Week in Pop: Donovan Blanc, False Priest, Old Smile, Pie Face Girls

Sjimon Gompers

Raleigh, NC's Pie Face Girls are one of the most phenomenal, counter-culture groups right now; press photo courtesy of the band.

Old Smile

Meet Old Smile's Tom Herman Jr.—oka the Roger McGuinn of our era; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Meet Old Smile’s Tom Herman Jr.—oka the Roger McGuinn of our era; press photo courtesy of the artist.

It was somehow in the culmination of chaos & duress that 2016 yielded in it’s wake that I became familiar with South Jersey home brew artist Tom Herman Jr. Shared long-distance personal exchanges would lead me to the prolific wealth of releases from Old Smile. The compelling point in Tom’s oeuvre was how a home-recording enthusiast like himself surpassed the bedroom recorder pejorative by virtue of abiding by the astute Emitt Rhodes school of living room recording genius.

Recently contributing the single “Over the Wall” for the excellent Planned Parenthood benefit compilation Rock Against Hate; Tom Herman demonstrates (as he has time & time again in his array of previous self-releases) an amazing & adept understanding of everything that has made up the construct of the American primitive notion of how garage pop works. “Over the Wall” for example effortlessly blends superbly keen & restrained jazz rhythms into a heady blend of chords that expand the chasms of the listener’s consciousness. Herman has been a slept-on Jersey artist who is just now stepping out into the spotlight to a whole new internationally interested audience.

Delivering an introduction to his upcoming Twosyllable Records debut Elusive Day—Old Smile offers up a taste of the South Jersey he knows with the visuals for the existentially minded “Empty Lines”. Transitory images from freeways, to streets, to smoke to trails blend images from the expansive concrete sprawl to the trail lines of trees & a host of natural splendor. Herman keeps all included images in contrast to one another, where concrete saturated universes are contrasted with arboreal arrays of forests as far as the eye can seen. The point of view revolves around the driver’s perspective of driving through city & highways lesser-known where the stark juxtaposition of town & country compliments the garage pop troubadour sentiment of the song, “Empty Lines”.

Describe the long & winding road that has brought you to your grand release, Elusive Day.

Elusive Day is a collection of songs that I did between the years of 2013-2015, so it definitely has been a long and winding road for this release. There was just a lot of bad things happening on a personal level with me during that period of time so I recorded music to try to stay sane. A lot of the lyrics are on the darker side but I think its a testament to resilience more so than rumination or anything. So recently, a couple months ago, I revisited some of that material that I made from 2013-2015 and I picked what ones I thought melded well together and spent some more time mixing them again. I’m really happy Two Syllable were into it and decided to release it!

What other elusive elements informed Elusive Day?

Everything felt out of reach during that period of time. Love, friendships, hope, pursuing music, everything just seemed too difficult find. That’s why I thought the title was appropriate for that collection of songs.

You have a very keen & well adept approach to a variety of focuses & disciplines of modern composition. What is an ordinary practice or rehearsal session like for you?

Thanks! Generally speaking, I focus on one instrument for an hour or so, get bored and move onto the next one when it comes to rehearsing. I’m self taught in everything but bass, I took lessons for that when I was a teenager. Moving around the different instruments is just a way to keep music exciting for me. As far as creating a song I usually start off with drums. After I record what I think could work as a backbone for a song I move onto either guitar or bass. Then I add keyboard and then vocals. The lyrics are usually from a notebook I write in that isn’t structured.

Deep thoughts & discussions with Old Smile's Tom Herman Jr.; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Deep thoughts & discussions with Old Smile’s Tom Herman Jr.; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Whats interesting in South Jersey right now?

My dog Louie, he is cool. I don’t know, I’m pretty much a hermit at the moment. I have a few friends who live the next town over who I visit some weekends, we grew up together so that’s a cool and comforting thing to be around. I’d say Philadelphia is the most interesting thing around this area, I’m about 10 minutes outside of the city. So when I do make it out, there’s always a cool show to go to, there’s lots of cool venues in Philly right now.

Getting cosmic with Old Smile's Tom Herman Jr.; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Getting cosmic with Old Smile’s Tom Herman Jr.; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Other artists that you have discovered that you want to tell the world about?

Yes definitely. This guy Alex Fermanis out of Colorado is a genius songwriter and composer. I’m happy I found his stuff through my friend Nick Mann whose also a really great visual artist people should check out.

Next moves, any important causes you want to champion that you think others should too?

I’m working on trying to get a live show going for this project. Hopefully it works out. I’ve also been on the job hunt recently, so I’m hoping I find something soon. As far as important causes I’d like to champion, I think this organization the Trevor Project is doing great work and is something others should donate to or get involved in. They work to provide suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth. I think its an especially vital time to support The Trevor Project, for obvious reasons with this current political climate. I was happy to have one of my songs apart of a local new jersey compilation, Rock Against Hate to raise money for them.

Old Smile’s Elusive Day will be available April 14 from Twosyllable Records.

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