Photo: Drew Reynolds
It’s two o’clock on a Monday afternoon and Cullen Omori, the 23-year-old frontman of the baby-faced garage-rock band Smith Westerns, cracks open a Budweiser. “Why not?” he says, laughing as he flips his mop top and squeezes himself on a couch between his brother, Cameron, 21, and bandmate Max Kakacek, 22.
The three emanate a palpable ease. It’s the calm before the storm: They release their third album, Soft Will, on June 25. After a 140-plus-show tour for 2011’s glam-rock-drenched Dye It Blonde, questions arise: Is this the album that makes them mainstream? And is that even what they want?
When the Northside College Prep friends barreled onto the scene in 2009, critics buzzed about their psychedelic sound. After touring relentlessly for a few years, they returned to Chicago to write Soft Will, which they finished last fall. The album features a new drummer, Julien Ehrlich, and inventive instrumentals on top of their already summery synths.
But with new songs come new expectations, and Chris Baronner, who booked the band’s sold-out gig at the Metro in 2012, says the group could play bigger stages: “I absolutely want to see them go to the Vic or the Riv[iera].” He suggests they book some fests first, “to let their album sink in.”
Heathcliff Berru, a Chicago native who co-manages the band Little Dragon, cautions that “it’s about playing the right shows”—namely, opening for bigger acts first.
For their part, the guys believe the new record shows off their musical maturation. “I don’t think anyone could have played anything they’re playing on this one on the first record,” Cameron says.
The band hopes to emulate Wilco, with each album progressing sonically from the last. “I’d rather not try to ride a trend,” Cullen says. “This is how our songs are supposed to sound.”