Small Town Romance are a five-piece band but at their core they are Jim Arneman and Flora Smith, an Australian duo who weave authentic country sounds into a modern Americana context. Two beautiful voices that intertwine and tell tales of heartache populated with people and places. On their self-titled album of last year they created a wonderful record built on a relaxed and spacious sound, fine playing and songwriting that resonates with classic country and Cajun qualities. Ahead of a trio of shows in VIC and NSW, Jim kindly took the time to answer our Six Strings Q&A.
Feb 24th @ Star Hotel Yackandandah
Feb 25th @ Hardys Bay Club
Feb 26th @ Marrickville Bowling Club with Sam Newton
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
The Flying Burrito Bros. – Guilded Palace of Sin was probably the big one for me. It blew my suburban 14 year-old mind and opened me up to the possibilities of roots music in general. The combination of country and soul music with these psychedelic flourishes was so inventive, but underneath all that window dressing and production were a bunch of really great songs that have stood the test of time. The vocal blend of Parsons and Hillman is really timeless to me and I’ve been obsessed with close harmony singing ever since. I’m not sure how far down the dusty path of Americana I am though, I still listen to plenty of George Strait.
Describe your latest release.
Our debut self-titled record is a love letter to country music, and by country I mean all the roots music we’ve grown listening to. I’m big on 70’s country rock and singer songwriters so there’s ample twang and harmonies. Flora brings the Texas/Louisiana element to proceedings, so lots of Cajun and Conjunto button accordion and rhythms to get people dancing. That being said we also have our mandatory introspective driving/heartbreak songs on the record too. That’s the fun thing about a band’s first record, the energy is always so good you just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
Gigs are often memorable for all the wrong reasons, but as far as an overall band experience that was warm and fuzzy we recently played some support slots for Eilen Jewell and had a particularly memorable show at Meeniyan Hall in the Gippsland of Victoria. Killer venue and they really take care of you. As a band used to a couple of pints and a bowl of hot chips, an open fire place, nice red and a three course meal goes a long way. Plus Eilen and the band were firing, great to watch and made us feel very welcome. Also, Ian the bloke who runs the gig is a fellow Richard Thompson fanatic so that was an added bonus – opportunities to nerd out about English folk rock are pretty rare these days.
How did you learn to play your instrument?
For me it was mostly listening to records to begin with and then getting out and playing live (badly). Flora’s got a far more interesting story for this one than me. She studied Conjunto Tex-Mex button accordion from Grammy winner Joel Guzman when she was living in Austin. She spent a lot of time in Tejano bars dancing to polkas. I didn’t believe her when she told me it was really fun party music but we were recently over in the states and she’s right. Tex-Mex accordion Polkas are bonafide party jams – listen to some Los Texmaniacs if you need proof.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written and why?
Look, I know it sounds like a democratic cop-out but I do really love the songs Flora and I have written together. ‘Over The Line’ was the last track we wrote before recording the album so as result it had a real freshness and life to it when we went to record it. I guess the song is a reflection on writing and creating in general. It draws on personal experiences, like sitting down and talking about songwriting with my Nana Joy McKean who in my unbiased opinion, is one of the finest writers this country has ever produced. But then it in other sections it explores the parasitic and destructive elements of making music. The two are not connected in any literal sense, but I guess they are connected in that they have both have informed my own experiences of writing.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
I’m really not a virtuosic instrumentalist, so the idea of sitting in with any of the greats is truly terrifying. But I reckon I would have had a blast with Doug Sahm in the early 70’s. His records just sound really fun and he seems like such a good bandleader.
Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
I think the scene is very healthy right now. I don’t have that much industry insight but I think most artists, even well established ones, understand they now have to a large degree be their own manager, publicist, graphic designer etc. It takes time away from music but it’s just how it is now that people don’t really buy records. The positive flipside of that is the amount of control we can now have over our music, how we release it and how we market ourselves. Being innovative in the way we do our album cycles is the key to keeping the community and audience growing, a good example of this is the shows that Parlour is putting on. I think it’s a great model to contend with the issues of booking shows as an independent artist.
What’s been your favourite Americana release over the last year?
Robert Ellis’ record from last year was a breath of fresh air. He’s just a monstrous musical force that can play anything and wants to question everything. It makes for a great listening and really sets the bar for what we do.
What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
Tour tour tour. Trying to do as many shows domestically as we can this year and get the record out there.