows other people that aren’t even in the band, other people I respect or other musicians whose opinions I really value to give me critiques. It allows me to write with twenty or so different people at once, but never actually have to leave my house or meet up. It allows us to involve a lot of the community.
And I would do the same for them, so what it allows us to do is really get invested in the tracks that we make for other people. So I really care about the albums that my friends are making, because I’ve been watching through them their entire process of writing it, from when it first popped into their head, to getting it released on the CD. And the same thing with them on my album. So it’s this weird communal experience. It was definitely new experience for me, asking for help was a scary thing for me, and trusting other people. What if they recommend me to something that’s bad, and I don’t know how to tell them its bad? So it’s been really educational, and allowed me to grow personally.
When it comes to the live setting, how does the experience differ from something like recording or creating an album? Have you played live with the current lineup yet?
Not both of them together, yet. I’ve played with both of them separately (laughs). I’ve done a smaller show with Nicole, which is piano mostly quieter. And then Nick I’ve played a couple of shows with. So I’m excited to get more people on stage.
And, well I’m a big fan of rehearsal. At rehearsal, I try to create a situation where I don’t have to focus and think about doing 10,000 things right, because I’ve already practiced it enough on my own, or with whomever else. So we run a pretty structured show, as far as that goes. I mean, there is some level of improvisation and letting your character come through. But it allows us to do a lot more things if we have a lot more planned. For instance, we have lights and things that are cued to the music. We have a whole light show we bring around with us. And we rehearse that, it allows us to use some tools that we wouldn’t be able to use otherwise.
So are you trying to expand or experiment with the visual component of your show as much as the auditory component?
To me, part of being an artist is that it’s really important that you pay attention to culture, and pay attention to your audience. Some people say, ‘People should listen to this.’ Well, they should or shouldn’t do a lot of things, but what are they actually doing? I think its part of our responsibility to understand, how can I convey the things that I’m trying to convey, say the things I want to say to this audience. What it the language that they speak? It’s kind of like learning a different language, different social cues. I call our current generation the Instagram generation, because we’re used to having so much visual feedback, we’re used to being able to see so much content, and just be wowed at any second that we want to. So, I try to include a lot of visual stimulation, as much as I can, and I’ve been adding more and more to our shows. It allows you to experience us on different levels. And incorporating technology into that as well, such as lights, lasers or projections. I think we’re wired at this point to be entertained at every second, and I think if you can see that and play on that, it allows you to still convey some bigger messages, but not one your audience. Well, that’s the goal at least (laughs).
In terms of those messages—has Smoke From All The Fiction been a fruitful outfit for you, in terms of getting the kinds of lyric or thematic ideas you want to out there?
It’s getting there, it’s been a process. I think every piece of art, from the artist’s perspective, it’s this huge thing. Because, they remember the 10,000 steps they took to get there. But the consumer, all they hear is the last step. They don’t know the context, they can’t see all the things that you thought about, or tried to do to get to that point. I guess part of being an artist is that its never quite what you want it be (laughs). It’s always kind of a smaller, shaved off version of what it is. I’ve got a million things that I need to improve and grow on. It’ll probably never be exactly what I want it to be, and that’s okay. The more effort you put into it, your expectations you find weren’t realistic, or maybe that they were just wrong, and putting these hours in over and over, you find that it creates itself in its own way.
I try not to set super strict expectations on things, because I want it to be able to evolve into something that I wouldn’t have predicted. So, there’s definitely a lot of stuff that I’d like to that I haven’t been able to yet.
I remember my father, who’s always been a musician, telling me when I was young that for most songwriters, songs are never finished. While fans are hearing the one, finalized version, an artist might really be working on it forever, always changing it.
Yeah, I heard this quote once, “Art is never completed, it’s just abandoned.” And I really try to recognize that, because it’s never going to be good enough for you, probably very few people ever get to that point. And people think things like, “Well maybe this isn’t that good,” and they don’t release them, or make sure the things are in place for them to get released. But, I think it’s important that you test it, you know? You think you’re a good songwriter? Well, write some songs and put it out there in the market, and see how people respond. And if you’re not willing to do that, then maybe you don’t think that you’re that good of a songwriter. So, I’ve been telling myself things like that. A lot of this band is putting into question things like thinking you’re a good guitarist, thinking you’re a good musician, a good artist, whatever. Whatever you think of yourself in your own head, well let’s see what the real world thinks. Testing all these ideas.
So I try to use a lot of this art to attack a lot of character traits in myself that I otherwise wouldn’t face head on. For instance, even when I as younger, I was always drawn to heavier music, more aggressive, masculine music, because it allowed me to hide from something that I was really insecure about. And now this is one of the first bands where I’ve thought, ‘I’m going to write a tender song.’ Because this is a part of me that I need to address, I need to be willing to explore and maybe entertain the fact that I don’t do a lot of things simply because I’m afraid people won’t think I’m tough or manly. Once I can write a song about it, and I can play the song live, once I can do this in my little area of music, maybe I can approach it in the rest of my life, as well. So it’s kind of like the gateway to dealing with a lot of psychological aspects of myself.
Since you bring that up, can I ask about your influences? What was your first foray into hearing or making electronic music?
It was when I was around sixteen or something, before electronic music really got popular in America. Before that, I’d gotten this program on my computer that allowed me to make little drum beats and electronic beats. And they were horrible, but it allowed me to create something. I wanted to play music really badly, and I wanted to be in rock bands. But they rarely happened, because nobody wanted to play. When you’re seventeen, finding motivated, talented people around you was not going to happen. So I thought, well I’ll just make some sounds here on my computer. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was way more than not having it. And so I just did that and over time, I realized that I really started to dig on synthesizers. I played piano when I was younger, so I had the musical background, at least a little bit of it. And I picked up guitar, because I wanted to get girls, when I was a teenager (laughs).
I played guitar for awhile, and I played mostly rock kind of music. And I gradually started adding elements of electronic music to the rock music. Because I was sort of bored with it, rock guitar, bass, drums. I mean, I could never write better music than there is for rock. There’s so much out there, and it’s been going on for fifty years, the likelihood of me creating something unique and special in that, probably not going to happen. But I wanted to make something cool and unique. So I started messing with synthesizers, because you can make sounds the no one else has ever heard, you can layer together all these wild sounds, and I thought, this sounds really, really cool, I’ve never heard anything like this. It evolved into…I stopped doing the rock thing for the most part. I mean, I still played guitar, but even then I was making a bunch of weird noises on it.
I still like a lot of rock music, for instance the band Tool was a big influence on me. When I listen to it…I was a weird kid, and I wanted music that allowed me to escape, and Tool and a lot of other music, I would just be taken away a bit to my own different world. It was an alien kind of thing, I really enjoyed the escape that it provided. But I also liked a lot of pop-punk stuff, because it was very emotional. Looking back, it was very whiny, but I was a pretty whiny kid, so it worked out.
But it wasn’t what sounds, what instruments, what notes were they playing, none of that. It was, what feelings did I get from this music? What do my favorite songs make me feel when I listen to them? I’ve really been trying to change my approach from less of a scene, theory approach. I know the musical nerd aspects of it, but let’s focus on trying to tap into creating an atmosphere and a feeling with the music. That’s the end goal.
That reminds me of an interview I read, with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. He talks about playing with some big symphony orchestra, and jokes about him describing how he wants a song to be played. The orchestra members are asking about theory stuff, chord changes and all that, and he says, “Can you just make it sound like sunlight coming through the clouds?”
Hahaha. Well, I think they’re both essential, and having a respect for both is important. Because, I play with some guys that, even if I could practice for ten years, they’ed be a better musician than I ever am. I know so many people that are disgustingly better musicians than me. But they don’t write songs. They say they don’t know how to, and they don’t want to. They just want to play music. Me, I’m not a guitarist but I play guitar. It’s the best tool to make the stuff that I want to make right now. If you can combine that respect for, ‘Hey, I need your particular skill at this particular instrument and you need my skill in creating something, or my work ethic in creating something out of nothing, or creating the skeleton for you to fill in,” having that respect where you can join the science and the art, or at least being able to switch hats, and understand that both are essential, I think it’s a required ingredient to success.
Check out Smoke From All The Fiction at their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/smokefromallthefriction/
Article by Miles Hurley
Photograph courtesy of Third Degree Photography