Questions Of The Heart

31 July 2012 | 1:30 pm | Michael Smith

“I write all the songs as just normal songs, and then they end up taking sort of different directions."

They may get filed under or bluegrass or roots, but there's a lot more to Roland K Smith & The Sinners than that, as is obvious from the debut album, Breaking Hearts & Saving Souls, where there are also elements of the punk folk of The Pogues or Weddings Parties Anything in a track like I'll Write You In The Morning, or the bratty riffy indie blues in Two Men.

“I write all the songs as just normal songs, and then they end up taking sort of different directions. I mean some of them are obvious bluegrass songs but more often than not the same song could go in any direction; it could go to a funk song, a soul song or a straight-out country song. It's a first album of course so it's a little bit all over the place anyway. Some of the songs are really old – some of the songs pre-date the band – and some of the songs were written a month before we went into the studio and hadn't been played live before we recorded them.

“So they're sort of hodgy podgy, but there's a theme that runs through them all, I've decided, after the fact, that it's about the obstacles that keep you away from the things that you love. So I think it's all just like asking questions about how do I achieve my goals while sort of like being true to family? And then how do I get things I want while working? And how do I get the things I want while keeping my relationship solid? And things like that, and it's asking a lot of questions about achieving that happiness in the face of responsibility and things like that.”

The Sinners themselves – Jeff Pope on lead guitar, banjo pedal and lap steel; Damon Quinn on guitar, who contributed two songs to the album; Matt McQuade on bass and Mark Fairhurst on drums –  were formed after Smith recorded his debut EP, back in 2008, on which he played everything, and then had to take it out on the road, and they've been there for the two EPs that followed before working up the album.

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What then attracted Smith to the more primal roots of rock'n'roll that have inspired his music? After all, his teenage years were spent in a world in thrall to post-grunge and American punk.

“I think it was songwriting. I think there's a lot of great punky, heavier music where songwriting is really strong but when I started taking songwriting seriously was when I started looking at guys like, obviously, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and stuff like that, and take away some of the bells and whistles that come in the form of either noise or just speed, that's when you get to the songwriting. I think that's where the roots really became interesting. Also a lot of that rootsy music deals with, like, adult issues I suppose – they talk about proper things, not just sort of flippant, holding people's hands and stuff – and I really love the sound of acoustic guitars as well.”

The very much indie Smith and the band have secured themselves a Wednesday night residency through August for a rolling album launch, but they've added an element most other bands might not have thought of – local business sponsors.

“It was a business decision more than anything else,” Smith admits, “but the two companies we've got – Sterling Hairdressing and Shanghai Charlie's Tattoos – I mean, we go to those places, we know those guys, so it kind of made sense. If we were going to go to anybody, we'd go to them.”