A few murmurs and giggles broke as the audience filtered into a recent show at the venerable Slim’s nightclub, where a small red drum kit and low electric keyboard were near the front of the stage. They looked oddly like something children would use.
Murmurs of curiosity turned to nods of appreciation as Smoosh — kid sisters Asya, 13, and Chloe, 11 — begin to play, turning out airy, introspective music. This is not Hanson-esque “M-M-M-Bop” — no slick dance moves or overproduced tracks. It’s just drums and keyboards, emotional indie rock with well-crafted lyrics about self-realization.
Asya handles the singing, while Chloe peeks out through her center-cut blond locks and blisters the skins. Both girls wear the same low-key denim and sweaters on stage as they did earlier in the day for their sound check and some pizza.
Smoosh, while relatively unknown east of Seattle, is beginning to make their mark. They’re heading to the South By Southwest music festival this week in Austin, Texas, where music industry executives search for the next big thing.
But big isn’t the top priority for Smoosh, or the girls’ parents. Normal and fun is.
Dad is working toward his doctorate at the University of Washington and mom is a physician. To minimize some of the glare on their personal lives, the parents are trying to keep their last names private, and for now at least, the girls’ soccer matches get as much family planning as their next gig.
Smoosh wants success, just not too much, too soon.
“I want to be pretty famous, but I don’t want to be like crazy famous where you can’t even walk out of the house,” Asya said.
Discovered by Death Cab drummerThe girls walked out to a music store a few years ago when they got their big break. As their dad shopped for a violin, the girls wandered around the store. Death Cab For Cutie drummer Jason McGerr happened to spot them, and suggested Chloe might want to try drumming herself.
She left with a drum kit. Asya had been playing piano for years. Before they knew it, a band was born.
“I like the whole experience of it, because you get to travel and go places and play at different venues in different cities,” Asya said. “You get to do a lot of fun stuff that you wouldn’t be able to do if you weren’t in a band.”
Clay Martin, co-founder of the Seattle record label Pattern 25, said deciding to sign Smoosh wasn’t difficult.
“I expected something cute and charming focused at that age group,” Martin said. “It was cute and charming, but it was also just shockingly accomplished. The arrangements had much more complexity than I expected, and the musicianship was great and the songwriting was just equally way beyond expectations.”
Asya’s voice warbles wonderfully when she sings, like a pre-teen Tori Amos minus the lush sensuality. And fueled by Chloe’s steady drumming, most songs leap along at an energetic pace. Their first album, “She Like Electric,” made The Associated Press list of overlooked albums of 2004, among other accolades.
Asya rattles off a street-cred list including Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power, Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire as some of the bands Smoosh is influenced by. Still, she’s realistic about Smoosh’s own success.
“I think our next CD might be like a sophomore slump, but I hope it’s not,” Asya said, musing over the band’s growth.
“What? It’ll be called ‘Sophomore Slump?”’ Chloe asks, nudging her sister.
“We can’t just rest on our laurels right now,” Asya continues.
“Are you trying to use big words?” Chloe teases.
Asya bursts into laughter. “I heard my dad say it one time,” big sis confesses. “We shouldn’t stop now and think we’re good enough, because we still have a long way to go.”
During their performance at Slim’s, there’s no between-song chitchat, no funny stories about life on the road. Just a soft “thanks” uttered by Asya before they launch into the next song. More giggles break out in the audience every time she says it.
Right after the applause.