Local band Smooth Bill Annie grabbed international attention when they opened for the visiting Tragically Hip in 2007.
The band members, Derrick McKay, Chris Bodden, Michael Leclerc and Zack Mack were always winning new fans with their distinctive sound – but Smooth Bill Annie is no more.
Instead, under the name Smooth Bill, Michael Leclerc, Derrick McKay, Chris Bodden, and new members Candice Deon Fears and Sarah McTaggart will be taking their performances to a higher level and a wider audience.
The Caymanian Compass recently did an interview with Mr. Leclerc and Mr. McKay to discuss the band’s new name, new sound, and future plans.
CC: Why did you decide to change the name of the band?
DM: Just because we slightly changed the act after we did our recording in Santa Monica … we’ve got sort of a new venture going on. We’ve brought in two new vocalists and the band has changed ever so slightly, so we decided that we wanted to do something new – it’s a fresh start.
Mike and I were throwing names around, and then I said: ‘How about Smooth Bill? We’ll just drop the Annie,’ and he said: ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking’. So we’re still keeping a part of the old us, but we’ve got a new beginning.
ML: As well, I always found that when you say the name Smooth Bill Annie, a lot of people say: ‘what? can you say that again?’ and Smooth Bill just seems a bit more catchy, it’s quick and easy.
CC: So your logo will have to change too?
ML: Yes. One girl who is in the band, Sarah McTaggart, she’s also an animation artist. I didn’t know she had such a talent and she’s actually drawing up a logo right now for us. She’s going to show it to us and see what we think.
CC: And has your sound changed in any way?
ML: Oh yeah, big time.
DM: Yes the sound has changed…
ML: Even the old songs, though they are the same, they sound different because we have two female vocalists singing harmonies and backgrounds.
DL: We are developing more, not just on the music side of things, but on the vocal side … Every song that we do now, we are working on coming out very strong vocally. We put a lot of rehearsal in and all of us play different parts to try and add to the songs and make them work. With the few shows that we’ve done, we’ve had a lot of comments on the vocal side of things.
ML: And that was just our first performances because, in time, you get better at what you do and everyone starts getting more comfortable with their parts in the songs. It takes time but we like it – it’s a good change.
CC: Who writes the lyrics for your songs?
ML: I hate saying this, but I am the singer/songwriter of the band. All of the songs, for the most part, are mine. Even if I have collaborated with someone, it will be on melodies mostly. We have one song, So Long, that Derrick came up with the bass riff recording with another band and he presented it to me and a couple years ago we put it together.
DM: We also jam a lot of stuff out. Somebody will start something and we will jam it out and a lot of songs come that way. Then Mike will do the lyrics and sometimes he will come in with an idea and we will add our parts to it. We all contribute…
ML: It’s a team effort.
DM: Yeah it is a team effort but Mike writes the lyrics, though Candice has been helping out with that…
ML: Yeah, we’ve done a couple songs together, Candice and I … but, in terms of being in Smooth Bill, we are all a team. It doesn’t matter if I bring something unique, you need the Derricks and the Chrises and the Sarahs and the Candices to help you out. Everybody counts…
DM: You can’t do it on your own. I’m a bass player, I can’t go out there on my own.
ML: And even as a musician I prefer to play with other people, I think it brings the music more balance.
DM: The things is that if you walk in with an idea, the band will kick in and will pick it up and it changes ever so slightly – it gets a little more energy…
CC: You have a new album coming out, don’t you?
DM: We do. It’s not the new sound of the band, it’s one we recorded when Zack [Mack] was here in Santa Monica in June. We are going to release it because we spent money on it and we worked really hard on it. We are going to release it locally because we have a lot of friends asking for it, knowing that we have done it. There is nothing wrong with it – it’s still a good-sounding CD and we still want to release it, but the band has changed.
ML: A lot of the same songs we are still doing, but they do sound different. It’s like Derrick said, we worked hard for it so we should do a small release and have fun. And Zach was part of it so we are going to send something up to him… It will be like out with the old and in with the new. It has Smooth Bill Annie on the cover, but now the new stuff is from Smooth Bill…
CC: Does the recording stay true to your sound?
DM: That’s one thing that I am adamant about: whatever a band does on a CD, they should be able to recreate live. I mean, fair enough, there are a few things that you can do in the studio to enhance a few things here and there, but generally you should sound the same.
ML: And with the CD that we did in Santa Monica, we just tried to do exactly what we do on-stage … There were no extra additives or over-producing.
DM: You want a producer who is going to push you really hard in the studio but keep that live feel.
ML: Yeah because you don’t want to saturate it with a bunch of stuff that’s not you.
CC: Are you still an indie band?
DM: Yeah, we’re still an indie band we don’t have a [label] as of yet. We have things planned for the future though that we are working on, like a tour.
ML: We’re in the planning stages right now for a tour.
DM: Mike and I have been dealing with that, getting information together… I love Cayman, Cayman has been good to us, but we need to get out as well. I mean, we will always play here, this is home, so we will always play here, but to do what we really want to do we have to hit the States and Canada and try and build a fan base there. Once you get that little fan base you never know what can happen. The thing is, we know, as much as we love this place, we still have to get out a bit.
ML: Three years ago the Tragically Hip came down here and we got to open up for them. Rick Flair, a famous wrestler saw us play and … we got to play at his wedding. And the radio here, 96.5 Cayrock, approached me and so we’ve got a lot of things happening and you look at it all and you think that if all this can happen for us on this little island then it can happen on a bigger scale.
DM: There’s a great music scene down here. I mean, when I was in school I was into metal and pop-punk and that sort of hard rock was my background. Anywhere else, I would have to stick to that genre but here I get to explore and learn and I have played all kinds of stuff … there is a lot more opportunity down here to develop new genres.
CC: Defining your sound was difficult before, and it must be even more difficult now, but can you give it a shot?
DM: Fusion, funk, folk? I really don’t know…
ML: Yeah, it’s very difficult. We called it acoustic rock because … it depends on what song we are playing. Some songs are more, I don’t want to say country, but folk-rock and others have more of a punk feel…
DM: I’d agree with acoustic rock.
ML: The thing is, with Derrick and his background for example, he has a bit of punk and I’m a bit more singer/songwriter … you stick it all together and you have all these different styles. Even if it’s my music, everyone is putting their style into the music and that just makes it different.
CC: Have you had a performance that really stood out for you?
DM: The Tragically Hip show was definitely the one that stood out for me.
ML: Yeah, they are huge in Canada … and you get a natural rush because you are on-stage in all this professional gear and there’s a proper sound check and you can actually hear yourself and Derrick doesn’t have to check the sound while playing bass at the same time…
CC: Derrick, does your mohawk go up for every performance?
DM: No, but for most of the stuff I can get away with it.
ML: That’s what also makes our band kind of fun is when you look at us physically and then listen to the music – it’s not punk but you look back at Derrick and he’s got a mohawk and I’m bald and the girls are dressed up and Chris is doing whatever he’s doing…
DM: It was really funny when we used to have a Bed gig and we would walk in there and there would be an older couple … and we would walk in and I’d have a mohawk and to see their faces …
ML: Yeah, they’d be asking themselves, you know, ‘what are we in for?’ and then we would begin playing a really mellow song and they would look very relieved.
CC: Anything else you think our readers should know?
DM: As I have always said, if there is anyone out there who is a music fan, come out and support local music. Whether it is us, or whoever it is, come out and support the local music … it is really appreciated.
ML: Definitely, because art is not easy. Doing something you love to do, whether it is drawing, painting, singing, writing, it’s hard to get people to appreciate what you do, but you have to keep going no matter what…
The band will next be performing at Royal Palms on Thursday, 26 February from 9pm to 12am.
To learn more about Smooth Bill, visit the band’s profiles on MySpace or Facebook, or visit www.smoothbillannie.com.
The band’s new line-up, from left, Candice Dion Fears, Michael Leclerc, Derrick McKay, Sarah McTaggart and Chris Bodden.