SXSW Q&A: Smallpools on “LOVETAP!”, Sinbad and Touch Football

While Los Angeles band Smallpools has only been on the scene for the last two years, the members are no strangers to the music production process. Before starting the band, members Sean Scanlon on vocals and keyboard, Mike Kamerman on guitar, Joe Intile on bass guitar and Beau Kuther on drums spent 10 years prior working on other projects with other bands. Their work has no doubt paid off — Smallpools has already toured with Neon Trees and Grouplove, and the band has written and recorded their first album, “LOVETAP!” which released with RCA Records this Monday.

After playing seven shows at their first South by Southwest this year, the band might as well call Austin their second home. This Saturday, Smallpools returns to Austin to co-headline the annual Forty Acres Fest at the University of Texas at Austin with Ra Ra Riot. The festival starts at 2 p.m. with night performances starting at 7:30 p.m. During SXSW, ORANGE had the good fortune of sitting down with the band and getting to know about their ambitions, their motivations and their knack for dad jokes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Photo by Anna Lee. Photo courtesy of Girlie Action Media.

Photo by Anna Lee. Photo courtesy of Girlie Action Media.

Story and interview by Samantha J. Grasso

ORANGE: Smallpools came out on the scene in 2013, and it’s been a short time since then and you’re already kind of, not completely blown up, but definitely blowing up, doing shit and hustling…

Mike: I think we’re doing shit. I don’t know about blowing up, but we’re doing shit.

Beau: I like that you recognize that though, that’s good.

Mike: Some people are like, “How’s it feel to rise to fame?” We’re like, “No, we didn’t. What are you talking about?”

Beau: Like, Mike’s window is still blown out and his car doesn’t start!

Mike: Yeah, it’s doesn’t start. I can’t even drive it. Beau and I are pushing my car down the street. And it’s not a nice car either. It’s not like the car just stopped working, it just doesn’t work.

ORANGE: So how is “the climb” been like? How’s that process going right now?

Sean: There are many different phases of it. We write demos, we record them, we meet producers, we write an EP. And then we practice it, and then we tour a bunch. All just different phases of life. And this is the ‘South by’ phase, I guess.

Mike: I mean, there are highs and lows. This week feels great, we’re here doing interviews so that’s pretty cool.

Beau: We’re on the front page of Spotify today, which I didn’t even know until a few hours ago. Like, whoa, that’s awesome.

ORANGE: You mention the Spotify video sessions. In the video, you talked about working nine-to-five jobs. Are you at a point where you can stop working for someone else and just focus on making music?

Sean: Right now we were able to quit, but we always talk about still being in a fragile place. We would like the album to do well so we can keep focusing only on music and not parking cars again, in my state...

Mike: Or serving shrimp...

Beau: Or making phone calls...

Joe: Or sitting on a computer all day. Well, I still kind of sit on a computer all day.

ORANGE: How long ago did you quit?

Beau: It was probably two years ago to this month. February, March of 2013.

ORANGE: That’s pretty nice though.

Sean: Very blessed, “hashtag blessed.”

ORANGE: Some bands struggle for years and years to be where Smallpools is now. What do you think you all did differently to help expedite that process in just two years?

Sean: We played in a lot of other bands that didn’t do anything in the 10 years leading up to Smallpools. So, we got out all the failures, mistakes and practicing. Just because it’s a new name it might sound like an overnight success, but it was a long time in the making.

Beau: When “Dreaming” first came out on the Internet, we had no expectations of anything. Somehow it just had this life of its own and people connected with it on some level. We owe a little bit to that, people connecting to that song online initially.

Mike: Even writing “Dreaming” and the initial batch of music, we kind of stopped caring. We met each other and were all in the same headspace — we want to start a band we all think is fun and cool. “Fuck everyone else. We don’t care about what these other bands are doing or what these label people want to hear. We’ll just do something for us that we can feel good about after we get off work.” There wasn’t pressure by any outside source. We got in this small, dark room and just got to be ourselves for however many hours we were in there. I think that really just helped the songs get to a point where they were special for us.

Joe: It was kind of a natural progression. The band started as something to fill up our time on the weekend. We’re like, “Maybe we’ll play a show or two a month and it’ll be fun.” It wasn’t started thinking, “We’re going to be this awesome band that’s going to tour for years and years.” It’s turning into obviously this more long term thing, but it’s cool to see that happen naturally as opposed to that being forced.

ORANGE: What’s your initial experience been like here at your first South by Southwest, within three days into the music portion?

Sean: Yup.

All: [laugh]

Beau: Can that just be the answer? Yup?

Mike: It’s been cool, first night out we saw a lot of…

Beau: I saw Sinbad last night!

Mike: What!

Beau: Oh, he was around. Yeah, he was promoting, “Jingle All The Way 2”

Sean: What?

Beau: It was a bad joke, crappy joke, you missed it.

ORANGE: It was a great joke. A quality bad joke.

Beau: Thank you, my jokes are sick. Quality bad jokes, grandpa jokes.

Sean: We’ve just been trying to adapt to the style of “throw your crap on stage and plug it all in really quickly and hope it all works.” Last night it took a couple of songs to dial in. Today it was a little bit easier.

Mike: Sometimes, if you’re playing a show on tour, you want to come out on stage and start the show. You can’t really do that mystique thing as much at South By because you’ve got to make sure your stuff works. If you make this big grandiose entrance and then…

Beau: Nothing’s working, you look like chumps up there. We don’t wanna be chumps.

ORANGE: You’ve gotten to tour with Grouplove and Neon Trees. What was it like?

Mike: It was insane. We just started and all of a sudden we were on tours with these bands we were fans of. Grouplove was a band we listened to a lot when we first started and one of the first friends we made was the drummer of Grouplove. We kind of ended up in the Grouplove friend circle. It’s like, “How the fuck did we get here?” To just be able to just go from driving to work listening to these bands on the radio and then like being on their tour, it was surreal just to be welcomed into that community.

Sean: Yeah, we definitely didn’t feel isolated. It was just like, “This is fucking dope.” We got to watch them all be pros and we learned how you’re supposed to do it.

Beau: That includes how they set their shows up, the instruments they use, how they use them. It was like, “Oh, you have someone who runs your monitors. We didn’t even know this person exists.” Just all these things behind the scenes that you don’t really think about.

ORANGE: So are you kind of excited about “LOVETAP!” coming out?

Sean: Kind of. [Laughs] It’s been a long time coming. It kept getting delayed, and we kind of had to weigh the benefits of touring with these great bands and putting writing on hold for a bit, but I’m glad we made the decision we did because the album’s better than it would have been. We gained a lot of cool fans and learned a lot about touring and being a real band.

Mike: I feel like when we wrote “Dreaming” we were all getting to know each other. I love where we were then but I feel like this is the right time. Our mindset is really good right now and I think this is the right time for us to put out an album.

ORANGE: What do you hope audiences get out of this new album?

Sean: I hope they appreciate that we worked hard on it and they just find parts that they think are cooler than anything they’ve heard. They want to tell a friend, get excited about one song.

Mike: It’s always a bummer when there’s a band you really like, but there’s just that one song or one part where you’re like “Man, it’s a total cop out.” And not that we don’t have those moments, but we try very hard to put thought into every second of that album. Just to make sure is this the right part, is this the right lyric, is this the right lick. Hopefully people realize that we really did put a lot of effort into it — not saying it’s the best it’s gonna get, cause album two is gonna be even better.

ORANGE: Do you ever feel sometimes people only recognize you by “Dreaming” as being your one hit?

Mike: I wouldn’t even call it a hit. It’s a song that people probably recognize us the most by. It kind of put us on the map. I think there are people who know who we are, but I feel like if I’m going to tell someone I’m in a band called Smallpools, they’re just not going to know who we are. I might sing them the song and they’ll be like, “Oh, I think I’ve heard that,” or something. But you know, now “Dreaming” is going to be new again ‘cause it’s on the new album, so we’re excited by that. I love the song, let’s see what happens with it.

ORANGE: Who would you say have been your biggest inspirations?

Sean: I like Paul Simon. He does cool melodic lyrical stuff

Beau: I’m a big Phil Collins fan. We just all grew up listening to a lot of stuff our parents listened to and it has all made its way into our music, in the way we play instruments or write parts.

Mike: So, New Radicals with this guy Gregg Alexander. They existed in the late ‘90s, and for some reason their one album is really inspirational to Sean and I. At that point it seemed ahead of its time. He was kind of doing cool shit and cool melodies, dipping into cool falsettos and shouting random crap. He didn’t care what else was happening at the time. He disbanded the band at the peak of their success, it was inspirational — not that I would ever want to disband at the peak of our success, but this guy is insane, writing the coolest stuff I’ve heard. Even the song, “You Get What You Give” which has the line “You’ve got the music in you.” It’s inspirational to me on days I didn’t feel I had it in me.

Joe: I’m a huge John Mayer fan. When I was learning to play the bass, I was listening to all his old records. The bass players he has on his records and a lot of them touring were a huge inspiration for me.

ORANGE: Now that you know the what it’s like to be on the road for extensive amounts of time, what is one thing you would bring on tour or do to momentarily escape?

Joe: I’d bring my running shoes. I try to go running in the morning, as often as I can. It’s always fun to get to a new city, explore the area and downtown and clear my head for a while.

Beau: I’d bring my skateboard, ‘cause we’re always in a parking lot somewhere. That’s something that can easily be used to go and roam around wherever we are.

Mike: I don’t know if there’s anything in particular I would bring. I just like to get to a venue and — if we don’t have anything to do — just kind of walk around, see what’s out there and just spend sometime with myself.

Sean: On a day off I’d like to find a football field that we won’t get kicked off of and play a touch football game. [laughs]

Beau: Hasn’t fully happened.

Joe: Nope.

Sean: We keep getting booted.