After starting Abe Vigoda in high school, Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez took their fledgling project and unintentionally helped spawn the so-called "tropical punk-rock" genre. The band's joyous live shows and reverb-drenched guitar sound — which is part surf rock, part psychedelic and part noisy punk, among other things — eluded easy categorization. But that didn't prove a barrier to accessibility, and in its roughly seven years together, the band has toured extensively in America and beyond, evolving its music along the way.
The 2010 album Crush found the band taking a big creative step with a set of songs that were polished, finely crafted and still as idiosyncratic as ever underneath music that, at times, bordered on more artistically ambitious glam rock. We had the opportunity to talk with Vidal about success, the shift in sound on the band's latest record and the core difference between playing DIY venues and more commercially established rock clubs.
Westword: How do you feel that people in your community react to the relative success of bands like No Age, HEALTH and even your own project?
Michael Vidal: Most people are really excited. But then there's the occasional person who will say, "All these bands suck; you all suck. It should be me. It should be my shitty band." But you can't really listen to those people, because it's based in a weird, childish thing. It hasn't changed what happens there. The Smell is exactly the same and we'll still play there.
"Repeating Angel" sounds like something Roxy Music would have done had David Bowie fronted the band for a song. What sorts of things inspired the sound of that song?
I think a couple of months before we recorded Skeleton, I was in this deep depression and listening to all things like David Bowie for a month or two months. I just started fucking around and got into a certain singing style. That song sticks out as my favorite on the album. We wanted to make a song that would bring you in slowly and stick out as the ballad of sorts. On any good pop record there's some bring-the-house-down ballad. That was kind of the goal in writing Crush — to make a pop album with different elements.
Ever since you've been coming through Denver, you've played a mix of DIY venues and clubs. Do you have a preference, and what do you see as the upsides and downsides — if any — to both?
At a DIY show, people are way looser and more comfortable. There's a more intimate energy. But you often sacrifice sound quality. There probably won't be any monitors or any of that kind of stuff. People who work at legitimate venues, I think they view it as a job, whereas people who run a DIY space, they just love to put on shows, and they love what's going on. That shows, and I think that makes everyone else more excited.