Small Reactions play nerve pop. Their music has tinges of new wave and post punk; it’s often angular, sometimes surfy, and generally quick. They are a band of four guys who pull from various literary, geometric, and culinary influences in order to create and perform. They’ve played somewhere in the vicinity of 114 shows. With an average of 45 minutes on stage per show, they have amassed roughly 5, 130 minutes of playing music to an audience. They continue to add to those minutes, so this bio has to be updated often… with a calculator. Clinton, Scotty, Sam, and Sean, our respective singers and instrumentalists, never play anything the same way twice. They attempt to make shows more akin to movements than a simple collection of songs. Songs, in turn, maintain a sense of careful spontaneity. As ever present elements, levels, dynamics, voices, instrumentation, and sounds all shift and intertwine. Setlists, like the songs which comprise them, are, similarly, always different. Forever moving forward, they strive for perpetual motion. Scientists say it isn’t possible, but it is. Their concerts do, however, wrap up in a timely and orderly fashion. Not possible? You be the judge. AMG stopped by the band’s house in East Atlanta Village called Rock Bottom to learn more about the group!
Interview by Erika Childers
What’s your favorite part about the Atlanta music scene?
There are two schools of thought with that. Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles are like the two biggest music scenes, and by moving there you would get potentially more opportunities, but you always have a lot of other bands and venues to try to work in with. Atlanta is kind of a smaller scene so it’s easier to navigate and figure things out. It’s pretty great knowing a lot of the local bands too, to see someone out and generating conversation and networking is really easy because it is that perfect size scene. Not to small like Athens is kind of too small for it’s own good and like Brooklyn is probably too big for it’s own good, so it’s a nice little middle ground. The South has it’s own little weird history. It’s kind of offbeat compared to what you get coming out of the other cities.
Are there any local bands you find yourself admiring?
DelVinici sounds really great, we’ve played with them. Adron, Little Tybee. Red Sea doesn’t play that much but they sound really brilliant. We’ve been able to work with Mood Rings as well, they’re great friends of ours.
Where are your favorite venues to perform in Atlanta?
The EARL is favorite, it’s like our home away from home, they treat you really well and the food is great. We got to play the Variety Playhouse and that was cool in it’s own right, that was incredible. But the Earl is like the place. 529 we like a lot, very close second.
Where do you see yourself in a year? What do you hope to be doing?
We’ve only been able to put out a couple singles, we’d like to plan a release for an EP or a full-length and make a splash with it. We’ve been able to go pretty far just self-releasing singles, but now it’s time to get some motion behind it and make that jump. We do have enough songs put together for a full-length, we have a full-length put together, and our goal is ultimately to get that released either with somebody or ourselves or, like Sam said, release some singles from it and feel it out. But ultimately, doing more touring and just kind of getting on that circuit.
Is the hope to venture out of Atlanta?
The music business is not easy, it’s definitely a challenge. But in the those terms, we’d love to see the band go as far as it can. Wherever that is, we’d love to see that through. Hopefully in the next year we make more steps for growing it overall. We don’t have any plans to jump ship from Atlanta, we’re all kind of attached here.
What do you do outside of making/performing music?
We all have jobs to pay the rent. We’re pretty blue-collar. We all work, we do this. Playing music is our focus, but none of us are lucky enough to be trust funded or anything. We have to keep office hours and then make music at night.
Is that difficult? Does it make it difficult to get together?
Not necessarily. We’re pretty good about scheduling stuff, Sunday and Thursday are our days. One nice thing about having concentrated around only two days a week is that you don’t waste your time with anything. You have to stay pretty focused with what you’re doing. You can’t dilly-dally. Even in terms of our days jobs, we’ve all either got really lucky or have carefully chosen things that allow us time to do the band. We all have jobs that allow us to tour, we all have jobs where we have evenings free for practices. We’re all pretty busy individually, but we always find time to make it work. Three of the four of us live here and practice downstairs, so there’s not really an excuse to not make practice. Somebody can’t call in sick. After tour we’re pretty sick of each other, but we get along really well. It’s pretty amazing. We’ve been doing this in some capacity for like 8 years, so we’ve all gotten to know how to work within our group. We all get along great. Kinda like growing up together. I feel like a lot of bands play so well together but they don’t *play* well together. We can play and play well together.
I know you guys went to high school together. Did you do a lot of music together in high school?
We started it in high school. I [Sean] graduated two years before these guys did [Sam and Scotty], and three years before Clinton. They [Sam, Clinton, Scotty] had started informally with a jam club in high school. We played guitar together, teach each other how to play, and we’d listen to a lot of music. They divided instruments based on availability. Clinton and Sam and Scotty all played guitar but Scotty thought we should just have one guitar in the band, so Sam said he’d play keys and Clinton said he’d play bass because he had a bass. And I [Sean] was kind of the oddball out because I played drums because I knew nobody else played drums when I chose the instrument. It just kind of worked out.
What’s the first gig you guys ever played together?
With the way we’re doing things now, the first gig we ever played together was New Years Eve at this place called The Warehouse in Kennesaw. Clinton was with the group for a little while, then stepped back and we had another guy playing bass, but we kinda came back together. So, December 31st, 2005 at The Warehouse in Kennesaw was where we honed our chops. This little tiny teen club in the back of a music store. We could spend hours reminiscing about shows. We’ve had a lot of strange shows. We used to take any show we could get, we used to play a lot of shows in West Georgia. That was kind of our thing for awhile. In Tallapoosa we played in like this tank graveyard one time. It was really strange. In the middle of the day. We did a Battle of the Bands against drugs in North Georgia. We didn’t win, but we got shirts with cats. 2008.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? How do you prepare for a show?
We get food together, but we always have. In Kennesaw, it was Moe’s before every show and then after every show was Waffle House. Each show was just bracketed by large sums of food. Now we just go to the Earl, pretty much. Hopefully we’re playing there and we get half off on food. We also usually write the setlist. We usually don’t have a planned setlist. We’ll practice the week or two before then right before the show, we’ll feel it out. We’ll know the first song and the last song and we’ll go from there and fill in everything. So if there’s any ritual these days, I’d say putting together the set. We round everybody up. We all kind of disperse before the show to visit and see the other bands, then like 10 minutes before we go ahead and work it out.
How do you guys connect with a crowd?
I think that we’ve always been good about conveying energy on stage, kind of almost forgetting people are there and just really getting into it that way, but since we’ve tried to become a little more professional about it, it’s basically just me talking to the audiences trying to not mumble, and say coherent things, saying our name a lot. That’s important, I’ve found. We always joke that people might like us or they might hate us, but everybody usually in the room is concentrated on us. Maybe it’s just something on stage that it feels that way, but I’ve been to a lot of shows and there’s a lot of crowd banter, people talking, or people leaving. I feel like if someone’s there at the beginning of the show, I feel like we get everybody interested at least. Hopefully. It’s the goal for us to make the show as engaging as possible. I often times judge the crowd and I’ll look out and see some guys who are totally grooving. Especially at Variety because you’re kind of over everbody and you can spot the people are diggin, and the people who are like “huh?”. So my thought is to try to play for that guy who doesn’t get it. If I can try to make that guy engaged, it’s like a game sort of to see if you can win that guy over. And sometimes you can’t. Sometimes they don’t like it, which is fine. Our music’s not for everybody.
What is the best gig that you ever performed?
Variety Playhouse was cool to be able to do that. It was amazing. October 2013, a lot of people we didn’t know, but the people we did know that came, that was a solid group, seeing all of our real good buds who have seen so many shows, but over all that was a great show. We’ve gotten better about spacing our shows out and trying to choose bigger shows, but for the longest time whenever we’d do a show the most people we would play to was like 10, which we’re fine with, we figure everybody’s gotta start somewhere, but that room was like huge. Like 600 people in there. We thought we were gonna be too aggressive because our music is kind of noisy and loud and we were opening up for this like British folk band, so we thought it was gonna be too aggressive but people were into it. It was very affirmative. We never thought we’d play there.
What would be the lineup for your dream gig?
Sean: I think one of our biggest heroes, especially coming from Atlanta, is Deerhunter. I would definitely love to tour with those guys.
Scotty: I’d love to open up for Stereolab is they ever got back together. That would be great.
Sean: There used to be band that we all really liked called Women, they were really good, and now there’s a new band that’s kind of related, a couple of the members from Women are in a band called Viet Cong now and I think those guys are awesome. I think we’d fit well with them. We also got to go to SXSW last year and that was great because everybody was there. It kind of felt like you were sharing a bill with everybody. We really liked the OC’s, that’d be a great bill. It still felt like you were in this small town, all there for music, so it felt like you were on the same bill.
What was the weirdest thing that ever happened on stage?
Well, Clinton really likes to jump around on stage and for a long time, there was like a series of shows where at one point during the show, he would step on his cord and cut his amp off. He’d cut it off and look around and he’d back to plug it back in. That still happens every once in a while. It was really funny. It speaks to him though, he’s an excellent performer, he loves to jump around.
Don’t miss Small Reactions playing at The EARL Sunday, 3/23 with Pains of Being Pure At Heart and Eternal Summers! Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 Online and phone sales close at 6 p.m.