CMJ 2015: Smallpools On LOVETAP!, Never Graduating, Forming Band [Interview]
If you have been paying attention to indie rock over the past two years, there is a good chance you have heard Smallpools' "Dreaming." It was a major hit across the web, buoyed by a couple of very successful remixes by the likes of Charli XCX, The Chainsmokers and others. However there is much more to the Los Angeles-based foursome. As evidenced by the group's debut album LOVETAP!, released this past March, Smallpools are more than a one hit wonder and have the capacity to put together an album's worth of their high-energy fun brand of indie rock.
The foursome came together as many bands do. Singer and keyboardist Sean Scanlon and Mike Kamerman had been friends for years, living close to each other in the New York City area. After years of trying and failing in other bands, they decided to move out to Los Angeles. This is where the two linked up with bassist Joseph Intile and then drummer Beau Kuther.
After the release of "Dreaming," touring became a constant for the band and they weren't able to put out new music for another two years. Coming up on the back end of 2015, the group has a discography that has endeared themselves to a growing group of fans and allows them to play full sets.
We had the chance to chat on the phone with Sean as they kicked off their current tour with Phoebe Ryan and Machineheart to look back on LOVETAP! six months later, the struggles of forming the band and the crazy story of how Sean never graduated college. Make sure you catch the group tomorrow night (Oct. 15) at CMJ 2015 as they bring their tour to the main room at Webster Hall.
Music Times: How has the tour been?
Sean: We're one show deep and it was good we changed up the set a little and I think it was the best first show of a tour we've had so far. Still a few kinks to work out, but it was good, it was fun.
The tour is on a bus, we all flew here to Fort Lauderdale did some rehearsing and that's where it started and now we're here at show two in Orlando.
MT: What is something you have to have on your bus?
S: Hm, good question. I think we always need one of those hot water maker things.
MT: For tea?
S: Yeah, that's kind of a lame one, but I don't know I don't think we really need anything on the bus. I've got a suitcase full of sh*t probably don't need any of it.
MT: You guys moved out to LA a couple years ago but why'd you go there when you lived in the New York area.
S: I had been living in my hometown, in Westchester right above the city, for probably well my whole life but I had been doing music there in my parents' house and we kind of just needed a change. I would commute back and forth between Mike's the guitar player and my house. We would try and write stuff but I don't know it just felt not as inspired. I think we just needed something fresh. Winter was terrible and we didn't want to move to the city because it's just way too expensive. LA as expensive as that is, it's just a little easier to make work. Also a few months before we moved there, my friend Greg who ended up becoming our manager, moved there. He was working at at Warner Music at the time. So we kind of thought we could use him for some inside intel for like how to do it, like how to do the right things and make the right moves or write songs.
MT: Was it easy gelling together with Beau and Joe at first?
S: The first year in LA, Mike and I met Joe pretty quickly. We knew he was really great at bass, but we didn't get him into the band for almost a year after because we were kind of writing songs and they weren't great yet. I don't know there just came a time where we just put our foot down and we booked some studio time in Atlanta with a friend of ours. We said we're going to start this band for real, we have a few good ideas and let's call Joe to see if he wants to join in and he was down.
We actually had a different drummer for a few rehearsals but he wasn't totally vibing with our style and Joe had recommended Beau because he had just moved down from Portland maybe a few weeks earlier. Once we got in a room, it was definitely something special. We were all in a place where we thought it might be our last hoorah at music because we had all been trying to do other bands for years and maybe it was just that carefree atmosphere that made things happen.
MT: You signed with RCA early on as a band. Were you hesitant to go with a major label?
S: I don't think we were hesitant because I think we knew that they had the resources that we would want at that point. We had just been in other projects just grinding it out for years and I think we realized that we had finally honed in our songwriting craft pretty decently and we all had day jobs and we were ready to get the hell out of those. I think we were just ready to go full blown into the machine and see how it would fare.
MT: We're six months out from LOVETAP!. What are you most proud about the album?
S: It's kind of just like a collection of the best songs that we came up with. In the studio there's not a mega team or we're not trying to like do anything crazy. Those were the best songs we got and it was tough because "Dreaming" came out of the gate so quickly and we only had three other songs at the time. We had to play catch up really quickly and we also had a lot of great offers for tours so it was tough because we couldn't turn those tours down. We had to go out and make fans and play so the album came out a little later than we had hoped, but I think everything happened the way it should have and we're just on to the next chapter now.
MT: Were you surprised about anything with the album looking back on it?
S: I don't think so I think, I think fans were received it rather well I think a couple of our strongest songs came in the later portion of the album and there's still some of the undeniable ones from the EP that fans are going you know latch onto for life but I think we just wrote the coolest songs that we had and I mean going on tour is awesome. We did a headlining tour with maybe four or five songs and we were playing a bunch of brand new songs but now that it came out everyone gets to sing along with everything so it's way more fun out there with this one.
MT: How did the "A Real Hero" cover come about and become official?
S: We were trying to build a set for our first headlining tour and we thought it was just a cool under the radar song to put in the set. We didn't really have any down tempo music at the time so we thought it would be a cool ambient moment. It was one of our favorite songs from the movie Drive, so we just put our own little twist on it and we thought it sounded good live. We ended up playing it on our first headlining tour. Some people knew it, some people thought it might be our song, but we thought we should make it official and put it out as our version of "A Real Hero." I love that song.
MT: What is something people might not know about you guys?
S: I was one class short of graduating college. I spent four years there in New York and everybody even came to graduation, but I happened to miss one credit and I never went back. I just stuck with music the whole time.
It was at SUNY Albany in upstate New York and I did the whole business school curriculum but there was one general education requirement, Europe or something, that I kept dropping. Then the final semester I took a class pass/fail and I didn't get through it. They didn't send a degree, they sent a letter that said you needed one more class and I said I'm good for now and I never did it.
MT: People showed up to graduation?
S: Yeah my whole family was there supporting me and everyone thought I graduated. I even thought I graduated.
MT: Do they still bring that up?
S: In the initial years after yeah, it was kind of an issue. My mom kept trying to make me go back. But I think everyone is cool with what's going on right now so hopefully we can stay relevant and make a career out of it.
MT: What else do you guys have coming up?
S: We're going back to Japan to play a show in Tokyo, we did Summer Sonic there a couple months ago. We are just going to write our next batch of music. I don't know if it'll be an EP or a single or an album or what but we've been getting in the room together and jamming ideas so that is the next thing. We'll tour through the beginning of November and I think we might just get a house together and write. I think that's where our heads at.
MT: Would you ever have any official features on an album or some songs?
S: Sure I'm open to anything that sounds awesome as a final product.
MT: You're on a bus with some cool people.
S: That's true and we do have a couple songs that could definitely fare well with another vocalist so it is an idea.