Mr Smith in Lockdown
Let’s be honest, Mr Smith have a reputation for one thing, and that is taking our sweeeeeet time! I mean if there’s a way to complicate a simple thing and make it take 10 times longer than it should, we are the absolute masters.
We last gigged around 12 years ago, our last new single before recently was 5 years ago and our previous music video was a staggering 16 years ago! In short we aren’t quick at getting things done as a band.
So when the idea was raised sometime at the beginning of 2017 that we should possibly aim to get back on a stage and actually play in front of *gulp* “people” again, it was generally accepted by everyone that this may take some time to come to fruition!
The intent was simple, if we were ever return to playing live again, it had to be much better than EVER before. This simple idea kick-started a 2 year journey of discovery to transform our sound and our ability to put across our songs live in a more modern and professional way. We would not be ready until we had a set which literally had the potential to blow the audience away! The prospect was exciting, but the road ahead felt very long.
The journey involved many changes to not only the songs but also the equipment. There were new mixing desks. guitars, apps, metronome watches (yep!) and oh so many guitar effects pedals (Tom our guitarist became quite obsessed with any pedal that happened to be blue). In fact, with the amount of stuff we went through in 2 years in the quest for the perfect stage show, you could start several new bands!
We used this time to become a 21st century band, the idea being able to roll in to any venue and know that our performance would be solid and consistent. With a move to wireless in-ear monitors and our own self contained portable live rack, we could be confident of a good on stage mix (most bands have suffered from a terrible on-stage mix at some point I'm sure) regardless of what was coming out of the venues speakers.
Fast-forward to 6 days before Christmas 2019 and the band are on an actual stage for our first full technical rehearsal at Worthing’s best music venue “The Factory Live!”. A set containing 7 or 8 songs had somehow come together that, with a tiny bit of work, could be passed off as not completely awful.
By February 2020 this is genuinely looking promising, the set is tightening up, we’ve further refined the guitar sounds (yes more pedals!), and we’ve even bought Rob our drummer a brand new Gretsch drum kit (and a beauty she is too!).
We’d even started to receive our first gig offers and tenuous applications had been made to some small local festivals for the summer. So despite taking far longer than any band should, we’d finally gotten our shit together and excitement was growing that that this gigging thing might actually come off.
Nothing could stop us now surely? All the months of hard work were finally going to pay off. And then...you know what happened next...a Global Pandemic hits!
Now bumps in the road have presented themselves before, a drummer with a broken arm or a guitarist with the flu we can deal with. But we never dreamt for one second that the barrier to us stepping on stage would be a reason shared by every single musician across the entire globe! Overnight the events industry is decimated and anything that relies on people coming together in one place to be social and enjoy music was at best put on pause, at worst may now never happen. Some estimates by insiders put the earliest return to a world where semi-normal live music events can happen to be October 2021!
So unknown to us at the time, we’d had our last rehearsal together for probably a very long time. UK Lockdown was called, and like many bands we quickly started to itch for ways to collaborate even if we couldn’t physically meet. The ubiquitous Zoom calls initially kept the weekly band camp alive, but anyone that’s ever tried to sing Happy Birthday with friends on a Zoom call will know that the internet delay does not lend itself well to music collaboration.
We stumbled on an excellent app called BandLab which allows us musos to build compositions online. This one discovery has possibly set a course for the future of song composition in the band, even post-lockdown. Songs or ideas that before would simply not seen the light of day due to the limitations of a 3 hour band rehearsal, are now forming collaboratively online at a time to suit each band member. In the space of a few weeks 8 tracks have been laid down, ideas that could all end up as the next band track. The same system also allows virtual rehearsal now that we’ve uploaded multitrack recordings from past rehearsals to play along to at home.
At the very start of lockdown our new single “Takeaway” was scheduled for release. We had planned to produce a music video and a series of live video performances for the promotion of the track. Not being able to record these for the time-being, we took inspiration from the flood of homemade band lockdown videos being released online such as the excellent one by the Kaiser Chiefs. We instantly jumped on the bandwagon and filmed our own lockdown video for Takeaway.
This was filmed and edited over the course of two weeks, an unprecedented timescale for any Mr Smith project to date! And finally a new music video after 16 years. This went down rather well (for us) when we premiered it, views are currently at over 4k on Facebook alone.
At time of writing lockdown measures are starting to be relaxed slightly, but it’s going to be some time before we can meet again in a small sweaty band room, and even longer 'til we can all meet in an even more sweaty venue. That shiny new drum kit is currently sat lonely in the band room waiting to be heard for the very first time, but it's going to be so much sweeter when we do hear that first snare hit!
As I said, Mr Smith are a band that take their time. But for once, the delay in our plans is not one of our own making! The rest of the world is also on pause with us. Mr Smith are remaining positive though, and once live music does make a return we will most definitely be there in the front of the queue! With any luck we may even have several new songs, a slightly expanded online following, and a completely new way of working, thanks entirely to lockdown.