We’re huge fans of Mrs. Smith, the First Lady of Shred. Though she’s had a hard life, she’s channeled that rage into amazing metal music. In celebration of her latest music video, “Bob Ross Technique,” she agreed to sit down with Hornet to talk about her debut EP, her influences and the time she got to experience Bob Ross in the flesh.
Before we get into the interview, a little bit of backstory. Mrs. Smith was an Upper East Side socialite who was kidnapped by a Norwegian death metal band. They locked her in a closet for three months — the only thing in there other than Mrs. Smith herself was a discarded guitar. So, to keep her sanity, she learned how to shred.
Being kidnapped isn’t the only tragedy in her life, though — as she outlined in Mrs. Smith’s Broadway Cat-tacular, she used to be a double-act with her cat Carlyle. But when Carlyle ran away, she had to figure out how to go solo. And that hasn’t stopped her from trying to find Carlyle — he’s still a central part of her art.
Mrs. Smith has fans in numerous metal luminaries, including the legendary Steve Vai. Her first EP, Introducing Mrs. Smith, was just released and features Randy Willcox and 13-year-old guitar virtuosa Li-sa-X. Introducing Mrs. Smith is an outstanding debut, that spans genre: there’s the experimental “Midnight in the Garden of the Miku Pedal,” the metal ballad “Home Again,” and the brilliantly Zappa-esque “All the Things.” All the tracks are innovatively arranged, and it’s truly a feast for the ears.
HORNET: How did the “Bob Ross Technique” video all come together?
MRS. SMITH: Director Drew Kaufman (Two Minutes to Late Night) and I had a series of intense brainstorming sessions where we worked out the concept and all the different scenes and locations. I was quite focused on what outfits I should wear and Drew didn’t care in the least. It was a real creative tug of war at times but I found a bosom creative companion in Mr. Kaufman.
We both believe creativity can be combative and still perfectly civil. My neighbors would hear me yelling through the walls, “Defend your ideas Mr. Kaufman or I’ll crush you!”
At one point, I found myself standing in the middle of a CVS holding a bag of gummy worms screaming at him, “I despise your camera! I hate the angles you propose! You and your lenses are ruining my career and it hasn’t even started yet! Who do I need to pay around here to give a damn about my face?!” He threw a pencil and stormed out only to find out it was all role play and I was in fact angry about something completely different. We quickly made up in the parking lot and got right back to things.
When we began shooting marvelous actors showed up for our telethon scene including my friend Annie Golden. To be friends with a singer and actress of Annie’s amazing talent and ferocity is beyond my wildest dreams. Having her in my video was a dream come true.
And then my friends and supporters came for the rock concert scene and we had a wonderful time carrying on and acting wild. What I found fascinating is Drew and I did not yell once on set, it seems that roiling vitriol is private cauldron for just the two of us.
“Bob Ross Technique” features an awesome solo from Randy Willcox. How did that come together?
Isn’t he something else on that guitar? I could never play whatever it is he’s doing in that solo. I wrote the section as a kind of musical obstacle course for him. The accompaniment ascends chromatically and never quite rests in any key. I don’t know how I came up with it — I just pressed a bunch of buttons on the computer.
My vision for this part was that the song is rising in madness like a car speeding on a highway and then — VOOM! — it veers off the highway and on to a dirt road and there you find Randy on a high-tech motorcycle zooming! Then he — VOOM! — veers off his dirt road joins me back on the highway and — POW — we’re playing our duet together!
How has the Bob Ross technique helped you in your life?
I watch Bob Ross each and every morning. Twice when I don’t have therapy or psychoanalysis that day. (Why do they have to go on vacation?) I realized too, so many of my fans are suffering from anxiety and depression and they don’t have proper care.
I wanted to send the message that you can get everything done: You can shred, you can go to your job (or conversely, wait in line for your unemployment check), you can do the laundry, pick up the kids from Death Metal camp, you can do all these things swiftly and with ease if you keep Bob Ross in the back of your mind.
You don’t have to crack up and end up screaming on an access highway somewhere — unless it’s really helpful. The key is: don’t impersonate Bob Ross, just actually think the thought, “Bob Ross…. Bob Ross….” draw him in your mind and that will free your mind and body.
Before your ‘90s kidnapping by the Norwegian death metal band, had your path crossed with the actual Bob Ross?
Back in the day, I was an avid telethoner for PBS because I was in full flight from reality. I’m not saying everyone who does that is suffering from the same problem — but I suspect many of them are. They had that look, you know? It’s fine to telethon once or twice but I was a telethon junkie going from state to state working these phone banks and twitching the whole time.
Anyway, he showed up randomly at one. No one anticipated him. The hosts were doing their spiel and then onto the camera walked Bob Ross. They were stunned! Everyone was stunned and then something miraculous happened: All the phones stopped ringing all at once! Total silence. Everyone at home was watching the TV. Waiting to hear what he would say.
He looked into the camera and said, “…and I think we need to learn to respect nature and all of God’s little creatures.” And then he walked behind a curtain and disappeared. Well, after he said that, we raised a thousand times the normal amount. He had that power over a PBS audience.
Since the EP came out, have you gotten any leads on Carlyle’s whereabouts? You’ve got his beautiful face on your guitar — surely that must count for something!
I get leads every day and they are all investigated thoroughly and I’m debriefed at the end of every week by my team. Many are people trying to be cute which isn’t cute, actually, it’s painful and I wish they’d stop.
But we do get some actual real information which I cannot speak about because that then has an impact on the search. The most puzzling element is that he appears perfect safe but he’s not flourishing. He’s completely abandoned his many hobbies and passions and is just “chilling” in a low-key way which I find baffling.
Are there any musical influences you have that might surprise people?
I’m rather fond of Robyn the pop singer. She got me into the arpeggiator. Same with Muse, they use it sometimes, and I just love the feeling it brings across, the movement.
I’m also a big, big fan of Ghost, but maybe that won’t be a surprise to people. I have lived and worked closely with actual Satanists so I can’t tell if they’re for real with that or it’s just a game but the song-craft and production on their recent album is making me really jealous.
Finally, some might be aware of a fellow named Steven Wilson from a group called Porcupine Tree, he also does solo work. If you want some good cold-weather rock this winter, pick up those Porcupine Tree albums.
Can you give us a glimpse into your songwriting process for this EP?
It was painfully slow. “Midnight in the Garden of the Miku Pedal” was the first song I ever composed in the computer and it took me six months to complete because I had to teach myself everything. Even Lynda.com couldn’t help me, they were going too fast.
From there, I got faster with it and had lots of help, including my producer Brian Aloisio. He fielded any number of questions and also managed a lot of technical difficulties. And I also had help from my mixing engineer Greg Recchia. But a lot of it was just me by myself playing melodies over and over and finding what works underneath, stitching things together.
It was a very lonely process in a lot of ways and I have no idea if it’s how other people write music but it worked for me. I’m hoping next time I can work more swiftly! I have more songs to get out there!
Watch Mrs. Smith’s video for “Bob Ross Technique” (Featuring Randy Wilcox) below:
You can purchase Introducing Mrs. Smith here or iTunes, Google Play and everywhere else you buy great music.
All photos by Jeff Harris.