Updated: Nov 19, 2020
As I was writing this and played the Smart Shoppers’ “Bevo Out of Bounds (At My Party)," the now playing application on my phone identified it as “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band. But Mr. Miller never had the “special genius” to write a song that references Sam & Dave, the Hardy Boys, Mr. Bean, Lenny Bruce, Randy Moss, and Jesus Christ (among many other attendees) while pondering why their parties kind of don’t turn out as planned. Smart Shoppers make their magical return to Milwaukee on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Circle A, where I help book shows, to play with Milwaukee’s King Eye & the Squirts. I chatted with singer Joe Lambert before the big show.
Who plays what in the band, and what else should we know about your band members’ pasts? The Smart Shoppers consists of drummer Jash Thrift and guitarist Aaron Smart, with Norby Shopko on the bass and myself, Joey Shops, doing the vocals. Aaron and Jash are kind of the masterminds who are pretty much brothers. (Aaron has been engaged to Jash’s younger sister Shanna for a decade or something?) The two of them have practiced/written songs for 4+ hours a week or more together whether they had an active band or not for like two decades now! Lol. I met Aaron just over two and a half decades ago in my youth; he was my best man at my wedding and also like a brother to me. I met Norby Shopko (Rev. Norb Rozek) about a year or two after I met Aaron around 1996 when he interviewed Brad, Anne, Trent, Brent and I (one of many configurations of the original Last Sons of Krypton) for an article to be published in Maximum Rocknroll (which burned in a fire and had to be redone). I had already known who he was for years because I was already a huge fan of his bands and MRR articles. And yeah, if you like music and live in Green Bay you automatically know who Norb is by like age 12!
You put out a most excellent 4-song debut EP in 2019 on SpareChange Records. How did the Smart Shoppers come together to record the EP? We officially started practicing together last August, and I think we had the 4 songs on the EP that we recorded ourselves in Jash’s basement (over the course of four separate nights spread over a couple years of ‘just messing around for fun.’ We didn’t even have a name before the EP got sent to mastering, and Dave Eck at Lucky Lacquers suggested the Smart Shoppers!) plus three new ones when Norby offered to join up to help us play a short set on my birthday. The new songs were good and coming easy and we were generally having fun with it, so we all agreed to be a real band.
How would you describe your songwriting process generally? Mr. Thrift and Mr. Smart are the framers! Drums are the skeleton of any band so as far as I was told by Aaron they usually start with some cool new drum beat idea that Jash comes up with while he and Aaron are practicing and playing around doing their genius weirdo stuff they do when nobody’s around; then they show Norby and I. Norby writes his basslines, and I write some words and think of any little extra sounds we might be able to use (keytar, backing vocals, slide whistle, etc.) And then we start practicing.
The opener, “Bevo Out of Bounds (At My Party),”is the only song to eclipse two minutes on the EP. How long is too long for a Smart Shoppers song? All of our songs are around 2 minutes or less, but we do this with the ideals of Smart Shopping in mind! Smart Shoppers depend on smart sellers, and thus we subscribe to the idea that less supply drives more demand. Also, we kinda always thought it would be cool if bands like Gang of Four and Devo and the B-52's did more short, easy-to-remember songs and kind of stuck to their more punk sensibilities! Plus, there's the whole issue of humans losing their attention spans, so we will be recording a full-length LP in the next 3 months or so and I believe Bevo will STILL be the only song over 2 minutes. Maybe a couple that almost make the mark though... lots of 45-95 second songs. 16 songs total! We have 17 songs now though so one of the songs on the EP may not make the cut.
Was there a time you were a not-so Smart Shopper? We were not all that Smart of Shoppers with our first EP. Although we picked a great person to master it and cut the lacquer (Dave), who also helped us get great prices overall. We were kind of just thinking they would be just for us and nobody would hear ‘em, so we only made 100. With the money we put into everything that came out to almost the same cost we’d be selling ‘em for! Of course, if we ever decided to repress the cost would be considerably lower. Oh, well, at least we sold ‘em all!