It’s a sunny morning in Statesboro, Ga., when Jeremiah Thompson, vocalist and guitarist for S.M.O., takes an accidental tumble — with cordless in hand — off the pond-side dock outside the farmhouse he and his bandmates call home. “Yeah, I just got back from Radio Shack with a new phone,” he says sheepishly, offering the best reason Xpress has heard to date for being late to return a phone call.
When we finally connect, Thompson describes the band’s live act with terms like “electric,” “high energy” and “on fire.” But Thompson isn’t talking pyrotechnics, nor is he whistling self-congratulatory Dixie. He’s riffing about S.M.O.’s particular brand of groove rock, a technically tight blend of three-part harmony, get-up-and-dance drum work, and just enough funk to make your bootie swing (a wattage neatly referred to by the band as “power progressive”) — a potent mix best taken live, shaken not stirred. Asked if he encourages people to jump around at shows, Thompson shoots back, “Oh, definitely. I mean shake it. Come out and shake it!”
Apparently, reviewers have responded to that urging — and really, why not? — repeatedly praising S.M.O.’s shows for bypassing the schmaltz (i.e., “How ya doing, Springfield? Are you ready to rock?”) and getting the audience on its feet — er, shaking it — with no-holds-barred sets.
So what do the initials S.M.O. stand for? That’s open to interpretation — most of it, predictably, lewd. “Screaming Multiple Orgasms” has been suggested, as has “Shirts Mostly Off” — thanks to the band’s publicity photos. This writer herself spent a discreditable amount of time trying to string the words “spank” and “monkey” into a coherent (and catchy) phrase.
The band — who, incidentally, welcome fans’ interpretations of S.M.O.’s secret meaning — formed in 1995, after Thompson ended a seven-year stint with the now-defunct group Full Stop in order to team up with bass player Jeremy Rushing (a fellow Full Stopper) and drummer Gre Brier. Last year, Jason Carr replaced the band’s original lead guitarist in the line-up. “Jason is very Jerry Garcia- Santana-influenced,” says Thompson of the switch. “Just melody all over the place.”
For now, the four guys in S.M.O. seem to subscribe to the credo, “The band that lives together hits it big together,” their farmhouse setup being a sort of funkified version of the Lost Boys — if Peter Pan were to have a girlfriend in Savannah (and if he were real serious about his work). The place can be a “madhouse,” says Thompson, with S.M.O. members hustling and bustling back and forth to practice, to book shows, and — when not falling into ponds — to talk to the press. The band plays 10 to 15 shows a month, hitting the road each Wednesday through Saturday to travel a circuit that extends from Delaware to Tampa.
“There [are] many different ways [to get signed],” explains Thompson of the rationale behind this grueling touring schedule. “You can send demos in, and hopefully, somebody will enjoy it … and come see you play somewhere and sign you. Or you can go out and build a fan base … so you have a little more leverage when it comes to actually inking the deal — so that’s the kind of route we’re taking.” He cites such success stories as The Dave Matthews Band as proof of the strategy’s efficacy. “After a while, [the record companies] just can’t ignore you.”
An upcoming gig at Gatsby’s marks S.M.O.’s first appearance in Asheville, but that’s not for lack of trying on the band’s part. A show scheduled at 31 Patton was cancelled when that venue unexpectedly closed its doors; and then, only days before the band was to play at Stella Blue, that club suffered a fire (and remains temporarily shut down for repairs). So here’s hoping three times is the charm — and that Gatsby’s is well-insured. After all, this is one band that’s on fire.