By Richard Provost
Audrey Smilley is a blast from the past. After a reunion show at Velour Live Music Gallery, they released a remastered version of their 1990 debut LP in 2016. It made for a surprisingly pleasurable listen. I recently sat down with the group to pick their brains about Provo’s musical history and see what we can learn from the past. We also talked about their new single, “Love Leaves a Scar.”Audrey Smilley is George Carlston, Dale Garrard, and Craig Moore.
You guys formed in 1988. What was the Utah live music scene like then?
Craig: Initially, we played house parties and campus stuff, both at BYU and Utah Valley Community College (as it was called then). We always skewed heavily to playing our original stuff more than covers, but it really coalesced when a little club called Broderick’s opened on Center Street. I think the space where Broderick’s was is a Thai place now.
George: The live scene had a wall between dance/cover bands (who were loved by most), and original bands, who were seen as a weird curiosity to be patted on the head or made fun of by most, but absolutely adored by the few who “got it.”
Dale: Original music venues in Provo would open and close, some in pretty rapid succession. You were lucky to get out of there with enough money for lunch the next day. We played a lot of shows at Broderick’s. We’d often pack the place, and I think it had less to do with what we were playing than it did with the desperation for something to do in Provo on a Saturday night and the blitz marketing we’d do in the pre-digital age.
Craig: Broderick’s was the only club that was exclusively for original music that I knew of in Provo. Most bands in the scene then were cover bands and they probably got a lot more work than we did playing originals, but we we’re pretty adamant about keeping it “pure” as we saw it at the time. It’s not that we never played covers, but we weren’t the kind of band that got hired for frat parties. In the 80s, if you were a band with all guitars people expected hair metal which wasn’t us.
Dale: There was also a pretty posh restaurant/café/live music venue upstairs somewhere in the old buildings around the corner of Center and University called The Backstage Café which was a great place to play. It was kind of like a Velour with an upscale kitchen inside. There was a dance club next door called Plastiqué, and bouncing between the two places was a great way to use up weekend nights. Great times. So many friends. The crowning jewel was the Zephyr Club. Every national act that was anybody played the Zephyr. I was just happening by one day and helped a band loading its gear in. Turned out it was Blues Traveler. I loved playing that place. Always great people and a great stage and lights.
What are some performance experiences that stand out?
Craig: We had a week to prepare for our first show there which was a little stressful. We had to have three, 45-minute sets of original material. We had to really work to make what we had worked up last that long. We compensated by stretching out solos and adding extra choruses and stuff. We also snuck in covers we didn’t think the owner would know (Spinal Tap, Squeeze and even Neil Diamond).
George: We played an event called Foodstock on two separate occasions. Both were held on BYU campus. The idea behind it was to collect food for the homeless, so the bands played for free and attendees brought cans of food for admission. It was a great event. One favorite memory was doing the song “My Heavenly Father Loves” me, and then segueing into “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and watching half the audience’s face go from love to horror/disappointment.
Craig: One of the most memorable shows we had was at the women’s prison at the point of the mountain. I had a radio show and had interviewed someone who ran a church program there. She mentioned that she occasionally performed for them and I mentioned I was in a band and one thing led to another and we got the gig. There was no money, of course, but it was worth it for the story. We never had a better crowd, I don’t think. The guards were hard with us at first. Not nice at all. We were told we had to end at 8 p.m. sharp so they could do headcount. But by the end of our set they told us we could keep playing since the women were having so much fun. They did headcount with us playing.
What was album distribution like?
Craig: When we had music to sell, we’d get a friend to man a table or even literally sell stuff out of the trunk of someone’s car. Our full-blown album was recorded at a real analog studio with a proper engineer. I think George paid for most of that himself. We started recording that album in 1989 and finished it in 1990. It took us several months to have enough money to pay for it.
Dale: There were a few local record stores, as well. But the biggest boon to product sales was when one or two of the local radio stations would do an hour of local music once a week. It made a lot of bands level up to get on the air, and I swear every time we had “Fence Away ” played, we’d sell a ton of tapes the next week. I miss organic radio so much.
How has recording been nowadays with band members in different locations? What are some of the challenges?
George: The upside is that it’s way easier to record, with better fidelity (recording mediums at the bottom end of the spectrum have improved exponentially in the digital age). A relatively small initial investment in time (learning DAW programs, mic placement, setting good levels, etc.) and money (for programs or outboard gear) reap continual dividends. The downside: it takes more discipline. When we recorded before (either at home on a 4 track cassette or in the cheap studio on a Fostex R8) we had to rely on fairly meticulous planning and organization to keep it quick because of hourly charges in the studio or time constraints at home.
Dale: Finding the time is the main thing. Adulting sucks. I’m ancient, and it still sucks. Inside my head I’m still a ridiculous 20 year old with stars in my eyes, but dammit if I don’t wake up every morning and take my old-guy pills and go to work and take care of my people and 100 other things before I can pick up a guitar before I pass out from exhaustion.
What’s the inspiration behind your band’s name?
George: First week of my LDS mission in England, the first girl I met (in the branch I was serving in) was named Audrey Smiley. American Elders were very popular among the Mormon teens there, but with Audrey, it was like the new ones were fresh meat. At some point we were discussing band names and I threw it out as a joke, but it stuck. I’m pretty sure I added the second L because I was sure she spelled it that way. Facebook tells me I was wrong.
Based on your experience, what advice do you have for emerging and established artists?
Craig: Do what makes you happy. Ignore naysayers and the people who say what can and can’t be done.
George: Don’t do it for the money or the accolades. Write like it matters; the song will usually be better when you do.
Dale: My advice first would be not to listen to an old dude like me. Seriously- just figure out what you want, and freaking do it.
Despite forming 30 years ago, you’re still releasing new music! What’s the new single – “Love Leaves a Scar” – about?
Craig: It was inspired by a line in Stephen King’s book, Joyland. A character was referring to a love affair that ended badly and said the line, “love leaves scars.” I paraphrased that and a couple of other lines from that book to write about love’s ebbs and flows.
What can we anticipate about the new album?
Craig: We’re calling the album Hiraeth, which is a Welsh word. The definition I like best is “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” Even before we agreed on that title, we realized many of the songs were about or had lines that fit that theme. Of course, being in our 50s maybe that’s no surprise, but thematically it works really well.
The band is hoping the new record will come out sometime this year or next. For now, Like Audrey Smilley on Facebook and listen to their 2015 remaster here. You can hear the new single, “Love Leaves a Scar” below!