Interview with Danny Denial, Lia Lovecraft, Ashe Tempest, and Nozomi Momo | By Kelley O’Death | Photo by Toran Whitaker
If the formation of Seattle’s Dark Smith were an “assembling the team” movie montage, “[Vocalist and synth player] Danny [Denial] would be [Professor] X gathering his mutant super-team,” bassist and vocalist Lia Lovecraft says. “[Guitarist and backing vocalist] Ashe [Tempest] would be Cyclops, but way more angsty and way less douchey. [Drummer] Nozomi [Momo] would be like a combination of Rogue and Mystique and would trade time between living in the shape of a drummer and a small, happy red panda.”
“I would be Scarlet Witch and would be a double agent secretly supporting Magneto,” she adds, “except then, we would discover that all of us secretly support Magneto.”
“I second everything Lia Lovecraft has just said,” Denial exclaims.
Momo notes, “I usually refer to Ashe as daddy, Danny as mommy, [and] Lia as big sis. I’m obviously the babeh. Daddy drives, Mommy plans and directs us in videos, Lia is making sure I don’t jump out of the window of the moving vehicle.”
Moody and dreamy, brutal and cutting, Dark Smith’s sound is at once ethereal and visceral. On their self-released debut EP, Prehysteria—out March 16—the band levitate the listener into unexplored regions of the nether only to confront them with a distinctly worldly brand of pain—like Cenobites from a dimension filled with velvet chokers and lavender mist.
“Danny and Ashe bring two sides of a coin that create a unique artistic vision,” Lovecraft explains. “Ashe’s melodic guitar expands into a soundscape that coats everything with sadhappy, and Danny’s voice swims through it like a shark, alternately diving and leaping. Nozomi reaches out around her and channels force into rhythm that we all dance to in our own ways. I try to underpin and unify all this with fretless basslines guided by the love of dark things that always tinges my playing.”
“It definitely started with my desire to explore a dreamier, gazier sound with a dash of new wave,” Denial expands. “A lot of Joy Division, a little Slowdive, a little early Sonic Youth. Ashe met that with this beautifully nightmarish soundscape charged with metal and goth, then Lia brought the heart and the shape, and Nozomi brought the fire—she also happens to dance with fire in our new video [for ‘Witch Marks’]!”
“Yep,” Tempest concurs, “Nozomi is playful and masterful at the same time, laughing as she melts faces. Lia can paint melodic shadows and bold lightning strikes of electric eargasms. Danny is a punk rock poet; his eloquence is as at home in a whisper as it is in a guttural scream. Me, I sit in the corner and cry, play guitar, and forget how to play guitar.”
Denial describes the five-song Prehysteria EP as “the collective consciousness that the terror and dread we exist in now is eternal; it’s a realization that we are being hunted and stripped—and we have been, systemically, for generations: by the police, by Donald Trump, by Klansmen, homophobes, colonists, and imperialism.”
“Lyrically, I tried not to overwrite or preach but, instead, to create an atmosphere through a visual,” he continues. “The witch bound at the stake became the most compelling one, because it, too, is eternal. The witch-hunt is still happening today: it’s happening to women and to trans women and to queer people and to women of color. I want the music, not just the lyrics, to be that desperate cry escaping through the flames. The witnesses who stand by and watch and listen, much like the characters do at the end of the ‘It Gets Worse’ video—and then, they’ll come for you. That sinking feeling, to me, is prehysteria.”
“It’s painfully tragic to be a human being,” Tempest adds, “so, let’s all try to be kind to one another and to stand up against hatred, bigotry, and indifference to suffering.”
It’s clear that Prehysteria is more than a small collection of songs: it is a fraught shriek of anguish that morphs into a battle cry as it floats into the night sky like rising ashes.
Of the five tracks, Lovecraft says that “Witch Marks” and “Prehysteria” are her favorites, “both musically and lyrically. Both of these deal with issues of both historical and modern misogyny and relate this to other social issues and challenges—and the bassline opening of ‘Prehysteria’ where I double the synth is just my favorite part of the whole EP, musically, simple though it is.”
“I’m obsessed with ‘Lie To Me,’” Momo shares. “The feel of the song and the lyrics have brought tears to my eyes. #sadboys ‘Leave You Alone Forever’ is a close second, because I love the juxtaposition of the happy sound with the tumultuous lyrics—just like meee!”
“‘Lie To Me’ is, lyrically, one of the first songs that I’ve written without hating all the words a month later,” Denial admits. “I hate all my lyrics, always. It kind of lies outside the themes of the rest of the record, but I’m really happy with the way my lyrics married the guitar in that song.”
“It was a joy to come into this project early, just as the songs were taking form, and to be able to have some input and help shape them,” Lovecraft says. “For the recording, in addition to my bandmates, I’d like to highlight Alex [Wekell] at Sky Feather Studios [in Burien, Washington], where we recorded. He’s a wizard of an engineer and really brought out the magic in the songs.”
“The whole thing came together really quickly,” Tempest confirms. “It felt almost serendipitous.”
Dark Smith’s aural presence is matched only by their commitment to visual storytelling. Their gritty, evocative music videos present a thunderous challenge to the status quo of contemporary society and ancient texts alike.
“The videos, together, tell a story in which even the oldest story can be rewritten,” Denial explains. “We wanted to take the bible and occupy it with queer people, to take the iconic image of Jesus Christ on the cross and replace him with a woman of color, to depict Judas’ betrayal through an overtly homosexual lens—one that many have found offensive, and we’ve gotten some shit for, if I’m being honest. But the bible itself was rewritten to erase the legacy of women such as Lilith, as a weapon of propaganda and patriarchal power for pretty much ever, and in a way, our retelling is taking some of that power back.”
“Jade Dynasty—who I love—and Raven Hollywood—who I also love—breathed their own effervescent spirits into the roles of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ and made me love those two figures in a way I never knew I could,” he adds. “These were really two of my favorite videos I’ve ever gotten to work on from start to finish, and I’m glad it pissed people off, because now, they know how I feel all the fucking time.”
The videos for “It Gets Worse” and “Lie To Me”—the first two singles from Prehysteria—were directed by Toran Whitaker and produced by Sky Feather Studios, while “Witch Marks” was directed by Brendan Cescon and Leo Ramos of Vanity Rules Productions.
Momo attests that the most memorable experience from all of Dark Smith’s video shoots came during the last. “Fire-dancing naked by a beach in December for the new video ‘Witch Marks’ was epic and cold as fuck,” she says. “I love that my bandmates let me run around naked with fire. That’s a lot of trust.”
“I gotta go with Nozomi on this one,” Tempest agrees. “Never going to forget freezing on the beach at night in the middle of winter. So worth it, though!”
Dark Smith are set to play their EP release show for Prehysteria on March 18 at Queer/Bar in Seattle. It should come as little surprise that attendees can expect some politically-charged theatrics. “I’ve been dedicating ‘Lie To Me’ to Melania Trump with a shout-out at every show since August 2017,” Denial reveals.
“Our live sets are full of a dark energy that ebbs and flows, sometimes smooth, then rising to a tsunami,” Lovecraft says. “If you like the videos and the music, hearing it live adds another dimension that might surprise you.”
Tempest adds that fans should expect “roses being—badly—thrown at you and awkward social moments, along with lots of sorrow and angst and surprise cover songs.”
“I sense some subtle shade being thrown at my rose-throwing,” Denial interjects, “but people love it when I throw roses at them in ‘Lie To Me,’ and I will continue to throw them even if I’m always a few heads off every target. I’ve really enjoyed coming out of my shell from the guitar-driven performances of my other projects and really getting to swim in the sound with Dark Smith. People seem to really be responding to it at our shows lately.”
And lest we forget what’s truly important, Momo chimes in, “We are all in the market for groupies. I heard sex sells—am I doing this right?”
Whether they’re enjoying Prehysteria at home or experiencing Dark Smith’s otherworldly conjuring live, the band hope listeners will connect personally with their mystical blend of sounds, images, and ideas.
“I would want evoke an experience,” Tempest says, “a moment—or second, even—of musical amnesia, where the listener is lost in sound with no earthly cares. And, if not that, then I would settle for goosebumps.” They recommend pairing Dark Smith’s unique grey magic with “red wine, ‘Twin Peaks,’ and vegan chocolate mousse” for the best results.
“I seek, as always, to evoke the powers of darkness with every note that I coax from my bass,” Lovecraft shares, “so that I may join them in their sinister crusade against all of humanity. As for pairings with the music, I find that Milk Duds and a nice merlot pair very nicely, especially with ‘Prehysteria’—though, for ‘Leave You Alone Forever,’ I prefer Fritos and PBR.”
The March 16 release of the Prehysteria EP and its March 18 coming-out party will soon be come and gone, but there are infinite avenues of numinous inspiration, terrestrial injustice, and corporeal pleasure and suffering to keep Dark Smith afloat—light as a feather and stiff as a board—for eons to come.
Of their long-term goals, Momo says, “I want us to get signed before my visa expires, so I can next-level with this band. I’m so excited to be in Dark Smith, I’m dreading leaving before we get a chance to really get ourselves out there.”
“I agree with Nozomi,” Denial says. “We seem to have a ticking timer on us, so we’re racing to use the funds from Prehysteria to have our first full-length finished by the summer.”
“We’ve only been together for nine months, but we’ve been through hell and back,” he attests. “Seattle isn’t the easiest city to navigate as a band, and we’ve fought tooth and nail every step, but we do want to give a special thank you to Shunpike, ACES [Artists of Color Expo & Symposium], and the Office of Arts & Culture Seattle for supporting our project locally in a way no one else was willing to. We also want to thank Sky Feather Studios for producing this EP, our awesome partners with our upcoming release show at Queer/Bar, and all the Seattle artists who worked with us on shows and helped us find our legs: Phono Paradiso, Dirty Dirty, Familiars, Raven Hollywood, doNormaal, and 69/50!”