Bigger and Better

Feeling rejuvenated after a couple of failed relationships, ex-Throwdowns member Erin Smith and her “gigantic voice” return with an album worthy of her larger-than-life personality

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If breaking up from one relationship is, as Neil Sedaka once sang, “hard to do,” then what’s it like to end two relationships simultaneously?

Not easy, according to Erin Smith, the former lead singer of the Maui-based indie/pop rock outfit The Throwdowns and a survivor of divorces in both her personal and professional lives. But on her just-released solo album American Boy, Smith demonstrates through a collection of new material that while dealing with a double-dose of splitsville can be difficult, it doesn’t have to leave you permanently bitter.

“I haven’t had a lot of that kind of upset before in my life. I come from a real stable family, so that entire period in 2011 when I was going through a divorce from my husband and a divorce from The Throwdowns was sort of like, whoa! It certainly was rough,” confesses the Canadian-born singer- songwriter, whose vocal stylings have often been compared to Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and whose unmistakable red lipstick and larger-than-life personality are signature features of her live performances. “But on the flipside, here I am now and every- thing is great and everything kind of happens for a reason.”

The album and its songs were certainly instrumental in helping Smith get back on her feet. Recorded at Mixart Studios in Montreal, American Boy has a touch of The Throwdowns style to it, particularly in the island reggae-infused lead single Love Long Distance. That track was released a couple of months ago and has since garnered heavy radio airplay on Star 101.9’s music charts. But the rest of the album is vintage Smith — layered with an indie rock vibe and poppy choruses best represented on tracks such as Blind Leading the Blind and Chances, and highlighted by her powerful vocals, which sound even bigger and better than during her Throwdown days.

As for the album title, Smith explains it was initially inspired by the events from four years ago, when her relationships with men soured. “At the time I was thinking, aaaaahh, these American dudes are killing me!” she says, laughing at the memories that were once quite painful. Eventually, however, the title came to represent her new
love and her feelings about “change, hope, balance and a big life full of triumphs and mistakes.”

American Boy has more to do with the current relationship I’m in. My boyfriend convinced me to move to Oahu a few years back, and he was the one who really helped me through that difficult period,” confesses Smith, whose new band will hold an album launch party at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 11, at The Republik. Also performing at the party are special guests Random Weirdos, Crimson Apple, Human Lion, Illis It, Aidan James, Erika Elona and Candy Diaz.

Here’s what else Smith told Musical Notes about the reasons behind leaving The Throwdowns and a few side projects she’s been working on since relocating to Oahu:

MN: The last time we talked, The Throwdowns had just released its album Legs of Our Own and had big plans to conquer the world. Then came the disbandment. What happened?
ES: We hit a few walls. Part of it was some of the guys had successful outside businesses and babies to tend to, and it was becoming harder for the band to maneuver around those other responsibilities too much. But also, we had creative differences in the crew. I mean I love those guys and everything, but we all came from different back- grounds. We jelled at first, but the more we moved forward, the more it became apparent that it would be difficult for us to agree on what our sound was going to be. Also, part of our appeal was everyone in the band was so charismatic. It was like having four front people, in terms of how we carry ourselves. It certainly made for an interesting dynamic, but it also made it harder to make decisions because everyone had that Type A personality. And I really don’t mean that in a negative way, but it is hard to move the train forward when you have four chiefs.

MN: You’ve managed to keep your own train of outside interests rolling as a music and fashion blogger for the Honolulu Pulse website. Is it easier for you to be blogging than songwriting?
ES: You know I didn’t intend to get into writing for the press, but when I started doing the Heels & Picks column, I really liked it! Honestly writing songs and writing for print are so different. I actually think I may be a better writer than I am a songwriter because I find it difficult to whittle my ideas down to song format and really grab those key lines.

MN: Aside from your blogger responsibilities, I hear you’ve been doing some vocal coaching on the side. I mean, how cool is it to have Erin Smith as your singing instructor?!
ES: Yeah, it’s been an interesting twist for me, and I really didn’t see this coming. I started vocal coaching last year at Kailua Music School, and it’s gotten real big, real fast. I now have somewhere around 55 students. But the high number of students works for me because I’m from a big family and I’m like a big kid anyway.

MN: And you possess the kind of big voice students really dig, right?
ES: I’ve got a gigantic voice that I’ve learned to control, so I do a lot of work with power and presence, showing my students how to maintain and protect their voice, and sing from their core. I sing big and I have to do it all of the time, so for many of my students, they’re like, how do you do that? I teach them that if you’re singing big notes all the time and you’re not doing it right, your vocals get tired real quick. But if you do it the right way, then you can protect your cords and still have a lot of power, and you can sing and sing and sing, and you’ll be just fine.