Smilex: Top 10 Oxford Bands

It’s been 10 whole years since the influential Oxford band Smilex hit the Oxford music scene with their debut EP Beg For It. Since then, the band has watched the scene swell and expand, they have seen bands reach the very pinnacle of their potential and they have seen bands implode and disappear in the blink of eye. Ever present, Smilex have been a reassuring constant, a testament to the Oxford ethos of cooperation and dedication. To honour their ten years on the circuit, we asked them who their top 10 Oxford bands have been over the past ten years and what they mean to them personally.

1. Caliber/AllYouMiss/The Charm Assault

Lee: “Our history is pretty much intertwined with the co singing/songwriting team of Suzie Grange and Olivia Luce – Pat (drums) has gone out with Liv since before Lee met him at the first show Terri (quickfix) and I saw them and the rest is history: a long time of playing together (Smilex’s first show was supporting them) as label mates and collaborating while also remaining close friends for a decade – resulting in Liv stepping in for Jen on bass (and already having gigged over a year with us and helped write a whole new record to follow ‘la petite mort’ soon!) and also as of September this year becoming Mrs Pat Holmberg – You couldn’t get much more intertwined! It is too hard to choose between their projects as while they are very different beasts indeed it is a little like choosing a sister’s favourite phase for us! They are a real asset to the local music scene having kept the female rock flag flying since their early teens and in that time amassing a damn fine catalogue of catchy passionate rock tunes for your heart and your head (to bang to!) check out the charm assault next time u get the chance – because they’re worth it!”

2. The Rock of Travolta

Lee: “Another band who we are inextricably linked to by history and friendship – Pat was in the band for a bit (including the legendary Radiohead South Park support! Which was actually the day I asked Pat to join Smilex, having not seen him drum until then but had really hit it off with him so was really nervous about not liking his style – as it turned out he was a Grohl-lite – so perfect!) We have been good mates with them for years with me and Phill collaborating loads over the years both with Smilex and in our duo Boywithatoy plus sharing a house with him and Deadly (‘The Temple Of Rock’ as we christened it,due to it being on Temple road and that was a chapter straight out of Motley Crue’s book ‘The Dirt’), Tom being in The Delta Frequency (who’s album ‘Wisdom Walks Hand In Hand Idiocy’ is awesome!) with Phill and sharing a house for a while with Matt Spooner, another TROT dude we have all played with in various guises. Jenny Bates also played the cello on ‘syllabus’ from ‘7’. A great band in any era you may want to check out and it’s really inspiring having friends who got the same as MJ’s greatest hits in NME and a coveted 4 out of 5 Kerrang review which I’m still jealous of – an all time classic Oxford band!”

3. Dustball/Dive Dive

Tom: “Pretty much my favourite song from an Oxford band is ‘Fallout Sound’. Recorded at the same time as ‘Like Monkeys Do’. Around this kind of time dustball were really fucking good live. All the songs were great and played really well. They have grown into really good friends and we actually share a rehearsal spot pretty much exclusively with them and Frank Turner nowadays. Tom was in their video for ‘Liar’ too – he’s the ‘possibly mental’ one”

Lee: “I prefer Dive Dive actually – a really tight band, Jamie’s song writing and each players perfect accompaniment really sets them out as a band who know exactly how to mesh their playing personalities well! On a personal note I would like to take this opportunity to apologise officially for the eyeful Nigel Powell got when he played drums for a Chilli Peppers tribute set we performed for Jen Smilex’s birthday – it’s not an enviable position at the back when the singer is only wearing a sock and bends over to grab his drink!”

4. Canola

Tom: “The reason Pat and I played rock music. Loads of energy. Wingnut basically copied everything they did. Haha!”

Pat:  “Canola was not only an awesome band, but between them they gave me a great musical education.  Josh taught me to trash my kit at the first ‘proper’ gig I played, when I was 13 with CCCP.  Jase (one of my best men at the aforementioned wedding, along with Tom and Lee) was a massive influence on my playing.  Hard hitting and dynamic, with a knack for writing lines that really fit the songs.  We used to hang out lots, drinking carry-out ale from the Rose & Crown in our native Charlbury whilst listening to Fugazi, The Pixies, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. ‘Q’ / ‘Test Pilot’ released on Fierce Panda are epic tracks in the Sub-Pop vein, but you just had to see them live to appreciate the sheer energy.  Tunes like ‘Morphine’ and ‘Copper’ taught me that there are some songs that are just made to finish a set, and if you haven’t got them then you’re not ready yet.

5. The Daisies

Lee: “Jamie Hyatt is pretty much the reason I’m into local bands/the Oxford scene and the conduit by which I discovered how to get in a band by way of the Eynsham youth centre when I was an impressionable teen! – he still remains one of Oxford’s best songwriters in my book – the Daisies, Medal and the Family machine between them are responsible for a huge chunk of my favourite local songs. I played the Aeroplane day ep and Kowloon house album both to death! If you want some post-Daises gems try ‘Up Here For Hours’ by Medal and ‘Got It Made’ by The Family Machine! The Family Machine are just the nicest bunch too! It’s great when good musicians are nice people! Especially when they don’t want stuff! Tom also played with Jamie in one of Richard Walters band’s affectionately and unofficially known as ‘Dog Blanket’.

6. Narco

Tom: “Rich had great ideas of how to compile and perform music. More about attitude than anything else. I learned a lot from watching Narco. Lee – yeah, really good live!”

Pat:  “As well as the attitude as Tom says, Rich Narco taught me lots about how to adapt parts and play to sound good when recording drums, which inevitably changes the way you play live too.  I used to stay with Rich regularly when studying at 6th form, with the pretence of working on Wingnut Recordings, but really just because I enjoyed chilling out with musically experienced and interesting people, trying to pick up as much as possible.  The Wingnut recordings ended up sounding wholesome, one of the only early recordings I played on that I still listen to. Rich and I now laugh about him having a 16 year old schoolboy sleeping at his house!”

7. Meanwhile…Back In Communist Russia

Lee: “They had a huge impact on my lyrics or at least how I approached them, there was time my three current fave lyricists were Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Emily Gray! More than anything I started to see the value of my words looking good in print, not just sounding good to the music and being catchy! Also I started attempting to make my life interesting, poetic and detailed. She graced ‘Beg For It’ with a monologue and the “mistress bitch in crimson red” who “sows the seeds inside my head” etc in ‘My Madonna Whore’  is code for their an acronym – M.B.I.C.R. Emily also did the artwork for ‘7’ which is simply amazing! Tim Croston also played on ‘ gett off the game’ on ‘7’ and is in The Prohibition Smokers Club with me which is a real thrill for me every time we work together as he is a thoroughly intelligent and talented dude! Both their albums ‘Indian Ink’ and ‘My Elixir, My Poison’ are as much faves of mine as the next band on the list…

8. Radiohead

Lee: “It seems a bit silly to mention them as if it’s not obvious just in terms of sheer inspiration from arriving in Oxford and buying ‘Pop Is Dead’ (which Smilex played as the last song in our downstairs headline set on the legendary last night at the Zodiac!) now on cassingle from Our Price and realising this band were from here – until then music was something megastar geniuses from Minneapolis did and here was a (even at that point, obviously great) band from this town – who you could bump into (and I did – so much I started getting really nervous whenever I would meet one of them because I was afraid one would recognise me and think I was stalking them when they would turn up in my retail workplaces!) Seeing them pre-‘Creep’ hitting big (I gave my original cassingle of ‘Creep’ release to Sam Battle of Beaker for her birthday, where I first met and smoked weed with Supergrass…but that’s another story!) and on every new record – the Apollo with the ‘grass and The Candyskins, Glasto 97 and then suddenly I stopped after South Park – I don’t know why now and would probably see them again, but it for a long time just felt too untouchable as an experience…

The whole band really love them and are careful not to wear it on our sleeves too much but the other day Tom came to visit me and I had the Astoria live video on and he was like, “this rules” and I mentioned it to Pat and he said he borrowed it on video off Tom for ages and never got any working out down cos he used to put in on while doing weights and stuff. People always diss Pablo Honey but we dig it. Lee covered ‘Talk Show Host’ for BBCintorducing/Children in Need with Pat too, fact fans!

9. The Nubiles

Lee: “I think they may be my favourite band from Oxford ever (and narrowly squeezed the Mystics out of my chart although I hurt even typing this!) from the minute I heard them I was sold! Weird crazy diverse wired sexual rock jazz punk funk layabouts with enough talent to fill a stadium! Dan Goddard on drums was amazing – and the first drummer I saw who was not Larry Mullen (U2) or Chris Vrenna (NIN) who played to loops live onstage. Used to air-drum the break in ‘…Kunta Kinte’! ‘Tatjana’ is pure pop genius and one day Smilex will do a cool cover of it if I get my way and the luxury of studio time! ‘Without Waking’ and ‘Saps Guide To Rock and Roll’ was a hell of double whammy and the album ‘Mindblender’, well the title is a perfectly good description of what it did to me. I had that and Jane’s Addiction as my bread and butter rock sustenance for about a year! I bonded with both Nick Breakspear from Black Hats (I used to stow away in his band The Haze’s van as a student) and Phill Honey over The Nubiles and they are 2 of my best and longest friends now! The sad thing is not all the stuff got released, they spilt prematurely and somehow I still cling to this frayed memory of Chris aka ‘Penny’ in his rubber gimp suit and Giorgio looking like a latino Jimmy Page while Tara intensely stared down the audience like a shamanic, psychotic Phil Lynott or something! Jaw dropping!”

10. Verbal Kink

Lee: “Nobody gave VK the credit they deserved because they were not polite musically and they were genuinely out of control – but they played some of the best shows we have seen in Oxford and had a whole bunch of awesome tunes – often tagged as Nirvana clones, it was really unfortunate that Andy had blonde hair and boyish good looks (eh?!) but they had as much Pearl Jam, At The Drive-In, Deftones, Alice In Chains and the like going on too – all right up Smilex’s alley!  Check out the ‘To The Rats’ EP – it’s non-stop quality and floored me the other day upon relistening to it! I fondly remember a few shows we did with them and Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies back when we were all labelmates in the early days of Quickfix Recordings – super fun times, those two very different but pretty similar in some respects – a bunch of young, crazy, enthusiastic loons!”

Smilex also compiled a short guide to “ten wicked current Oxford bands”:

1. Half Decent – the future sound of England as far as Lee is concerned – just you wait…
2. The Black Hats – long-time friends and comrades in arms – great songs, great players!
3. Desert Storm – known the lads since they were 15 – ace stoner blues! Great guitarist!
4. Deer Chicago – beer buddies of Tom’s and again a great, big, hairy set of tunes on them!
5. The Cellar Family – a contagious energy not seen round here lately – bags of attitude too!
6. Komrad – one of the only cd’s Tom let play entirely in his car cd player on trips to practice!
7. Moon Moth – ace new 4 piece- groovy melodic rock vibes with a twist of Frusciante!
8. Secret Rivals – really hitting the nail on the head for classic little indie-rock pop nuggets!
9. Left-Outer-Join – it may seem odd, a lone techno drummer but it’s good raving fare!
10. Ben Phillips – a real down to earth, honest singer songwriter with some great lyrics!

You can see Smilex celebrate ten years in musical existence live at The Jericho Tavern this Friday (2nd March) along with support from The Cellar Family and Deer Chicago. See the Facebook Event here.