SIMO

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By Poppy Tohill

Notable for having virtuoso guitarist JD Simo as their centrepiece and namesake, Nashville based power-trio SIMO are a force to be reckoned with. Widening their sound with slow-smoked soul ballads, stax-worthy funk rockers, psychedelic desert-rock instrumentals and hard-edged, bluesy barn burners throughout their recently released album Rise & Shine, we caught up with the man JD himself to get the inside scoop and learn more about SIMO…

“Adam Abrashoff (drummer) and I formed the band five years ago as a side project to have fun with,” Simo announced as we launched into conversation about the band’s early days. “I was mostly making my living as a session musician, whereas Adam was actually touring with acts, but eventually it got to a point where I wanted to try this band thing for real and that was a huge commitment because it meant that we both had to jump out of our lucrative careers, as it were, to focus,” he explained. “So we did that together, then the year before last Elad Shapiro (bassist) joined the band, we signed a record deal, got management and all of those other things that go along with being in the business.”

Now flash forward to last year which saw SIMO release their debut album Let Love Show The Way and spend 300 days of the year on the road, touring. “It was just insane!” JD added with a laugh, before continuing on to discuss the groups fast evolving sound. “We started off with a very derivative 70s rock sound but over the course of last year and being run ragged by all of those shows, we kind of turned away from that and started to incorporate all of the other influences we share which is everything from R&B to hip-hop, techno, EDM, modern rock music, experimental, funk, you name it. So when we went into making this new record, it was just about us trying to come up with the best thing that we could and I believe that this record, more than anything we’ve ever done before, is us. We worked really hard on it and we’re very proud.”

Taking only two days to make Let Love Show The Way, the four solid months the band spent this time around working on Rise & Shine could only be described by JD as “a very intense experience.”

“The quick way is good from the perspective of capturing an energy or a vibe, because when you don’t have the time to over do something you’re more apt to capture something that has an attitude about it,” he explained. “Whereas, if you have the opportunity to actually take your time, you have to be sure to use it wisely, because it’s so easy to go down that rabbit hole of burning 10 hours screwing around with various instruments sounds. So I think it’s important to work quickly for the first while so you can get a basis of how to get a take and as you move along you can experiment a little more because you earn the right to do that,” he concluded.

The other benefit to having more time in the studio JD points out, is sonically. “If you have a clear picture in your mind of how you want the production to be then you can take your time to sort that out, because that stuff can take a while. Be With You for example was a one take. We played it once at five in the morning and that’s the version you hear on the record. Then there’s others like Meditation which I think we probably played about 30 plus times and not because we were messing it up, but because we were looking for a very specific feeling for that track and we had that luxury of being able to work on it until we got it right.”

“Oh man, it was a lot of hard work!” JD speaks of self-producing the album. “There’s thousands of decisions to be made when you’re making a record and in the end a producer is generally the one who has the final authority, so for me it was a lot of hard work because you really have to keep perspective. There were times when it was difficult, but something that I’ve learnt over time is that you just have to trust your instincts, because when something isn’t working it’s usually pretty obvious and I think the biggest trick is in deciding whether something is worth chasing or not and in the end you don’t really know until you try,” he confessed.

While touring for 300 days of the year alone is a highly impressive feat, so is finding the time in the remaining 65 days of the year to write, record and release another record. Something that if you listen to Rise & Shine you will soon learn SIMO mastered exquisitely.

“It is hard for us to work as a unit on the road because there’s just not an ample amount of time for the three of us to be in a room with our instruments to hash stuff out,” he admit. “’But it’s almost two conflicting scenarios because in the course of writing what ended up becoming this record, I found my groove of being able to write anytime and anywhere, so I’m always writing now. But everything for the group gets hashed out between the three of us, so we do require time to be set aside where we can all work stuff out and because I’m impatient I’ve tried multiple times to take over a soundcheck and turn it into a, ‘hey guys I just wrote this, lets work on it,’ but it never works,” he laughed.

“I hope something I’ve written in there might resonate with somebody,” JD confessed when asked what he hopes fans take away from listening to this record. “Some of the songs on there are so deeply personal, they’re uncomfortable for me to listen,” he admit. “I’ve been through a lot of rough stuff in the past year, dealing with things from my childhood and issues I’ve been needing to deal with for a very long time and I think a lot of young people have that in common and it’s all up to when you’re ready to start dealing with some of that stuff, so I hope that in the end there’s something there that might resonate with those people, but more then that I couldn’t really say.”