Hearing Listener’s music for the first time, it might initially sound like the rantings of an angry homeless man. But then the words take shape, and form the most beautiful, honest, and heartfelt music around. If you haven’t seen this bone-chilling performance in person yet, or simply can’t get enough, we’re giving you a chance to see Listener for free.
Listener will head on tour with ’68 and the Homeless Gospel Choir in July, and will hit Chicago on July 6 at Subterranean. Pop ’stache is LITRULLY rolling around in free tickets to give away to the show; all you have to do is read our interview with Listener’s singer, talker, and shouter Dan Smith and comment below or on social media with the name of your favorite inventor.
Pop ‘stache: Have you been surprised by Listener’s popularity?
Dan Smith: Always. I don’t know why people would listen to us. I’ve been touring for 12 years, and I like the problem of making music. I just like the problem of art and the figuring out of songs and words and music and emotions. It’s kind of like a big puzzle.
P’s: Is there one piece that usually comes first?
DS: Yeah. I’ve predominantly been a words writer and it’s pretty rare that I’ve come up with a melody. I’m working on a solo record of mostly folk songs, but sort of talk music style. So I’ve had to learn how to sing and play at the same time and figure out how I’d like it to feel all from scratch.
P’s: Is the solo project going to be under your name, or under Listener still?
DS: I won’t call it Listener. I don’t want it to be confusing anymore. I’ve been toying around with the idea of giving it a name versus having my own personal, human name out there. It’s 50/50. There’s some days when I’m like, “I don’t want to call it some dumb band name,” and other days I’m like, “Well, I don’t want to call it my dumb name.”
But the first thing I’m gonna put out is gonna be with Derek Zanetti—he does a project called the Homeless Gospel Choir, he’s opening for us on this next tour—we’re doing this project called the Neighborhood Fan Club. We’re huge fans of Mr. Rogers and we’re gonna make a series of 7”s with songs that are inspired by Mr. Rogers.
P’s: How so?
DS: I wrote a song about how to tie your shoes and also how to make a friend. There was just a way he talked to people that made you feel special, and that’s okay for a time. It can tend to thin out your meaning if you’re always building someone up. Sometimes you just need some blatant criticism that might hurt.
P’s: So are you continuing to write new music with Listener?
DS: Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing another record. I’ll be honest, it’s not easy for me to write a record. I always write ideas, but I’m not always finishing, so it takes me a while.
P’s: What are some of the ideas you’re exploring in your new material?
DS: I’ve been writing about all my favorite inventors. Inventors will toil and tool over this thing, and it can propel a world, but there’s this tragedy that happens with inventors too, where the invention sort of takes over a life. There’s this sort of crazed quest to always be solving the problem of their invention. They believe in it so much.
I just want to tell a story. I might even just tell it from a more historical aspect. Nikola Tesla had an older brother that died when he was younger because he spooked this horse that his brother was riding on, and he always blamed himself.
P’s: It seems clear Listener’s goal is to write music without a filter. Do you ever feel self conscious putting such raw material out into the world?
DS: It’s sort of like playing a sport. Every time you play a sport, there’s a way you lie to yourself. You go out and say, “We’re gonna win,” and there’s a switch that you flip on. And I guess it’s a lie because there’s a 50/50 chance. Same thing in playing shows. I go up and I’m able to completely detach the front part of my mind, where I actually think about the words that I say, and attach the back of my mind, where it’s just the way that the songs make me feel. There’s a way I can be out of mind and out of body when we play that doesn’t make me uncomfortable about the things that I say.
P’s: Can you talk about this tour you’re about to go on?
DS: We’ve done a tour similar to this, maybe three years ago, called the Thank You for Being a Friend Tour, which included Listener—I think at that time, just me and Chris—Josh Scogin from the Chariot [now fronting ’68], and then Derek Zanetti [the Homeless Gospel Choir]. We’re all friends and we decided, a couple summers later, “Hey, we should go on tour again.” We all chipped in ideas and names for it, and it’s called the I Went on This Tour and All I Got Was This Tour, Tour. It’s sort of like that tour we did a few years ago, but the Homeless Gospel Choir just put out a new record and ’68 has a new record.
P’s: Obviously you like the Golden Girls. Which Golden Girl do you identify with the most?
DS: Well, I really like Rose’s character the most. Probably kind of a mix between Dorothy and Rose. Rose was pretty airhead-y, you know. She’d say some pretty far-out stuff, but she’d say ’em in these innocent ways. I kind of liked that. Dorothy certainly had this wisdom about her, but I’m not nearly as cranky as Dorothy could be.
Photography by Chris Hill/Digital Cypher Photography