Everyone deals with a breakup in different ways. Blaring the “I hate you” songs, some people head straight to the chocolate and some to the booze. But letting out the aggressive hurt is all part of the process. Lucky are the musicians who get the sweet revenge of publicly blaring their heartbreak through song like Gwen Stefani did with “Don’t Speak.”
Vocalist and guitarist Ryan Hamilton did just that. The odd (and awkward) twist is that the ex-lover who jilted him is his current (and only) bandmate, Jencey Hirunrusme. They were a couple when they formed their band, but Hirunrusme cheated on Hamilton with a predominant figure in the Dallas music scene. Music business drama like this never stays a secret, and this sticky history became a comic strip in a Dallas entertainment newspaper.
This is the world of the Dallas indie duo Smile Smile. In their latest album, Truth on Tape, Hamilton chronicled the aftermath of his breakup with keyboardist and ex-fiance. Hirunrusme also sings back up vocals to these songs.
A sane person might wonder how these two could still create music together, let alone be in the same room, after all that went down. I sat down with Hamilton and Hirunrusme to find that out for myself.
I read your comic strip in Quick. By the way, you should just send it as your press kit.
Ryan: Right. I agree. It’s wierd to have your life as a cartoon and have it work and translate.
How did you get approached to do that? Was it just “Let’s make a comic strip” or did someone offer?
Ryan: It was a guy from the Dallas Morning News. They do this weekly thing thing called Quick DFW.
Jencey: Well, it’s monthly now.
Ryan: Is it monthly?
Ryan: No, it’s weekly.
Jencey: No, it’s monthly.
Ryan: It comes out every Thursday.
Jencey: But for a month. But it’s out for a month. Anyway…
Ryan: It’s a weekly paper. They wanted us to sit down with them and talk about the story board. They brought an artist in to draw us.
Jencey: Yeah, so they kind of had the idea.
Ryan: It was their idea.
Jencey: Hunter Hauk over there. He said he had this idea for a long time to do a comic strip of us. Just the whole sequence of events and also because, the guy who I was dating was really big in the Dallas music scene so it was this whole internal music scene and drama in Dallas. Like everyone already knew about it, but it was funny cause we couldn’t actually use his name in the comic strip.
Ryan: We gave him a fake name.
Jencey: That’s pretty similar to his real name.
Because of your history, did you ever think of adding someone else?
Ryan: I thought about quitting or leaving. I don’t think it was ever “Let’s add somebody else as a buffer.”
Jencey: We’ve had drummers though.
Ryan: We’ve tried a couple of drummers.
Jencey: It’s funny cause they sit in the middle. Most of them have learned not to get in the middle of anything and they just keep their mouth shut. The last drummer we had would take sides every once in a while cause I would always joke “you pick the dark side or the light side.” So he’d go back and forth.
Ryan: We’re used to a certain level of awkwardness and weirdness cause we kind of forced ourselves to be in the situation. So you put another person in the middle of all that, they don’t really know what to do so we’ve stayed the two of us and it’s actually been…
Ryan: I guess more successful, easier, better. All those things.
Why would you say it’s easier, more successful? Is it because you know each other that well? Or less people to schedule or whatever?
Ryan: I think so. I think the story is pretty shocking to people when they hear it for the first time and we’ve been dealing with it for awhile now.
Jencey: I think as far as playing too…
Ryan: That’s one. I think that’s two.
Jencey: I only interrupt you when you start to ramble.
Ryan: Go ahead. Uh-huh.
Jencey: But as far as like on stage too, I think when we have other people play with us, we kind of forget that they’re there. For us, we started as the two of us. Then we went full band and then we pulled it back in again. Cause it just feels better as just the two of us, just the dynamic that we’re doing.
Ryan: And I like it in twos. I think it feels better and looks better. Smile Smile. Two of us. I like it and creatively, I really like the freedom that we have. There’s not another opinion and drummers are a very strange breed.
Jencey: They’re all weird. All of them.
Listening to your album, some of it’s very much like the piano and the guitar and your vocals carry on the melody but there’s some songs I heard have a backing band. So as a two piece, how do you produce that backing band live?
Ryan: A lot of that is electronic drums. One thing I’m really proud of is we took electronic drum machine sounds and mixed them with some live drum sounds but we basically mixed it down to one drum track per song. We use it like a drum machine so we play to drum loops live.
Jencey: Yeah, which is cool cause it’s everything that’s on the CD. So whatever you hear on the CD is going to be what you hear live. Truth on Tape has 100 string tracks so we have full orchestration and we can still have it on stage.
Ryan: We changed them a little bit. There are a few tweaks here and there cause I like it whenever bands do something a little different live. Not too much.
You dont want them to sound exactly like the album. “I could have just stayed home and listened to the record.”
Speaking of the new album, how was that like recording that? Who did you record with? How long did it take?
Ryan: Actually we recorded the original demos years ago. Like two years ago. Then we got signed after Kirtland Records heard those demos and the story behind it. Everybody in Dallas knew what was going on. We went back in and rerecorded a lot of it with Dave Castell, who’s produced Blue October and some other people. So we worked with him. We worked with a guy named Tim Palmer, which is a really big deal to us. He did U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and he’s worked with Robert Plant. Everyone. Ozzy Osbourne.
Jencey: HIM. Switchfoot.
Ryan: We’re spoiled after the fact. We were really lucky to work with Dave Castell and Tim Palmer. Real big-time producers. That was our first time to have anything like that.
Jencey: But the demos we did originally were while we were breaking up. So it was awful. It was like fighting in the studio. We weren’t talking to each other. One of us would cry during a recording.
Ryan: She would cry. I would never forget this. She’s crying on the piano. She refuses to do anything else unless her new boyfriend can come to the studio while we record.
Jencey: It was Valentine’s Day.
Ryan: And I was like, especially under the circumstances that it all went down, I don’t want to see this new guy ever. I really don’t want him coming up here while we record these songs. We weren’t on a label or anything at the time. It was our time and our money so I was like if we’re going to get anything done, I guess this guy’s coming up here. So he came up there.
Jencey: Ryan called him.
Ryan: And then we recorded a song called “Labor of Love” which is me by myself.
Jencey: It was interesting.
Ryan: It was weird.
If it was your time and your money, why did you decide to do it at that moment, why didn’t you decide, “Ok, let’s wait.”
Ryan: We didn’t. We were kind of on autopilot. I dunno how we did it.
Jencey: I dunno. We just start this thing like whenever we’re going to do something, we’re just “We’re going to do it right away.” It’s gonna happen. It’s gotta be immediately because Ryan will have a panic attack. He doesn’t like waiting around. Ryan has no patience. I don’t know why we were recording. I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t even remember. I don’t remember half of that stuff. I don’t remember how we got here. No idea why.
Ryan: It was like final last effort. We put all this work into it. We were a couple at the time. Now that it’s over, we’re just going to quit? We worked so hard so it was like we’ll just see. So we made it through. Then we got signed and went on tour and it was worth it so far.
Jencey: Except when we start dating new people.
Ryan: The new people don’t know what to do with the whole situation.
Jencey: Yeah, unless they already know the story. Maybe we should give the new people we date the comic strip.
Ryan: I think they should have to sign something cause they always ask “Do you guys stay in the same hotel room when you travel? What’s up with that? Do I have to worry?” It’s like “You don’t have to worry. We can barely stand to be in the same room. Nothing is going to happen.”
You said you can barely stand to be in the same room, what keeps you going? The music?
Ryan and Jencey: Yeah.
Ryan: Yeah, as cheesy as that sounds, the music. I mean it’s when it’s that personal, becomes very close to you. I’m very proud of our band, anyway of this music that we make and I mean, it’s our life. It’s our job and to say goodbye to it would be like qutting your job and starting over. You know, that I don’t want to do that. I love my job.
What was it like filming the music video “Beg You to Stay?” How did the concept come about?
Ryan: It was Jencey’s idea. It was a really good idea.
Jencey: Oh, he actually admitted it. That’s pretty rare.
Ryan: I thought I’d skip the argument.
Jencey: I don’t know. One day, I was like sitting around and then I just had this idea. I don’t know out of nowhere and I was like “Oh, we should do a video where I get cut in half.” Then we’ll have blood, but I wanted them to get real blood from Fiesta or something. Like pig’s blood. They were like “No, we’re using this fake blood,” but we shot it in one day that whole video. It took like 14 hours.
Ryan: One location.
Jencey: One location, in studio. The case that I get sawed in half, it actually just looks like my Rhodes case for my piano. They got these cameras and the cameras were rigged to the top of the case. So I was in the case and it was latched shut. They had ratched the camera on top of it. So I’m laying like this and the camera is hanging over my head and probably weighs like 80 pounds. All that’s sticking out is my neck. So everyone’s standing there just in case the camera drops and hits me in the face or something. So they have that and they’re shaking the thing so that I’m like I look like I’m getting sawed.
With this 80-pound camera right on top of your head?
Jencey: Just hanging. That was a pretty scary day.
Ryan: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the whole process. It was very therapeutic. Oh. The legs at the end of the video, since Jencey doesn’t actually get sawed in half, the legs are my now ex-girlfriend’s legs.
Jencey: Two exes in that video.
Ryan: Yeah, so I sawed two exes right in half. That’s my weird life.
So what else in the future for you?
Ryan: You mentioned Bowling for Soup earlier. We went into the studio with Jared and recorded this really weird cover of the Blink-182 song “Dammit.”
Didn’t you play it at Emo’s?
Ryan: We did play it at Emo’s. We did it kind of as a joke for that tour with those guys. The response was so good that we went to the studio with Jared, the singer of Bowling for Soup.
I like that you didn’t announce you were doing a cover. I was listening to the song and was like I know those lyrics. It was like your sound but it was Blink-182. I thought that was awesome.
Ryan: Cool. Yeah, I think people have been really shocked. We’re going to release that song. We have a studio version that we did. There’s a new video for the single for “Truth on Tape,” the song. If you’ve seen the cover of the record, the picture was taken from the video shoot.
Speaking of Bowling for Soup, because you’re not very pop-punk—how was the reaction of that tour with the fans?
Ryan: You know what. Jared has become a really good friend but I was terrified to go on that tour. We’ve toured with bands similar to us up to that point. He was like “You guys should go on tour with us.” I thought people were going to throw things at us and hate it, but the response was good overall. Of course, you have some people that aren’t going to like a band like us on tour with Bowling for Soup, but we had some of our fans come to those shows. I feel like we won over the majority of the pop-punk crowd.
Jencey: It was funny. I remember one show, this kind came up and was like “Oh man, you guys were awesome. When you first started playing, I thought it was going to be a joke though.” I was like what would the joke be?
We wasted your time. Congratulations.
Ryan: But in the context of that tour, we understand that. Somebody going “Oh, is Bowling for Soup playing a joke on us? What is this weird music?”
Jencey: And then I don’t think at Emo’s you saw McLars and K.Flay but they’re on Jared’s label so they came in a few days later and they’re rappers.
Ryan: They’re rappers. So we went on tour with us…
Jencey: Bowling for Soup and hip-hop rappers.
Anything else you want to add?
Ryan: Go buy Truth on Tape immediately. If you bought it already, but another copy for a friend. Gift it on iTunes.
Jencey: Yeah, it’s in Waterloo and online.
Ryan: Oh, I don’t know when the interview’s going to run, but if you’re in Austin, go to Waterloo and look at the huge naked picture of us.
[Editor’s note: The poster is no longer there.]
Ryan: West 6th. Waterloo Records on the window. Huge naked poster that we didn’t know was there. It was a nice surprise.
Jencey: I was like “Oh, ok. How am I still single?”
Ryan: I don’t know. Are you?
Jencey: [hesitates] Shut.
Smile Smile is currently on tour with Bob Schneider. They play in Austin on Friday, May 14, at Antone’s. For more tour dates visit the band on MySpace.