Eddy Smith and the 507 are one of the great unsigned acts of the U.K. The band's even been declared so by a radio show called The Best of British Unsigned. Led by Smith, with his gravelly rasp of a voice, the Redhill-based group's upcoming debut EP, Part One, is an exciting and soulful collection of country-blues tunes that feel as fit for the diviest of dive bars as they do for a home record player.
With a total of two EPs scheduled for this year, a U.S. tour that will take the band throughout Colorado, as well as performances during South by Southwest in Austin, the London quintet has started to build real stateside momentum around its music.
Ahead of kicking off their U.S. tour, Smith and bandmate and Denver native Will Franden spoke to Westword about Part One, finding an international audience, Franden's Denver roots, and their growth as musicians since they began playing together over eight years ago.
Westword: Has it been difficult finding an audience outside of London?
Will Franden: We’ve been playing together for about eight years, and I think that we’re finding a good mix of people that are supporting the music we’re making — both here in London and in the States. One of the things we’re looking to do continually is come back to Colorado, and then doing South by Southwest, as well as hitting up some other cities throughout the Midwest.
What's the idea behind splitting a debut record into Part One and Part Two EPs?
Eddy Smith: We figured we needed some recorded music. As Will said, we’ve been playing for a long time, and really only in the last year or so have we really been able to find our sound, and that was from both of us leaving that time to sort of mature as musicians and songwriters.
For myself personally as a singer, I’ve changed a lot over the last two years; my voice has changed a lot...
Franden: Finally hit puberty, which helped.
Smith: Finally hit puberty! Which is why we’re celebrating tonight actually: my voice hitting puberty. It's fantastic [both laugh].
With all of that came some songs that we were really proud of, and we decided to record it and put it down into essentially an album, although we decided to release it as two-part EPs.
We wanted something out ASAP, and with things like the market changing, people were not so much interested in albums these days, it seems. We wanted to release something that people would listen to and care about, so we figured, let’s release an album, but in two parts.
That’s how it came about. We have about twenty to thirty songs in our repertoire, but we put it down to five songs to release now, and that’s what we decided to record and make our EP.
What are your expectations for playing South by Southwest on the cusp of releasing the EP?
Smith: I think that we’re just trying to take our music to a whole new target market. Our music is very, very much influenced by Americana, soul, blues, country. With our annual trip to America, the last time we were out, it felt like we got a great response to our music. This time, now that we have recorded music, we thought we could really capitalize on getting our music to our target audiences across the pond.
In the U.K., it's great, and there’s a great scene in London, but because we have the opportunity to come out to America, and really spread our wings a little bit, really get our sound out there, it seems like a really good idea. Especially as our music kind of comes from America; that’s where our inspiration comes from, and we sort of, in a way, are paying homage to our roots.
Franden: So far, the response has been amazing. We’ve had friends invite us back for gigs, we’ve got a couple invitations for some spots at SXSW, we’re going to be playing Gruene Hall, which we’re really excited about. It’s one of the oldest dance halls in Texas.
The response has been awesome so far; we’ve got a lot of support of old friends and new friends.
Will, as an Arapahoe High School graduate, what’s it like returning to Denver?
Franden: It’s great. I love it. I get to see some friends and family, get to see the new sights...as well as the old ones. I got a couple buddies playing around Denver, and I’ll get to come out and see them. I’m lucky enough to be able to do it and still work while I’m doing it.
Was there any sort of element of wanting to show everyone your successful band and new EP? Is it just a regular trip back home?
Franden: A bit of both, to be honest. It’s a good chance to keep working and supporting the music that I like while being able to play it for friends and family.
Eddy, you said you felt like your voice has matured since you two began playing music together. What were some other things that have needed some time to mature for the band?
Smith: I think it’s definitely a songwriting thing. I kind of feel that with arrangement. Because as a band, we all get together in the studio, arrange the music together. So, I’ll come in with a song and say, "Hey, guys, here’s a song that I’ve written," and I’ll play it.
I’m not a bass player. I’m not a drummer. I know the vibe that I’m going for, but these guys are the ones that take my songwriting and go, "Oh, this is what you mean. This is what you’re going after." As a band, really, we all have to take that time and fall into the slot of knowing exactly what we’re all going for and the sound we’re after. I think that kind of naturally takes time. You can’t force that.
The band is a band, and it becomes a unit after a certain amount of time. Some people are very lucky, and it happens straight away, and it’s awesome when it does. But for us, I think we really needed that time to fall into that sort of groove and become tighter as a unit.
Also, as well, we’re independent. We’ve never really looked to get signed or anything like that. But we also needed to get a sense of the business, how the industry worked, and that’s still a challenge. Still something we’re all learning.
Franden: On top of that, it's taken years of relentless gigging, and rehearsing. Just playing all kinds of gigs, all over different countries; all kinds of festivals, pubs, great venues, big venues, just everything – really, as much as we can.
What about your upcoming trip to the U.S. has you most excited?
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Smith: Becoming millionaires! No [laughs]. I think just being able to play our music to some appreciative crowds and people that we hope will enjoy it. To see new parts of the world. It’s always a pleasure to come to the states, because I absolutely love it there, and I take a lot of influence from the United States.
Particular places we’re going, like Denver, Austin, Kansas City, just seeing those places and getting to experience what it’s like to be there and play there. We always make new fans when we’re there and it’s nice to have people live thousands of miles away appreciate what you do. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Franden: The reception we’ve always gotten in Colorado has been awesome. Like I said, everybody’s been really supportive of what we do. and I think if that hadn’t happened the first time we came out, we wouldn’t be coming back every year. But it did happen, and people have been really supportive and appreciative of what we’re doing. You don’t get that in a lot of other places in the world.