LISTENER: If you’re tied down inside your heart/all that will pass. –It Will All Happen the Way It Should, off the album Time is a Machine

“Straight out of the American heartland and into your heart.” That is a hopelessly clichéd and pathetic way to describe LISTENER, but then again, when this is a band of poets, whatever analogies a journalist writes will pale in comparison.  A spoken word rock band based in Arkansas, LISTENER has been inflicting their unique brand of “talk music” (their term) on fans since the 2007, when Dan Smith wrote a series of songs about a travelling knife salesman.  That became the album Ozark Empire. Later, those songs were reworked into Return to StrugglevilleWooden Heart, an album that ties real life experiences to characters and trajectories in the fantasy film The Never-Ending Story, was released to July 2010, gaining the band more attention, with Dan’s earnest and explosive singing style over Christin Nelson’s guitar and Kris Rochelle’s drums. Employing everything from trumpets to drums to banging an axe-handle on a washing machine, LISTENER’s songs are pure and driven, held together by a narrative, with distinct beginnings, crescendos and tragic endings. On tour supporting recently released Time is a Machine, Nothing But Hope And Passion is happy to report two-thirds of the trio found time between a packed touring schedule to answer a few questions about heavy themes, awesome fan gifts and why DIY (do-it-yourself) is more appropriately called do-it-with-the-help-of-good-friends.


You guys sing about heavy themes, but also obviously enjoy and have fun doing this. Tell me about keeping the balance between being intense and heartfelt and not taking yourself too seriously.
Dan Smith: I write down the thoughts I have in my mind. Of course on a record or at a show taking in six months or a year’s worth of thoughts may look like a lot when you boil it down, but certainly they are just my thoughts on the things I get to see. I don’t take it too seriously other than I want to be honest about the things that I say. It’s a very simple thing and not anything I think about when I’m writing.


In a sea of modern music with contrived and clichéd lyrics, LISTENER writes songs that are full of vivid imagery and pathos. What’s the songwriting process like, between the three of you?
Dan Smith: We all bring to the table what we have been writing. Most times Chris will show me some songs he’s been working on and I’ll show words I’ve been working on and we’ll start to feel out where a song could go. It’s been different each time, but we let the songs sort of decide for themselves how they will feel.
Kris Rochelle: It’s a jambled [brilliant invention of the words “jam” and “jumbled” ] mess, kind of. I think most writing processes are pretty messy and ours is no different.


For our European audience, the majority who probably don’t even know where Arkansas is, or what the Ozarks are, and so forth, make a little promo of why your home state should be on everyone’s travel itinerary.
Dan Smith: I grew up in Missouri and Arkansas. That’s where the Ozark Mountains are. It’s not New York City, or even a region people really go to for a vacation, but it can be really beautiful in the fall. A lot of cities have fall festivals and the leaves on the trees change into all kinds of colors. It’s pretty nice.
Kris Rochelle: I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a desert that’s nowhere near the Ozarks. I have a mountainous spirit though, or at least that’s what Dan tells me when I have trouble sleeping at night.

LISTENER: I think it’s hard to call it DIY when so many of our friends are out there rooting for us and spreading the word, it would be untrue and arrogant to say we do everything ourselves.


LISTENER’s trajectory is the epitome of grass-roots, do-it-yourself promotion.  Promoting and performing like that can be time consuming and confusing. Any great stories of things going hilariously/horribly wrong?
Kris Rochelle: Well, grass roots and DIY are kind of all that I know in regards to music. All the bands I’ve ever played in have attracted zero major labels or management or anything like that. LISTENER has, but we continue to try and do most of the work ourselves because it’s the way we like to do it. Personally, I think it’s hard to call it DIY when so many of our friends are out there rooting for us and spreading the word, it would be untrue and arrogant to say we do everything ourselves.


Any ridiculous fan gifts/confessions/interactions? 
Kris Rochelle: There’s been some AWESOME paintings and drawings people have done for us. One with Chris and Dan as light saber wielding centaurs and one with the three of us as robots.

Dan Smith had his beginnings in hip-hop. Are there any artists in hip-hop you particularly admire or currently listen to?
Dan Smith: I haven’t really listened to rap music in so long. Once in a while I’ll listen to a few songs, but I wouldn’t know what was good anymore. I like the band OUTKAST a good bit.


In the band, who’s a control freak? Who’s the easygoing one? Or are you all combinations of both?
Kris Rochelle: We’re all everything at different times. We haven’t given out those titles officially yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed [for] the easy going title.

Your live shows are pretty intense. Is it difficult to bring that amount of energy to each show? Have any of you ever experienced any sort of burn out? If so, how did you deal with it?
Kris Rochelle: Thanks. I think if we play an intense live show it’s because that’s the only way we know how to perform our particular music. For me at least, I reach a place during a live show where I know that I’ll never be playing that particular show with that particular crowd EVER again. That’s really special to me and it really psyches me up to play well, or intensely. As far as burn out goes, after a month or two of leaving everything you have on the stage, every night, your body can start to hurt for sure. There’s no real point in complaining to anyone other than a doctor though.


What do hope and passion mean to you?
Dan Smith: I love the word Hope, it’s a great name too….for me it’s a promise that can’t quite be held but is for everyone to have. Passion is a little more intense of a word but so is hope too. Passion for me is having a burning desire to do something and you can’t not do that thing….that’s a passion.
Kris Rochelle: Yeah, passion seems, to me at least, to mean doing something with everything that is inside of you. Pushing on when you’re tired. Hope is wonderful, hope seems to fuel passion I think.

Currently on tour in Europe, don’t miss LISTENER in Berlin Friday, August 30. Enter to win tickets here.