Interview with Todd Youth of The Chelsea Smiles - 22nd March 2009 @ Birmingham Academy, UK

Hot off a shiny Transatlantic 747 and in the UK (supporting "Wednesday 13") to promote their rather splendid self-titled second full album, Los Angeles guitar gangsters "The Chelsea Smiles" took some time out of their busy tour schedule to discuss all things rock n roll (and country) with Glitzine's very own Johnny H and Gaz E.
Picking up with the legend and Smiles main man that is "Todd Youth" (ex about pretty much any band worth being and ex member of) mid afternoon in Birmingham we set the tape a rolling and let Todd do the talking.

Johnny H . Over at Glitzine we've been big fans of the band since the Nowhere To Hide EP. Obviously we ain't gonna miss seeing you guys on your first trip over to the UK. How's things been going so far?

So far, I was a little nervous at first, as I didn't know how Wednesday's audience would react to us as more of a straight ahead rock band, but its been fucking great every night, we've been closing with "Dead Jail or Rock N Roll" by Mike Monroe and obviously most of these kids at these shows weren't even born when that came out, but they go absolutely nuts for it, you know.

Johnny H. Being a bit selfish here, but one track I'd love to hear The Chelsea Smiles play live is "Heart Attack" (from Thirty Six Hours Later), so what you guys got in store for us?

Yeah, "Heart Attack" will be in the set, see things are a little different right now. On the new record I don't know if you noticed there's a new guitar player, R.J. Now what had happened was, Skye had wanted to sing more so that's one of reasons he left the band. Then right before the tour I started having problems with my throat so I went to the throat specialist and I have a polyp on my throat, so I gotta get surgery when I get in, but the Doctors like "You go sing fifteen in a row…you're fucked", so now The Chelsea Smiles for the first time is a five piece and Skye's the frontman. Its like the ultimate version of the band, and its working out just great, you know it's really really good. We're all really happy.

Johnny H. So Album number two is out this week (the rather aptly named "The Chelsea Smiles", just in case you'd forgotten who you were listening to), how do you feel this one stacks up against "Thirty Six Hours Later"?

Well, we certainly had a lot more time. You know "Thirty Six Hours" was more of a reaction to the two years and all the bullshit I went through with EMI, so when we got dropped from EMI, we had spent like, on one version of the record for Capitol, five months working, so that record was really a reaction to the fact that you don't need to spend months and months on a record.
This time around the guy who helped me produce the record "Howard Willing"(who also engineered the new "Glen Campbell" record and is working on the new record for a truly legendary powerpop band we all truly love (y'know, sorry, I really can't name the band yet) and Howard's previously worked with "Smashing Pumpkins", and because I do a lot of session work in Los Angeles and kinda like a favour to me, because of the work I've done for him and some upcoming tracks, where I did a bunch of guitars on, as a favour to me, he did the new record for free. So production wise we ended up with a $150,000 record for nothing, and you know the songs I spent a lot more time with, rather than on "Thirty Six Hours" where I wrote that record in like a week.

Johnny H. There's a thing with the new album, I think, there was a certain element to the songs that was missing with "Thirty Six Hours" that is so up front on the new record and that's the harmonies (I later find out that "Jim Bacchi" and "Roger Joseph Manning" worked on the record as well, so this is now starting to make sense eh) that gives it like a Summer of Love Californian type edge.

You know, I've always been a big fan of that sound, when I first moved to Los Angeles, I really was like one of these New Yorkers who was like "I fucking Hate Los Angeles and I can't wait to move back to New York", and at some point something just clicked in me, and I really started to appreciate Los Angeles, and research the actual music history of Los Angeles, and working with guys like "Glen Campbell" who was part of the "Wrecking Crew" (who created Phil Spectors infamous Wall of Sound) and played on everything from "Tequila" to "Pet Sounds" and all these amazing records. So I just started researching and really delving into those records so I'm sure some of that has come out in this new record.

Johnny H. Oh definitely, compared to the "Fuck You Attitude" of the first album that basically grabs you by the throat, this one took me five weeks to get my head around before I started to review it (5 out of 5 obviously) and for that I think you have to take mountains of credit.

But, you know it would have been so easy for me to write another kinda garage punk record, writing songs like that to me is easy. I put more effort into my morning shit to be writing a song like that, because I've been doing it so long, I mean gimme a guitar…alright, done you know what I mean. This one I really wanted to as a songwriter take it up a step, and we're already talking about what we're gonna be doing for the next record and to just continually keep trying to grow. I've always been a fan of bands that did that, can you imagine if the "Rolling Stones" made "Out of Our Heads" for the past thirty years, you'd be bored, to constantly evolve and constantly change is what is cool. You know even newer bands like "the Hellacopters", who OK aren't around anymore, like if they'd just continued making, and "Supershitty to The Max" is one of my all time favourite records, but if they'd continually have made that record you'd get bored. And then it all becomes routine and doesn't challenge you as a musician, and that'd what its always been about for me. One of the reasons I took the "Glen Campbell" gig was I could have either went out on tour with "Glenn Danzig" the same time which I've done off and on for ten years now, or go out with "Glen Campbell" and do something I'd never done before, and I was like "I'm going to try and do this other thing" because playing a song like "Wichita Lineman" that's a challenge to me, and as a player its almost like different Jazz/countrypolitan whatever they call it, just constantly growing and trying to get better as a player,and that's why I've kept doing this for so long.

Johnny H. And having been doing this since twelve years of age that could be seen as one hell of a long time spent growing up. What was it that got you hooked into all this shit way back then?

Well the thing is for me, with my early days, it was such the beginning of the American Hardcore punk scene, and when I got into it, I had an older brother who was a "Max's Kansas City" guy who hang out with "The Heartbreakers" and that was his scene, so when bands like "Minor Threat" and "Bad Brains" and all that stuff first started happening its like, you don't want to be into what your older brother is into right? You want your own thing, and here was this new thing it was angrier, and faster and crazier and it was like "This is my thing, not his Thing" and I'm a part of this, and I'll always have some of that, morals or whatever it was that I grew up with in that scene that will never leave me.

Johnny H. So, how do you feel what you learned through your time with "Agnostic Front", "Murphy's Law", "Warzone" "D Generation" etc has helped you be who you are today?

Well certainly the morals have something to do with it, but as a performer that music at that time was all about energy, and giving it your all on stage and I still have that, but "Glen Campbell" gigs are a bit different though (cue much laughter all round), but when I'm playing rock I go out for blood every night.

Johnny H. You mentioned the "Hellacopters" earlier, who else makes you, feel like that teenager again when you hear them?

Well from the moment I heard "Supershitty", I was like "Wow this is a band who gets it" you know what I mean? I love "The Bronx" and "Danko Jones".

Johnny H. Its really odd I think that all of us are listening to these same bands and have some underground scene that we don't even really know exists. Do "The Chelsea Smiles" feel apart of or leaders of any such scene?

Well out in Los Angeles we're really out on our own, as we're not a band like "and I'm friends with a lot of these guys" your "Faster Pussycat's" or your "Bang Tango's" that are still kinda kicking around, and we don't really fit in there. We don't fit in with the wire rimmed glasses hipster corduroys and beards scene, but it's also one of those things especially with L.A that we'll do a show at the Viper Room and you can't move in there. Oh and I just remembered I love "Eagles of Death Metal"

(I then went on to tell Todd about the fantastic history of the soon to be closed venue that we were sitting in and we got onto the topic of Hanoi Rocks, and when they had played the venue with the classic Razzle line up).

I'm a huge "Hanoi Rocks" fan, there's been talk of me and Sammi (Yaffa) who's in the Dolls now and good friends of ours, supposedly "Little Steven's" going to re-release the "Demolition 23" record, and if that does happen I'm going to be the guitar player for the tour, which is going to be great.

Gaz E. Everyone's been saying in our circles since Hanoi split up that Mike should get "Demolition 23" out and tour again.

Well it's such a great record and such a great band, umm, so hopefully that will happen.

Johnny H. With that fantastic snippet of what might be happening outside "The Chelsea Smiles", what plans do you have for the band over the next twelve months?

Well, I'm really hoping with us being on a label here in the UK (DR2), that we can at least get over here another two times, because it seems that over here kids are still up for rock n roll, where as in American its like….(shrugs his shoulders). You know when we toured with the "Backyard Babies" and did six weeks in the States together, with the exception of the big cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and L.A the rest of it was fucked and you'd have thirty to forty people. So over here, it seems like even "Wednesday's" fans who are more into like that shock rock "Marilyn Manson" type thing…..get it and they love it, and we've gone over fucking great, and typical as the first band on, no one will know us and the first couple of songs they're all kinda checking us out, and then by the end we got em. (this is indeed something I witnessed first hand on both the nights I spent with the band).

Johnny H. With the rest of the guys now warming up for sound check in the background we'd like to finish off with a simple either/or round just to leave us all smiling right?

Banana Splits or HR Pufnstuf?
Todd Youth - Banana Splits definitely, they had the band. (Cue mass laughter)
The Dictators or The Ramones?
Todd Youth - Dictators definitely
The Business or Cockney Rejects?
Oh, that's a tough one, I love the Rejects but I do love The Business too. I remember when I was a kid I bought a 7" EP called the Total Noise EP and I think it was "The Business", "Blitz", "Anti Nowhere League" (it was actually Dead Generation, but your forgiven Todd) and "The Gonads" were on it and the track by "The Business" Loud Proud and Punk, I always really loved. But the again I loved the Rejects.
Thunders or Frehley?
(After much umming and ahhing and an agonising silence). I cannot answer that one as they are my two favourite guitar players…next !!!!
Jesse Malin or Ryan Adams?
Jesse he's a good friend of mine.
Murphy's Law or Agnostic Front?
Oh, "Murphy's Law", we partied a lot harder back then, it was way more "fun" in Murphy's Law.
CBGB's Or The Continental?
Continental any day. CB's sucked for so many years, from 1983 onwards, unless it was like a matinee show CB's sucked, you went there Sunday through to Saturday and it was just shit bands. The Continental really was a place you could go to seven nights a week, I used to bar tend there at one point, and chances were you would know some people or the band that was playing and it really was the last real New York scene.
Kiss Or The Plasmatics?
"Kiss" without a doubt, I'm a fan of "The Plasmatics" too but "Kiss" I worship "Kiss".

Johnny H. And before I forget to ask this one final questions Todd, coming from America do you know what a Chelsea Smile actually is?

Yeah I found out later on actually, but a friend of my brother has a gang in New York In the Seventies called "The Go Club" and this is like when New York really was that "The Warriors", and this gang was from Chelsea and that was the thing, if you fucked with them they fucking slit your face open and it was called Chelsea Smile, we named the band that and all of a sudden I started getting all these Emails from over here saying "yah yah yah yah" so yes now I do know what it means.

Johnny H . OK Todd thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, and we really hope the tour goes well for The Chelsea Smiles.

Yeah right on guys, thank you, now why not hang on for the sound check?

As a footnote to this interview, we spent a good few hours with the rest of the band, and you couldn't ask for a more genuine gang to hang out with.
We also managed to make the Bristol Academy show 2 nights later and by that time I'd realised that the presence of the legendary (well in my book anyway) power poppers "Jim Bacchi" and "Roger Joseph Manning JR" on "The Chelsea Smiles" album had certainly supported Todd's words about diversifying the bands sound.
If you managed to catch "The Chelsea Smiles" live this time around then congratulations and welcome to club. If you missed them, sell your soul to see them when they return later in the year.

Interviewed by Johnny H.

Visit the Chelsea Smiles Website