Let’s begin with an introduction: My name is Brian Smith and I’m a musician from Portland, Oregon, USA that just completed a tour spanning most of the last three years, primarily in Europe, but in South America and the states as well, which ended in a grand total of 322 concerts in 40 countries. During this time, I met tons of really amazing musicians that I’ve befriended and sometimes performed with and have carried with me as I’ve expanded my definition of “home”. Now that I’m actually going home though, it seems as good of a time as any to share.
Just press the ‘Play’ button and read the story behind every song…
1) Peter Piek (Germany) – Left Room
Peter, Peter, Peter. What to say about him? A lot of the things I own are in his attic in Leipzig right now and I have a sneaking suspicion he’s not too pleased about this though he always insists otherwise. I met him in Corvallis, Oregon, USA back in spring of 2011 when he was touring through and I organized a house concert for him there, which can be summarized as the “worst thing for a touring musician to experience on tour” or the “best way to be introduced to a town you’re only spending one day in”. Essentially, there was a guy at the house with serious mental issues and a machete that my friend who lived there called the cops on before the show even started. Before the cops could arrive though, the guy hid the machete somewhere in the house and the police didn’t have the authority to make him leave without searching the house to find the machete, which my friend wouldn’t allow and didn’t want to find the machete himself to turn over to the police because it seemed like a dangerous idea to make enemies with guy who had both a machete and mental issues. Instead, a lot of other people left and Peter played for basically nobody while this psychotic man was outside meticulously organizing and reorganizing all of his belongings on the front porch. After the show, we went to another party, but Peter oddly wanted to come back to do some painting. When we finally left again, Peter was following me in my car and was pulled over by the police in a car that belonged to his friend in Texas. He didn’t get in any trouble though with the excuse of “we don’t have this rule in my country” which was a surprisingly valid reason in this circumstance. He then slept on my couch and years later with this whole catastrophe being our first introduction, somehow we’re still friends.
2) She Owl (Italy) – Over The Bones
I love Jolanda and Paolo! Every time with them is a wonderful experience. I had known of them through Peter and a friend of mine in San Francisco for awhile before we actually met when I went to Italy for the first time in September of 2012 with my then girlfriend, Hannah Sheets on tour in our project called Biological Lovers. They picked us up at the train station and we crammed all our stuff in their tiny car. Since then, Jolanda always remarks about how I carry way too much stuff with me when I travel. “It’s mostly merch!” I reply.
One time when I was at Jolanda’s parents’ place with them, Paolo was teaching me dirty expressions in Italian while we were smoking cigarettes outside. He then called Jolanda out so I could say what he told me was the most offensive thing you can say in the language. Very reluctantly, I said it, to which Jolanda laughed and wandered off inside and Paolo then told me the expression translated to, “you make my dick shit.”
3) Wooden Ambulance (Serbia) – Is What It Is
I’ve met Goran in Subotica three or four times while I was there to perform at the infamous Studio 11, the last time being on tour with Peter Piek when we were lucky enough to be graced by a performance from him. I don’t know about anyone else at the show, but for me, it was a highly emotional experience to which he told me once he finished, “if I have nothing else, I play with emotion” and indeed, there was nothing but emotion. And that voice! That voice is from another world in another time.
4) Squalloscope (Austria) – Domino
Whenever I think about Anna, I feel happy and I believe that speaks volumes about her. She really brightens up my world without even knowing or trying. I met her at the PPZK Das Sommerfest 2013 in Peter’s flat in Leipzig (it’s a pretty big flat) and her music just blew my mind away. I then made it my night’s mission to befriend her, which I felt I accomplished instantly when I used the dumb opener line of, “your music sounded like something I would expect to hear on K Records”, but luckily, she had grown up being a big fan of the label. Since then, we’ve been pals and when I went to Vienna a few weeks later with some days off from tour, we filmed the music video for my song “This Must Be Life” with her boyfriend and loads of props I jokingly demanded for the video. What wonderful times those were and the nostalgia continues to flow.
5) Phia (Germany via Australia) – Do You Ever?
I also met Sophia at the PPZK Das Sommerfest in 2013 and was amazed by how incredibly talented she is. Kalimba, vocals, and a loop pedal was all she needed to create the amazing sound that was exactly like the recording of this song. I had a good conversation about loop pedals with her at the end of the evening, which made me realize how much the loop pedal is an instrument or really multiple instruments unto itself and she exemplified this notion so perfectly.
6) Elephant And The Moon (Croatia) – The Night Is Catching Up With Me
To appease Petar’s “boo hoo me so sad all the time/my music is not worth the data storage that it occupies” attitude, I almost feel as though I should make fun of him in some way in here, but I won’t do that and I won’t do that because I really like him and his music. I met him after Biological Lovers played a nice concert at Kino Europa in Zagreb in January 2013 and when we returned in April, we played one of the weirdest shows I’ve ever done, which consisted of a strange boat and a drunk bar owner who played solo bass for a long time after the show, aggressively hit on Hannah, and took forever to pay us, not because he didn’t want to (we assume), but because of his general inability to perform the necessary motor functions to give us the money. I suppose this doesn’t say much about Petar or his music, but rather just an experience we had together. He’s a really nice guy who makes really nice music though despite whatever he may lead you to believe, which is probably why I make the effort to find him every time I pass through.
7) Fernando Milagros (Chile) – Reina Japonesa
Fernando! Ah! What an amazing man with the perfect voice! PERFECT VOICE. I met him in Ecuador when we had the same booking agent who paired us up for a tour together while I was in South America with my drummer, Daniel McIntire. Jesus. I want to tell lots of stories about him, but I’m realizing the telling of these escapades would probably not be beneficial for any of us. There’s literally nothing of value I could say that isn’t explicit, but perhaps that’s evidence that he’s doing something right or perhaps rather miraculously able to function considering all he’s doing wrong. Ha! I really love him and I’d like to just add that I just found this quote he said to me saying, “You are a shadow of a man. You must draw the line of your ass again.” I have no idea what the context was but perhaps maybe none is necessary.
8) Astro (Chile) – Ciervos
While on tour with Fernando in Ecuador, he found out we were going to Santiago (his home city) and said he could get us some concerts there (even though it was only a few weeks away), but we had no idea what we were in for when we actually arrived. On the day of the show, Daniel had gone to the movies so we agreed to meet at the venue. On my way there, I was hiking through the forest to the amphitheater on the hill and suddenly a pitbull appeared out of nowhere. In one moment I was running backwards being chased by the dog and in the next, there was nothing left to run on. I then fell off a four-meter cliff, but I don’t remember anything. I must have then rolled backwards because my guitar on my back was severely damaged, but broke my fall. The next thing I knew was I was lying face down on a bunch of rocks, the dog was gone, I was shaking all over, and I then had to head back to the flat I was staying in to change my pants that were ripped out the back and tell the promoter I was going to be late. When I arrived, I was still bleeding quite a bit and everyone was in disbelief that I was there and still wanted to perform, but the show was amazing and seeing how incredible of a band Astro was, how kind they were, and getting to hang out with them all night more than made up for my bad pre-show experience. On another note, I didn’t ask them for permission to include one of their songs in here, but they were too great of a band to leave off this list, which really speaks a lot for how much I want you to listen to them.
9) Geeta (Canada) – Rolling Dice
Geeta mesmerized me to say the least. I suppose that’s the best way to put it. I had never listened to her music or had heard of her before we played a show on a bill we shared in Berlin in May 2014 (as I always do with any act I perform with so as not to create strange expectations), but we had great conversations before the show, discovering we were in the same predicament about the visa situation for staying longer in Europe. She’s gotten a visa in the UK by now and I have one from Germany, which I now ironically won’t be using. In the meantime, I believe she has a new album coming out soon, which I’m really looking forward to.
10) Kimiko (Croatia) – Berlin
Kimiko is a nice group consisting of Zoran and Lora. I met them at a show in Rijeka in May 2013 when my band (Biological Lovers) was sharing the bill with their band. After the show, they gave us a ride to their place outside of Zagreb where we stayed the night. The next day, Zoran drove us to the city and told us about their wedding. They flew to Las Vegas and got married – by Elvis. “We decided if we were going to get married, we were going to go all the way.” This is one of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard.
11) The John (Macedonia) – 24/7
The day after playing with Kimiko, we played with The John in Zagreb. They were on tour and as the promoter put it, “they’re the best rock band in The Balkans right now.” There’s really no argument there. Two months later, I played in Skopje and Ljupa (the main man of the band) introduced me to a girl with whom I lived the movie “Before Sunrise” and fell in love with for a little while. It was all too short lived though as I left the region to resume my endless tour a month later and the distance didn’t make the heart grow fonder. I will however be forever grateful to him for this and when I returned, he gave me his band’s new album, which came out after the one that this song is on and is incredibly good for any fans of 60’s psych music sung in Macedonian.
12) Cheyenne (Switzerland) – Buffalo Killers
I first met Dayla back in February of 2013 on what was the very beginning of my solo tour when I was playing a concert at her best friend, Marion’s place whom I met through Couchsurfing. I remember my first impressions of her being that she was very sweet and very beautiful and after talking for awhile in Marion’s living room, she offered to show me some of the demos of her band she had just started. Perhaps it was because she was too sweet or because she was too beautiful or that she mentioned her band so casually or said it was such a new project and her first band or that I had just had too many past experiences like this where I’d have to pretend to like something so as to maintain conversational pleasantries, but I really wasn’t expecting much. However, I was completely blown away to put my impressions mildly – blown away to the point where I didn’t know how I could possibly perform the concert anymore given that she was in the room and what she had shown me were just demos representing merely the potential of what her music could and would become. Not only this, but I’d later return when passing through just to catch one of her shows and the experience was entirely hypnotic. At some point during my handful of trips to Lausanne, I’d meet John (the guitarist) as well to which all I can remember was that he mentioned he worked at a porn shop. “Best job I ever had” he said and years later, I’m still trying to figure out what to make of this.
13) Heart of Wolves (France) – I Go
I met Celyne and Tristan in November of 2014 after a long train ride from Le Mans to Montpellier hoping to arrive in time to catch their show, which I unfortunately was unable to do as I got lost and was only able to witness the disassembling and careful arrangement of equipment into Tristan’s small car. I was staying with Celyne for three days on account that I was performing on the second night in the city as was put into contact with her by our mutual friend Vincent in Grenoble. She was incredibly sweet and welcoming, even coming to my concert to stand in the front row of this packed cellar that made it nearly impossible for me to breathe. Regardless of my gasping for breath the rest of the night (and for days to come), we’d end up talking endlessly as she picked my brain for how to commence an unreasonably long and far-reaching tour. I told her all I knew and I believed and still believe her to be ambitious enough to do it. Look out for her in 2016 or so for wherever you may be reading this from, perhaps she’ll be making her way there soon.
14) The Still Tide (USA) – Summer
As mentioned earlier, I rarely listen to other artists before performing with them so as not to skew my experience by creating expectations, but I happened to do so on this occasion and even though I really enjoyed what I had heard before, my expectations were far exceeded when I got to see how incredibly talented every member of this Denver-based trio was up close. Not only this, but normally I don’t get to spend lengthy amounts of time with bands I’m performing with outside of a few hours before and after the shows if I’m lucky, yet after this concert at Ä in Berlin when they didn’t have a place to stay for the night, I invited them back to my place in Leipzig, which they graciously accepted putting them 1.5 hours closer to their show the next day and me at my temporary home to sleep in my temporary bed. Sometime before they left, we also managed to swap albums and theirs, well, ever since I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.
15) Bernhard Eder (Austria) – Turn On
I suppose I might as well just include everyone now, right? I mean, if Bernhard makes the list, then every musician I’ve ever met should too. Ha! I think this sort of dialogue describes our relationship perfectly. One time, I was on a mini tour with Peter Piek and I as his support in Austria and I turned around in Peter’s car jokingly to ask what he was reading and if it was an article about himself, only to look at it and realize it was. Later that night, he’d try to get me to dance with him while singing a jazzy number about Das Sommerfest at Peter’s place in 2013 where as mentioned before, I was introduced to many of these amazing musicians. However seductive his offer was at the time though, I politely refused only for him to scat his way to a crescendo of applause.
16) Melnelson (France) – Young Boy
As someone that was massively obsessed with and influenced by antifolk music when in high school, this was surprisingly the only antifolk group I ever managed to play with and did so when they invited me to open for them in Grenoble during November 2014. At this time, I happened to be in town having played there the night before and would be headlining the show with them as the support in their city of Lyon the night after so it worked perfectly for us to team up. After the show in Grenoble, we went to a big, silly party at the invitation of my friends only to leave so we could rock out to Blondie’s Greatest Hits in the car all the way back to Caroline’s place. All I can really say is that Caroline and Antonin are a really fun and funny duo that make music which fits this description, not to mention of course how warm and welcoming they are – truly delightful people.
17) The Marshmallow Notebooks (Croatia) – The Last Tourist In Town
Remember that weird boat concert in Zagreb I mentioned earlier? Well sometimes even at the strangest of shows, some amazing connections can be made. In this case, that connection was meeting Matija who loved that weird concert so much that when he saw a little over a year later that I was performing in his hometown of Krapina, he found a way to squeeze himself onto the bill as a support act and brilliantly so as I’ve been a fan of his music ever since.
18) Ilko Birov (Bulgaria) – I’ll Be
In the end, everything ended up coming full circle when I returned to Plovdiv two years after my first visit to the city for the occasion of performing at the OPS Festival to the delight of having Ilko open for me then, only to have not managed to exchange contacts but somehow find we were once again sharing the bill when I returned in June 2015. To be honest, I didn’t recognize him at first. He had transformed quite a lot in appearance while I felt I was more or less the same. He was still the honest, humble, sincere, and gentle soul that I had known him to be though and his voice still quivered over his gently fingerpicked melodies as I hung on every word.
The next day, I’d head to Sofia to play a show organized by Mitko, the creator of this magazine and at his request, my excuse to share these artists and catalogue my thoughts and stories about them. I truly have enjoyed the opportunity to meet all of these people through this strange reality I’ve been fortunate enough to have had experienced over these past three years. I would like to thank everyone mentioned in here for helping make this journey much more interesting and tolerable and especially to DIY Conspiracy for providing me a proper platform to share it all. It’s truly been a dream to share these stages, these roads, and to take you all with me in my headphones wherever I go.
Artists I wanted to include but didn’t have any samples of their music to do so:
- Gipsy Rufina (Italy)
- Mary & The Hookers (Sweden)
- Bob Corn (Italy)
- Harpn’Gun (France)
- Vlasta Popić (Croatia)
And likely many more that I’ve simply and regrettably forgotten!