By Christian Thompson
Liam B. Smith is undeniably ambitious. Although the up-and-coming musician from western Loudoun released just his second single in May, he already has his sights set on shaking up the county’s music scene.
And maybe his aspirations aren’t so daft. In the two months since the release of “Keep Your Head Up”, the single’s music video has racked up nearly 50,000 views on Facebook. Although the track owes a certain je ne sais quoito garage rockers Cage the Elephant, it swaggers with a confidence rarely found in an artist’s debut and begs to be played again before it’s hardly finished.
Next month, on July 3, Liam and his band will perform at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java to compete in the Mid-Atlantic Battle of the Bands. Prelims for the competition stretch over four nights and will feature over two dozen regional band competing for a cash prize of $2,000.
Only time will tell whether the reception of his band’s first single will predict further success in Vienna, but Liam seems up for the task. Get Out Loudoun recently chatted with Liam about his outlook on Loudoun’s music scene, what inspires his pursuit of songwriting, the time he sang backing vocals for a Japanese pop band, and his thoughts ahead of the Battle of the Bands.
GOL:So tell me a little about your musical/personal background. What were some of your earliest musical memories/influences?
Smith:My early years of music discovery sounded a lot like Chuck Berry and the Beatles. It was pretty basic—12 bar blues and whatnot. I really liked Chicago as a pre-teen. I listened to a little 2000-era punk, but for the most part I thought that it was overdone. It wasn’t until I discovered [Japanese pop group] One Ok Rock as a teenager that I really fell into music.
GOL:Do you feel as if the music culture in Loudoun has grown in recent years? And if so, how has the culture affected you?
Smith: I’m not sure that I can really say whether it’s grown or not. I’m 21 and have only been pursuing music seriously for the past two or three years, so I haven’t really been in the loop for that long. I will say that the music culture is very emaciated right now, but I think everyone knows that. Sure, if you play bluegrass or something acoustic and quiet that people don’t need to pay attention to, you can run the winery circuit and make bank off tips. But there are few opportunities for rock bands.
GOL:How did you discover the band One OK Go? Is Japanese music/culture something you’re generally interested in? And how did you get involved in singing backing vocals on their latest album?
Smith:I mean, I think that Japanese culture has a lot to offer the West … but my interest in OOR wasn’t really a cultural thing. I came across them on YouTube in 2012 and was hooked from the first minute of the first song I heard.
When they were working on their album, “Ambitions,” they put something out on social media that they were looking for some people to sing gang vocals on a few tracks. I guess I was one of the first 20 to respond. So I flew to L.A. for two days and crashed on a friend’s couch. … Imagine being a kid in 1968 and being asked to sing background vocals on the recording of “Hey Jude.” That’s how I felt and still feel about that experience.
GOL:In the music video for “Keep Your Head Up,” there are themes of artistic pursuit in the face of a more conventional lifestyle. How have these themes influenced your own life as a musician?
Smith:I think 99 percent of artists face the sort of pushback that’s portrayed in [“Keep Your Head Up”]. And I think that kind of pushback is fair to a point. You need to prove to people that your motivations are right and that you’re dedicated to your vision. So I wanted to portray that struggle set in the shoes of a character who was comparable to me but distinct enough that the work could stand apart from Liam Smith.
GOL:Can you tell me a little about how you’re preparing for the Battle of the Bands? And are there any other shows that you have coming up in the near future?
Smith: So I hate competitions, but Jammin’ Java is a great place to play. We’ve got a set of four songs we’re going to play, including Keep Your Head Up. I need to finish writing one of them, but I’m really excited about it. That’s the only summer gig we have booked right now. We need to get on the ball in terms of getting shows, but it’s tough. So if you’re reading this and you know of any opportunities, hit up my management at email@example.com. I think some cool stuff will happen this summer.
Liam B. Smith will play the first round of Jammin Java’s Band Battle on Tuesday, July 3. Tickets for the event are $10 and are on sale at jamminjava.com. You can find the video for “Keep Your Head Up” at facebook.com/liambsmith.