Wes O’Neill and Ryan Rhodes
Blues rock? Check. Psychedelic rock? Check. Phenomenal musicianship? With these guys, it’s all there...
Now add to the pot funky soul grooves that hark back to days gone by yet with a contemporary twist, expanded production value and you have the new album “Rise and Shine” from the three piece hailing from Nashville Tennessee in SIMO. After a long time on the road in 2016 SIMO entered the studio in early 2017 with a clear vision for their 3rd record which expands upon what has come before and ventures excitedly into new sonic territory. Prior to playing an emotive incendiary show at the recently revamped Borderline in Soho London at the start of their European tour we caught up with vocalist and guitarist JD...
Stylistically, “Rise and Shine” is very different to your previous album “Let Love Show the Way”. How did that come about?
“It was natural evolution. We weren't that far into last year when we started to be dissatisfied with ourselves kind of creatively. Once we got out from promoting the last record we realised we were evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the band from an artistic standpoint, not from a musical one and our hearts were always in the right place, but we wanted to try and do something different. You know, we were gone 300 days last year, travelling, playing shows and over the course of that we met lots of people, saw lots of things, read lots of different books, watched new and old movies, got turned on to lots of music and inherently that ended up influencing a natural evolution.”
Some of the songs such as “People Say”, “Shine” and “Light the Candle” featured in your Planet Rock Roadstars tour set last year. Did road testing songs have an effect upon the writing of the album arrangement wise and how you wanted it to sound?
“Oh sure. Where we could we would try to play them live but sometimes it wasn’t necessarily possible. When we got home in January we spent a whole month just the three of us alone at my house to flesh out all of the material which was a pretty extensive process. The whole month of February we were in the studio, then March and April we mixed the record so it was a long process. All parts were really exhaustive but you have to get a good performance. In some cases we would get one real quick and in other places we didn’t - like with ‘Meditation’ that we probably played 30 something times until we got the feel that I was looking for. You can arrange and produce all you want, but you still have to get a good performance down.”
You produced the album yourselves - the production value is higher and different with each song, it reminds us of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with the level of production being that detailed, what went into it?
“Well man thank you, it was a lot of work and that’s a hell of a compliment! Definitely the detailed sonic imprint of bands like Pink Floyd, The Alabama Shakes last record which I love, D’Angelo’s Voodoo, oh God, there was a whole host of them that influenced. This wasn’t from a want to make a record like any of them in particular but wanting it to be very detailed and clever. I guess that takes a lot of time and experimenting to try and find what you’re after. You know, that stuff can get very distracting so you have to stay on point for each song individually. Making the record over a 4 month period, 4 solid months where that was all we did, playing no shows in that moment really helped. The first bit is to get the material right, rewritten if needs be, in some cases 10 times over to figure all of that out. As we’re doing that we’re taking production notes of what we wanted them to each sound like. When we got into the studio we actually tore the studio down after every track and started from scratch each time as we were very specific about how we wanted it set up and what we wanted to accomplish sonically.”
You started with a fresh studio set up for every track, that sounds like fun!
“Yes, that sounds cool right? Every musicians dream right? In reality it was extremely tedious spending 5 or 6 hours getting the sound of a different song EVERY day, that was exhausting, especially for the engineer that worked with us Donald Bates. You have to stay focused on the task at hand and not worry about the next one but be willing to chase down little rabbit holes as sometimes you find cool stuff that way. At the same time it was exhilarating though because once we got about halfway through we saw we hadn't used the same sounds twice, it was working and we were happy with it, it was like ‘OK, we can do this’.
Can you share any specifics of the production techniques you used, not to give away the magic and all...
“The way everything vocal wise, guitar, drums, bass were treated on every single track was different and we hope you can really hear that. The track that opens the record ‘Return’ is a good example where initially I wasn't really happy with the vocal sound. Dylan our sound guy was out in another studio putting up a microphone, I went on the talkback like ‘Yeah, take that one down and put up that one…’. Then I heard the talkback come through the monitor ‘cos it was up real loud and it dawned on me ‘That’s what I want, that’s the vocal sound’ ‘cos I didn’t want it distorted, I wanted it thin. So our engineer figured how to use the talkback mic on the console and I just leaned over the console and sang the song. Sometimes you just have to allow accidents to happen.”
Lyrically the album is very strong, thematic and clearly very personal. Was it a challenge to write that way?
“I went through a lot of personal problems that had been mounting over a long period and it came to a head where I finally had to deal with it. It’s me just talking about me and it’s a little uncomfortable but then again unless you really know me, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s something that I’ve never done before. You reminded me that when we last spoke I said ‘music’s at its best when it’s used for therapy’. I would hope that others can find that but it’s not up to me and we just hope that people like it.”
Your live gear must have changed from when we last spoke due to the nature of the album; the simplicity in your previous setup was quite inspiring…
“Well you’re gonna hate me now brother! It’s been a big challenge and luckily we had months to figure it out with a little bit of touring in America that was specifically done so that we could figure it out. We had to experiment with how to replicate the sound and vibe of the album, how does it work sequence wise live and we didn’t want to waste the first 20 shows of a tour working that out. We’re pretty much at a point now where we’re really comfortable in how to represent the album as best as we can but man, it was a pain in the ass to get there!”
Critically ‘Rise and Shine’ has been very well received, how has the evolution of SIMO gone down with fans and audiences so far?
“We haven’t had much interaction with fans and the audience as yet to truly get how they’re taking it in - that’s what this and other tours are about. In America the thing that’s been really interesting is that there’s press outlets that before would never of touched us because of how we were kind of aligned with other artists. You know, the blues rock guitar hero thing, not that I have anything against that, but we’re playing what we want to play and just doing what is in our hearts. Whether we’re like those others is irrelevant, yet this time there’s a wider welcoming to us which is opening a lot of doors back home as we’re being looked at in a very different light from before as a band that’s simply making music and that’s really refreshing. So far the reviews have been great but I try not to pay too much attention to all of that.”
You’re out on tour in Europe now with surely some surprises up your sleeve…why should be people come out and see SIMO play and not sit at home?
“Ah man, why should people come out? On the spot! I don’t know, I’m bad at that! We get back to the US for a west coast tour after this short European one followed by a week break then an east coast tour. We’ll have a bit of break over Christmas, some shows over New Year, then in January I’m going out on my own without Adam and Elad for a short tour with Tommy Emmanuel which will be a lot of fun. Another US tour is up next which is a support tour, can’t say who with yet sorry guys, and then we’ll be back to Europe. We were gone 300 days last year and to be honest, I don’t wanna do that again so we’re adopting a 3 week on, 1 week off schedule as it’s far more feasible as family and friends are important in life also you know. How that works with Europe is that we have to break it up. This one is mostly Germany then when we come back we’ll be in France, Spain, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Italy and of course the UK as this show tonight is the only UK one on this leg. I guess just listen to the album if you want to and make your own mind up. We hope you like it and hope to see you at a show soon.”
“Rise and Shine” is out now via https://www.mascotlabelgroup.com/
Tour dates and tickets http://www.simo.fm/
Our review of “Rise and Shine” https://www.downthefrontmedia.com/down-the-front-media/music-reviews/simo-rise-shine/