Louisville, KY-based band Small Time Napoleon is headed to SXSW with a couple of guitars, a stand-up bass, a drumset and lots of accolades from their home state in tow. With influences ranging Tom Waits to Elvis Costello and Paul Simon, the band serves up a unique mix of sounds they like to describe as “jazz-ish.” Vocalist and guitarist Jeff Thomas answered some questions in advance of the band’s performance in Austin.
Is this your first year at SXSW? What are you most excited for?
We’ve never been to Texas, let alone SXSW. So we’re super excited to check out the musical landscape of that area of the country along with the vibe of the festival as a whole.
What sparks your creativity? Is it a place? A person? A specific type of sandwich? (Your answer is not limited to those options)
Creativity can come somewhat randomly, but most often from life events. They seem to lead to the best tunes for us, anyways. We have songs about close family deaths, relationships being built and lost and other random life events. Writing about what you know almost always seems to be the best practice.
You describe yourself as a “jazz-ish” band. Do you specifically work to make music that can’t be pigeonholed into one category, or do you just make what sounds came to you and worry about what to call it later?
We describe ourselves as jazz-ish because jazz can be such a divisive word. If you’re into jazz, calling ourselves jazz might disappoint you because we write tunes with pop influences. If you hate jazz, calling ourselves a jazz band might turn you off before you listen. We’ve found that our jazz influences help us stand out against other bands who play similar pop-influenced tunes. Hopefully we live in the sweet spot between “too jazzy for mainstream” and “not jazz enough for those seeking something new/different.”
What is your favorite song of yours, and why? What song of yours would you recommend people listen to first, and why? If these are different songs, why?
I polled the band and everyone has a different answer for this question.
- Dave, our bassist, best likes a tune called “Tower Song” off our first EP. Tower Song is primarily in 5/4, but mixes in 4/4 and 6/4 throughout. It’s easy to make mixed meter stuff sound ham-fisted, but in the case of “Tower” it serves the song. It’s easy to not even realize the tune is jumping back and forth from time signature to time signature.
- Zack, our drummer, cited “Me and Mary Magdalene” (from our full-length LP) as his favorite. It starts off as a low ballad, just acoustic and voice, and continues to build into an extremely hard-hitting and wild tune.
- Dan, one of our singer/guitarists, said he enjoyed “Maybe,” also off the full length, as his favorite. “Maybe” is a multi-part tune that shifts between fermata style sections, funk, and rock. Lyrically, it’s somewhat cheeky, all while remaining approachable.
- Jeff, vocals/guitar, really likes a tune of ours called “High Wire,” off our most recent EP, Too Big To Fail. It has a really laid-back feel to it. Lyrically, it’s simultaneously about a poker game and a bar fight. Its also a story song that prequels a tune called “Boring Little Play” from our LP.
If you’re going to listen to us for the first time, I would suggest “Sucker for a Tomboy.” Its an upbeat, approachable tune with cryptic lyrics worth exploring.
Do you have and your other band members have day jobs? If you do, what are they and what drives you to do music as well?
We each have day jobs. Dan works in IT, Dave is a title abstractor, Zack works for the University of Louisville’s medical department and Jeff is a front-end developer. I don’t think any of us could imagine a world in which music wasn’t a part of our lives. In that way, we don’t have a choice not to be musicians.
Small Time Napoleon’s SXSW set is Thursday, March 14 in The Elephant Room, 315 Congress Ave.