smoosh with the eels at the Mod Club (722 College), Saturday (June 17), doors 6:30 pm. $22.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The idea of rosy-cheeked tweens playing marketable music and reaching heights of international stardom is old news in our current post-Hilary Duff culture. Long before the entire cast of the 90s-era Mickey Mouse Club became single-named pop idols (Justin, Britney, Xtina - sorry, JC Chasez), precocious nymphets from Björk all the way back to Shirley Temple have parlayed preteen record deals into long-lasting careers.
So all the kerfuffle about the relative youth of Seattle siblings Smoosh, whose oddly world-weary drums-and-keys indie rock ditties made them underground scene stars at the ages of 11 (drummer Chloe) and 13 (vocalist/keyboardist Asya), seems a bit off-base.
Musically, the combo of Asya's virtuosic, dissonant piano jangle and unprecious vocals and Chloe's surprisingly complex, muscular drumming on their brand new Free To Stay (Barsuk) disc has a level of maturity that makes it hard to believe they're now only 14 and 12.
But what really strikes you upon talking to the Smoosh sibs, particularly in the context of today's meticulously media-coached teen tabloid heroes, is that they're just average, normal kids - kids who seem baffled by the fact that people want to interview them about what they do for fun.
"I don't really want to talk about label stuff today," whines Chloe when I ask her why they switched from wee Pattern 25 (which released their debut She Like Electric album) to former Death Cab for Cutie home base Barsuk.
Might it have had something to do with the fact that Death Cab drummer Jason McGerr is their self-appointed cheerleader, Chloe's drum teacher and produced Free To Stay?
"Uh... I don't... I'm not going to talk about all that."
Chloe perks up a bit when she gets to talk about McGerr's influence in helping them make their recent disc.
"This one was more perfect, cuz the last time we didn't have a producer. The other one had more mistakes and stuff, and we sound a lot like little kids when we sing on it. We worked on the new one for longer. Yeah," she thinks for a moment, "I'm definitely happier with the new album."
Though it may upset some who were drawn to Smoosh's cutesy novelty factor, Free To Stay is certainly a more fully realized album than the endearingly raw She Like Electric. This time around, every track is well developed and layered, and Chloe and Asya move beyond bruised-heart pop to crunchy fuzzed-out rock (Rock Song) and even some impressive Brubeckian syncopated jazz structures.
It's a solid chunk of well-produced, resonant indie rock that fits comfortably with (and sounds just as sophisticated as) the other bands on Barsuk, from early Death Cab to the ornate pop of the Long Winters.
Though Chloe, with typical younger-sibling brattiness, claims she had a hard time keeping up because Asya "would do all these weird time things that she'd say were the right time signatures but would be things I couldn't keep the beat to," she clams up when asked about some of the darker lyrical themes on the disc: 14-year-old Asya drops lines about constant regrets, liars and, most disturbingly, demands that someone not "follow [her] home."
"I don't know what all Asya's lyrics are about," Chloe offers, somewhat uncomfortably. "Sometimes when she's singing I have no idea what she's talking about.
"One thing, though. I don't know why, but they don't seem super-happy or something. It's weird, cuz we're not sad people or anything, but...."
She trails off. "No, I don't want to say what I think the songs are about."
The decidedly aloof drumming prodigy seems much happier chatting about things that have nothing at all to do with music.
Like sports, for instance. While she insists that she doesn't consider making music a job, because "jobs seem like something that aren't supposed to be fun," Chloe often wishes she could find enough time to fit in soccer and running, which tend to fall by the wayside when you're touring with high-profile acts like the Go! Team and Eels.
"Sometimes I wish everything could stop and I could just work on one thing," she sighs.
And though Chloe happily reminisces about her favourite tourmates - she got to dance with the Go! Team onstage on her birthday, and current headliners the Eels invite her and Asya to shake tambourines and sing for their encore - she's pretty blasé about the opportunity to skip school and hit the road.
Apparently, it's not all that different from the opportunities her parents provided when they were home-schooling the two Smooshies.
"We got to travel a ton, and that was fun," she says slowly. "My dad's a scientist and my mom's a doctor, and they'd teach us science and stuff, which was way better than learning it at a normal school. At school for science we'd get to study rocks and minerals and it'd just be like, 'This rock is shiny. This rock is brown.'
"I dunno," she continues. "We got to choose whether or not we wanted to go to school or do home schooling, and I