Stan Soultaire isn’t one for labels and he doesn’t care how you describe his band’s music, so long as you enjoy it.
Soultaire is the driving force behind Fort Smith punk outfit Holy Smokes! He sat down with ShindigMusic for an exclusive interview to talk all things music — be it his own or some of his favorite artists such as Tom Petty and Tyler, the Creator — and to offer a glimpse inside his mind as of one of the area’s most gifted songwriters.
Four years of Holy Smokes!
Holy Smokes! rose from the ashes of Soultaire’s brief solo career — which saw him gigging in clubs throughout the duration of his time in college — but he yearned for more.
“I got tired of doing it; I wanted a broader sound and wanted to play with a group,” he said. “I was hanging out at a buddy’s house and he was playing one of those (independent punk/emo record label) Top Shelf Records samplers, and I heard it and just thought, ‘holy shit, this is the kind of stuff I want to play.”
It was from there he formed the band, which originated as a four-piece with himself on lead guitar and vocals, Alex Simpkins on bass, Justin Carnes on guitar and backing vocals and Daniel Wiggins on drums. At present day, Michael Dicks (drums) and Phillip Morris (bass) comprise the band’s rhythm section. The band wrote and recorded the band’s first release, 2016’s Scorched, and the trio have established a chemistry that Soultaire says really enables the group to do its best work.
“This is the most cohesive of the lineups we’ve had,” he said. “We’re all on the same page — we write all of our stuff together and it really works. I kind of come in with a nucleus of what I think the song will be, but it’s cool though, because the guys will hit me with shit and I’m like ‘oh, I don’t know about this, but I like this part,’ and we sort of jam it out until it sounds right. I’m never dead set on how it’s supposed to sound, because it’s not supposed to sound a certain way until it’s done. No one tries to step on each other, we all respect each other and that really works well for us.”
Soultaire added that each member pushes each other to their full potential, which makes being in the band that much more rewarding.
“We’re all so humble, it’s really rewarding getting to play with other musicians who are more talented than you, because it makes you better,” he said.
The band will celebrate its four-year anniversary on Friday (October 13) at 7 p.m., at Professional Flooring Installation, 3510 Grand Ave., in Fort Smith with special guest, ambient rock titans Unwed Sailor (Tulsa), and a trio of Fort Smith punk acts including Wiggins’s SmilesLiesFires, Takes The Cake and Carnes’s Young Bolt. There is a $5 cover.
Soultaire said the show will be a celebration of where the band has been and what he hopes it will become.
On the new album Framework
Soultaire said a bright future is planned for the group, which will culminate with the release of their first full length album, Framework, sometime in the coming month.
The band has finished its responsibilities for the 11-track album and are shopping it to labels, which they hope could lead to an extensive tour to promote it.
“We wrote a lot of songs we’re proud of and we think people will like it,” Soultaire said. “It’s our most well-rounded work and that’s the difference between this and Scorched. We’ve all been listening to each other and trying to figure out what’s missing from our sound.”
He said the lyrical themes relate to a number of topics such as love and self-reflection. Inspiration, Soultaire said, can come from out of nowhere.
“That’s the thing about songwriting — it really leaves you vulnerable and it just sort of comes out,” he said. “I’ll listen back to some of these and go ‘oh, shit, is this how I feel?’ But maybe it’s just taking a feeling of something I have and then just conflate it.”
Songs on Framework also touch on the current political climate.
“It’s gonna take a nightmare like this one to wake me up,” Soultaire sings in the opening line of the killer Icarus. The line, Soultaire said, was written about last November’s presidential election. He took that feeling and related it to the feeling of despair in a relationship.
“The emotion of us as a nation right now is very divided and polarized that isn’t a super great feeling,” he said. “But those same emotions can be translated to other things like friends, family, love, life, losing a dog, whatever, inspiration just kind of happens and when it does you want to capture it.”
Music wise, the band wanted more space to “jam,” and Soultaire said with a pared down lineup, the musical arrangements take on a different feel, both in the studio and when performing live. They looked to the recording habits of Fugazi and Steve Albini for inspiration.
“One of the big things that shifted our sound is that I had to readjust the way I play in some extent in order to make it a fatter, more full sound,” he said. “Those records Fugazi did with (Albini) really helped us develop our approach for mixing and how we play in general. No frills and what you hear on the album is what we’ll sound like live.”
On his inspiration and thoughts on the state of music
Soultaire also offered his thoughts on the state of the music industry and the direction he sees it heading.
Though his view of the industry wouldn’t be considered skeptical, he predicts artists will have to continue to self promote and work hard, and any help a label could provide would be considered a bonus.
He called upon the punk rock ethos and the DIY culture — citing indie hip-hop artists like Tyler, the Creator, Chance the Rapper and Earth Gang, who rigorously self-promote themselves and their music — as the way forward.
“The music industry isn’t what it used to be as the bigger artists aren’t selling a whole lot of records anymore,” he said. “Music is free now and so if you’re making any money at all it’s from touring or merch or whatever else. You’re working your ass off to get anywhere at all.”
Although “music is free” now, thanks to the likes of streaming, it does provide an artist a platform for getting their music to the masses.
“That’s the disconnect between a lot of the bigger acts who’ve sold millions of records and some of the artists in the DIY vein. We don’t have that kind of luxury, so anyway we get it out, we do it,” he said.
Though Soultaire prefers the album-oriented format of listening to music, he admits that art is subjective and listeners all consume music in different ways, and artists adapt.
“Take an artist like Tom Petty, he’s one of my favorite songwriters. He wrote amazing songs, but a lot of his albums as a full thought were hit or miss,” he said. “In contrast you take a band like The Who who wrote these really great rock records that you need to listen to as one. It’s really all about writing how you want to write.”
Music, Soultaire said, is the great communicator and “the one thing that connects everyone” together.
“True artists write for themselves and if people grasp onto that and if they’re moved by your music and if they react, that’s really powerful,” he said. “It’s our way of being able to look inside ourselves and discovering that we’re not alone. I don’t care about genres or labels — people think punk rock music is so abrasive, but it’s not, it’s about connecting — when you go watch a live show, you’re looking inside yourself and looking at someone on that stage saying something that speaks to you and then you realize that you’re not so lonely. Music connects everyone together. It heals and it’s the one thing everyone understands.”
Featured Photo by Jimmy Reeve, additional photos by Tomas Quiroga