Travel Oregon Blog

Tony Smiley Rocks the House

Travis Smiley

Smiley the 'Loop Ninja'

It’s going to sound clichéd to say so, but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tony Smiley play music. Also known as The Loop Ninja, Smiley is a one-man band who singlehandedly puts most multiple-member bands in their places. Using loop technology, which stacks musical segments on top of one another, Smiley builds an entire, totally rocking musical world, live on stage weekly in Oregon and around the Pacific Northwest.

Smiley grew up in Hood River, and his approach to music is very “Oregon”—independent, open-minded, spirited and personal. The lifelong musician and former member of many bands endured the break-up of several groups before deciding to just do his own thing—lucky for all of us. I saw him for the first time a year ago and was instantly hooked.

It works like this. Smiley gets on stage, surrounded by a mess of instruments and wires, a couple of microphones, and a Boss Loop Pedal, which looks simply like a few levers at his feet but is actually the portal to Smiley’s unique brand of musical magic. He starts to lay down some rhythms, one instrument at a time, eventually looping them all on top of each other. Totally adept at guitar, bass, keys, drums, and beatbox, Smiley masterfully builds a song before your eyes. Smiley plays a fun mix of rock, world fusion dance, old school 80s/90s and new wave, as well as songs he writes himself. Half of the fun is trying to guess the track before the loops are all in place. Before he even begins to sing, the audience is a sea of bobbing bodies, tapping feet and happy smiles.

Then Smiley throws in the vocals.

His awesome deep growly voice rocks any house he plays, and he plays many. Smiley tours around the Pacific Northwest weekly, regularly appearing at Portland, Oregon, locales Buffalo Gap, Doug Fir, The Woods and The Bagdad, as well as around the state at Astro Lounge in Bend, San Dune Pub in Manzanita, and McMenamins pubs all over. Wherever he goes, a dance party ensues.

I last saw Smiley play a few weeks ago at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend. He’d played two incredible sets and had easily paid his dues to the venue, but the audience was far from finished with that awesome Smiley vibe. Leaving his many instruments and mics behind, he leapt from the state directly into the crowd, launching into a utterly fantastic sing-along rendition of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” supported only by his un-amplified acoustic guitar and his own voice. The totally blissed-out looks on the faces of the audience made me think I’d better see as much as Smiley as possible while he’s still touring the Pacific Northwest, because I believe this man is bound for bigger and better things.

See www.tonysmiley.net for tour dates, to buy music and for more information.

The Source Weekly, Bend Oregon

 

Sound_010512Tony Smiley has always wanted to play rock music, but he doesn’t want to be in a band. He’s been there, done that and the rock band dynamic just isn’t for him. This would be the end of the line for most aspiring rock musicians. Time to clip on the Guitar Center nametag or start giving guitar lessons to Nirvana-loving junior high kids, right?

Smiley is indeed still playing rock music and he still doesn’t have a band. The 37-year-old Hood River-native now based outside of Vancouver, Wash., is making the best music of his career and he’s doing it all on his own with the help of a few loop pedals and an arsenal of instruments ranging from keyboards to drums. His appeal here in Central Oregon has boomed in the past year and he plays one of his most notable shows in the region on Thursday night atMcMenamins Old St. Francis School. At this show – and all his shows, for that matter – Smiley is surrounded by a tangle of wires, guitars and, of course, effects pedals, and takes his audiences’ initial confusion and molds it into an all-out raging dance party when he sees fit.

But Smiley wasn’t always a lone wolf. Growing up in Hood River, he came to music early and with a fierce passion. His parents laid down $25 for a garage sale drum set when Smiley was just eight years old and he made quick work of putting the set to use. When he was eventually grounded from the drum kit (likely to his folks’ audial relief), Smiley found his dad’s guitar and begin playing around, which was the first in a series of musical experiments he’d embark on. By high school, he was playing in bands with names like Thrash Cactus…but things never ended well.

“I’ve been in a bunch of different bands and they’d end up splitting up. It would be a big, ugly nasty mess,” says Smiley last Friday over the phone as he prepared to head out for weekend gigs on Mt. Hood and in White Salmon, Wash.

As loop pedal technology improved, Smiley realized he could make actual rock songs – not just the bouncy jams most loopers heavily rely upon – while also stretching the limits of his own creativity. The result has been original rock music that ranges vastly in style, but is never light on energy or excellent songwriting.

“I didn’t want to play with a band, but on the other hand, I wanted to make a living through music. I knew I could play all the instruments, so I knew I could play this music by myself,” says Smiley, who has since earned the appropriate nickname “The Loop Ninja” for his mastery of his mainstay technology.

He has also recorded three full-length albums and will offer up another in the coming months. Acknowledging that part of his appeal is his constantly evolving live sound, Smiley nevertheless continues to go into the studio and says this next record is far and away his best.

Smiley isn’t the only musician to use loop pedals to create a high-tech one-man band. Keller Williams employed loops to launch his solo jam band career, inspiring many other tie-died riffers to follow suit. For Smiley, though, the aim is not to just stand up in front of a crowd and say “hey, look what I can do!”

“I don’t want to be a novelty. It’s cool to watch someone up there doing all the instruments, but songwriting is much more of a spiritual thing for me. I want to get a point across. I don’t want to just sit up there and solo over a riff that I wrote,” says Smiley, who goes on to say that he’s always insisted on keeping any prerecorded sounds out of his set. In other words, he plays everything you hear live before it’s recycled through the loop effects.

Even if he wants the songs to stand alone, Smiley’s live shows do, however, draw plenty of curious onlookers who are wondering how in the hell this one guy is making all that noise. Being in complete control of the music also allows him – much like a techno or dubstep DJ – to feel out his crowd and shift up a gear if he’s got an especially dance-thirsty crowd. But if he feels the need, he can go acoustic with a true singer- songwriter set. Just don’t expect him to stay at that level for long.

“There’s a certain way to get people’s attention and then slowly build it up. If people are super mellow, I have a full-on mellow set I can play,” says Smiley. “But then I can do a Snoop Dogg cover right after that if I can tell people are hungry for fun.”

Tony Smiley

7pm Thursday, January 5. McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St. Free. All ages.

 

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The Bend Bulletin

 

Not your average one-man-band

Tony Smiley brings his looping rock 'n' roll to Bend

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin

Last modified: February 04. 2011 9:50AM PST

Tony Smiley, of Portland, began his music career with drums at age 8, but soon learned guitar, bass and piano.
more photos more photos

Tony Smiley, of Portland, began his music career with drums at age 8, but soon learned guitar, bass and piano.
Submitted photo

For Portland-based one-man band Tony Smiley, the snowball is rolling downhill and getting bigger fast.

It's a surge of momentum for the 36-year-old multi-instrumentalist that began, really, with a high-def video. In it, Smiley starts out surrounded by music-making gear, a fan blowing his sandy hair like it's a cover shoot for a fashion magazine.

Then, he launches into a driving riff on an acoustic guitar, and the camera shows his red Converse sneaker step on a pedal all the way to the left of a tangle of electronic toys sitting at his feet. The guitar riff continues, even as Smiley stops playing and leans over to a microphone to beatbox.

From there, he adds bass, keyboard, tambourine and a beat from a simple drum kit, then more guitar and vocals, intermittently reaching over to tap a pedal with his foot. “Why would I want to be anywhere else?” Smiley sings as the song reaches its climactic chorus.

Welcome to the world of looping technology, and thus, the world of Tony Smiley, who'll play tonight at MadHappy Lounge in Bend (see “If you go”).

Smiley's musical journey started when he received his first drum set at age 8, and then progressed when he picked up the guitar at 13, after being grounded from the drums. Bass and piano followed, and Smiley spent a lot of his youth playing in garage bands around his home town of Hood River.

“I saw my first band at a park when I was 3 years old, and from that point on, I wanted to play drums,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “That was it. I didn't want to be an astronaut or a fireman or anything like that. I wanted to play music.”

After high school, Smiley moved to Seattle and back to Portland, playing in bands and doing solo gigs all along.

After going through one too many band breakups and discovering the magic of guitar effects pedals, he decided to become his own boss.

“When the bands broke up it was ugly. It's like a relationship breaking up; there's hurt feelings and all this stuff. All this politics inside of the band and all these egos ... it just didn't work out,” he said. “So I was just like, ‘I may as well start doing this one-man band thing.'

“It's a preference for me. I really enjoy it. I have visions in my head of what I want a song to sound like and I don't have worry about hurting somebody's feelings by saying, ‘Yeah, you know, that bass line doesn't really work for me,'” he continued. “Nobody's ever late for practice. I love it.”

As soon as Smiley could afford the equipment needed to begin using recorded loops, he jumped in feet first. He started out with a guitar, microphone and primitive percussion parts, plus a pedal that lowered pitch by an octave, which allowed him to create bass lines. That wasn't enough for him, though, and he soon added a bass and keys and a drum set to the mix.

Five years later, Smiley has a couple of albums to his name and a full gig calendar on his wall, not to mention a third-place finish in October at a national looping competition sponsored by the Boss guitar-gear company. (“Had I really thought that through beforehand, I would've gotten more Boss gear, you know?” he said with a laugh. “It wouldn't have hurt!”)

Smiley plays all over Portland and the Northwest, and has made several trips to Bend over the past couple of years.

Getting his foot in the door at a new venue can be tough, but once he's in, he's always asked back, he said.

“They have this whole idea in their head (that it's) not going to fly. (They say,) ‘We're a rock club!'” Smiley said. “It's like, just give me a chance. And once they see me, they're like, ‘Oh, well, I had no idea. I expected some guy with cymbals between his knees and an accordion under his arm.'”

Indeed, Smiley is different than a lot of acts that extensively use looping technology. His music is full-scale, bombastic rock 'n' roll, shaped by his wide range of influences; in a 30-minute conversation he mentions artists as varied as Nirvana, Elton John, Motley Crue, Willie Nelson, Beck, Chuck Mangione, Ween and Guns N' Roses.

Incorporating a lifetime of loving music into one man's songs takes a lot of gear. Still, what Smiley loves about looping is the “humanness” of it.

“When you do it live, you have to be on your game,” he said. “And each time you play it, it's different.”

Humanness aside, though, Smiley has his eye on something bigger than guitar, keys, bass and drums.

“It's reaching a point where that's not quite enough for me,” he said.

So what's next?

“I don't know, man. I've got a banjo and a sitar and ...,” he said, his voice trailing off as he imagines the possibilities. “I have this vision of being completely surrounded, where they can't even see me. I'm surrounded by instruments, and you can just see arms and hair every now and then.”

Ben Salmon can be reached at 541-383-0377 or bsalmon@bendbulletin.com.

Boss

 

The Road to the BOSS Loop Station World Championship

A U.S. Winner is Crowned at the First Annual Loop Station National Finals

By Jim Bybee

Today's light-speed advances in digital technology have dramatically affected the way nearly all musicians create music, opening up new avenues of expression that were impractical or impossible in the recent past. One such example is live looping, where an artist uses a foot-controlled recorder to capture segments of their live performance as audio loops, which they then play back and manipulate in real time. The loops are most often used to augment or support other aspects of the performance, such as singing and live playing. The groundbreaking BOSS Loop Station products have played a seminal role in the rise of the loop artist by offering all musicians affordable, great-sounding, and easy-to-use tools for creating and working with phrase loops live and in the studio.

Loop Station World Championship (logo)

To celebrate this new breed of musician, BOSS has embarked on an exhaustive search to find the world's top loop performer. In the summer and fall of 2010, live looping competitions have been held around the globe to find loop artists that will represent their individual nations at the Loop Station World Championship in Anaheim, California, during the 2011 Winter NAMM Show. BOSS U.S. recently held its own Loop Station National Finals, a first-ever event that determined who would represent the United States at the final international showdown.

On October 23, 2010, six loop artists from around the U.S. came to perform before a live audience and a panel of celebrity judges at the renowned Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. Philip Stendek from St. Louis, Missouri, was the day's big winner, and he will go on to loop for the U.S. in Anaheim. The six were chosen as finalists from hundreds of video submissions received by BOSS during a national preliminary round held over a three-month period in the summer of 2010.

Tony Smiley

To judge the six finalists, an all-star panel was assembled that included four prominent and influential musicians: Andy Summers, a solo artist and guitarist for The Police; Frank Gambale, a solo fusion guitarist who's played with Chick Corea and others; Derrick “Dock” Murdoch, bassist in the house band for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; and Jude Gold, director of GIT, the guitar school at Musicians Institute. Also on the esteemed panel was Michael Molenda, editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, and Paul Youngblood, a director of BOSS Corporation.

The finalists all performed five-minute original compositions live using one or more BOSS RC-series Loop Station products, and were allowed to sing and play one or more instruments of their choice. In addition to Stendek, the looping artists were: Tony Smiley from Oregon; Brenna Fitzgerald from Pennsylvania; Micah Beverly from Arizona; Brian Kerr from Ohio; and Jason Olcese from Pennsylvania. Each artist is an active musician in their local community, with most gigging regularly with BOSS Loop Stations, as well as performing with bands and other ensembles.

All the finalists wowed the crowd and judges with their energy, creativity, and excellent musicianship. Most of all, they amazed everyone with their abilities to layer multiple musical parts together with BOSS Loop Stations and support their compositions with rich, full, and interesting on-the-fly accompaniment.

Tony Smiley

Toney Smiley, Third Place Winner

Tony Smiley performed first, building an upbeat backing on his RC-50 Loop Station with vocal beat-boxing, guitar, keys, bass, and percussion before launching into a vocal tune with live guitar accompaniment. Brenna Fitzgerald performed her piece with perhaps the most diverse range of instruments of the event, recording parts in her RC-50 with a Fantom-X8 keyboard, guitar, percussion, and violin before adding live V-Drums® and lead vocals. Next up was Micah Beverly, who gradually built loop layers as he played guitar and sang, and his excellent lead guitar playing drew comments from at least two of the judges. He used an RC-50 as his looper and played his guitar through a BOSS GT-6.

Philip Stendek—the ultimate winner—had the most unique approach to working loops in his composition, using four independent RC-20XL Loop Stations to record an ethereal accompaniment with three-part vocals and keyboards, and then a separate backing with bass and guitar. From there, he played drums and sang along with loop backing, and at one point he even played a keyboard solo on a JUNO-G with his left hand while continuing to play the drums. He then closed his piece by bringing back the vocal/keyboard loop that he started his tune with. Phillip incorporated a lot of other BOSS gear in his setup, including RT-20DD-7, and TU-3 pedals, and he used an EDIROL M-10DX Digital Mixer to bring his multiple sound sources together.

Brian Kerr took the simplest and most organic approach, using only a mic-equipped acoustic guitar and an RC-20XL to build a high-energy, mostly instrumental piece with strummed chords, impressive lead licks, and percussion created by banging on his guitar's body like a hand drum. At one point, he even added a harmonized vocal part by singing into his guitar's sound hole mic. Jason Olcese closed out the performances with a tune that evoked the sound and rhythmic vocal styling of Jason Mraz. Using an acoustic/electric guitar, a BOSS OC-3 Super Octave pedal, and hand percussion, he tastefully created loop backing in his RC-50 as he sang, punctuating his performance with some nice dynamic stops, and well as a kazoo solo and percussion played on a Roland HandSonic® HPD-15.

Philip Stendak

Philip Stendak, Grand Prize Winner

The judges evaluated each artist's performance equally in three categories: creativity, musical expression, and skill in using their chosen BOSS Loop Stations. Based on these criteria, they were tasked to select first, second, and third place finishers. After each performance, all the judges shared their thoughts with the artist and the audience, discussing what they liked and disliked.

Before the winners were announced, Frank Gambale and his band treated the enthusiastic crowd with an exceptional musical performance.

After much deliberation by the judges, Third Place went to Tony Smiley, while Second Place went to Micah Beverly, and for their efforts each received $2000 in BOSS gear. In addition to earning a spot at the BOSS Loop Station World Championship, First Place winner Philip Stendek went home with $3000 in BOSS gear.

Though Brenna, Brian, and Jason didn't place in the top three, they hardly went home as non-winners. At the close of the event, Andy Summers summed up all the performances and the judges' feelings this way: “It was very entertaining and instructive to be here tonight, and it was great to see all this talent. There was blood in the judges' room, and it was brutal coming to this decision, because I think all these guys are real winners—they're all great. I think we heard some really interesting music tonight, and it was very inspiring to see what you might do with these loopers.”

To see and hear the six finalists perform, click here.

To learn more about the Loop Station World Championship in January 2011, visit BOSSLoop.com.

Hood River News

 

Will Smiley be the next Loop Pedal Champ?

Oct. 23, 2010

February 01, 2011

As you read this, musician Tony Smiley is down in Hollywood, Calif., as one of the six national finalists in the 2010 Boss Loop Station National Championship.

For those who don’t know, the company Boss makes guitar effect pedals, which guitarists sometimes use to make all kinds of strange sounds, like chorus, reverb, distortion and flanger. There are lots of different brands of these pedals and there’s literally thousands of possible combinations in which one could hook them up to your instrument. Some are more advanced than others, and believe me, it can get complicated.

But some people, like Tony Smiley, seem to have this issue under control. Tony is so efficient with his one-man-band set-up that his recent video for his song “Anywhere Else” was chosen as one of the top six finalists for this weekend’s Loop Station world championship.

So by the time Tony shows up at Double Mountain for his Halloween show on Sunday, Oct. 31, he may just be the National Loop Pedal Champion.

Maybe then he can come over and help me hook up my stereo.

Interview with Tony Smiley

1. How did you find out about the Loop Pedal Contest and what did you have to do to become a finalist?

I had just gotten a video made by my friend John Waller of “Uncage the Soul Productions” and was putting it up online. So I decided to search for other loopers on YouTube, just to see what else was out there, and I saw a few videos that had the title of “Boss Loop Contest 2010.” Which totally sparked my interest, so I looked it up and entered my video. Lo and behold, I got chosen as one of the top six in the nation!

2. OK, when you walk into just about any guitar/music store, there's usually a wall, or floor, full of pedal choices. How on earth do you decide what you need?

Well that’s like asking my 5-year-old what kind of candy he “needs.” If I go to a store, I usually have something in mind, I try it out and buy and leave. If don’t go in with a plan, well I am usually there for the remainder of the day! When it comes down to it I “need” ALL OF IT! Ha!

3. I read the list of judges for the contest. Pretty exciting to have Andy Summers (guitarist for The Police) sitting on the panel. I guess you'll get to meet these guys. What criteria will these judges be looking for?

Oh yeah, I am super excited about meeting Andy Summers, I love The Police! As far as the criteria goes, they will be looking at: (i) Creativity/Imagination /Uniqueness (ii) Skill in exploiting the potential of BOSS RC-series Loop Stations (iii) Musical expression/interpretation

4. For your shows, you use the term “beatboxing.” What is that?

Beatboxing is basically turning your mouth into a live drumset. And using the sounds from your mouth to create a drum beat.

5. You've obviously practiced enough to handle several instruments. What was your first instrument, and what finally gave you the idea to put them all together into this one-man show?

My first instrument was drums. I wanted to play the drums ever since I can remember. I was 8 years old when my parents brought home my first drumset from a garage sale. It was an old junker Ludwig set. And I loved it!

Then at about 13, I had got into some trouble and got myself grounded from my drums, so I dug up my dad’s old acoustic guitar and started writing songs. Through out the years I played different instruments in many different groups. But they always ended up not working out.

So when they came up with the technology to loop, I thought ‘that’s it, I’m just gonna do it my self.’ And it has been a blast! I can't really get into a fight with the drummer or have to bail the keyboard player out of jail. Well I guess I could, but that would be a whole different set of issues. But basically, this band will never break up!

6. You live in Portland, but you have a Hood River connection?

Yeah buddy, Hood River is my hometown! I graduated, barely, from HRVHS in '92. Go Eagles! The first band I was ever in, “SERF,” used to hold our own shows at the grange hall back in the early ’90s. Those shows were so much fun! Just a bunch of kids rockin’ out and getting to be weird. Kevin (the Bird) Younkins, who runs the sound at most of my shows, was also in that band.

7. Talk a bit about what kind of show we can expect for Halloween — and will the band be in costume?

Costume? Yes! What kind of show? . . . BOO!