Tom Smith, founding member of LA noise band To Live and Shave, dies at 65: NPR
Patrick Spurlock for NPR
Tom Smith, a relentless musical experimenter and a prominent figure on the international noise scene for decades, died on January 20 in Hannover, Germany. He was 65 years old. His partner, Claudia Franke, confirmed to NPR that the cause was colon cancer.
As news of Smith’s passing spread, friends and colleagues, including Sonic Youth Thurston Moore, from the pylon vanessa hay, and Matmos’ Drew Daniel –tributes shared on social networks. On Instagram, Moore called Smith a “provocateur and visionary beyond post-punk noise”, while writer Byron Coley describe him on Twitter as “a big flop, unmanageable and will never be replaced”.
“I am a purveyor of organic folk, a product of the environment, a fusion of innate – and perhaps largely wasted – intellect and dyspeptic Southern aesthetic,” Smith said. Thread in 2002. “I’m a very happy guy.”
Born in Adel, Georgia on April 10, 1956, Smith spent his teenage years learning about King Crimson, Sun Ra, and most importantly, the dub innovations of Lee “Scratch” Perry. In 1978, he founded the band Boat Of, which included future REM vocalist Michael Stipe. He once described their sound as “guitars played through tiny, crackling speakers, plunging, absurdly overdriven basslines, re-edited scientist dubs…with extremely sarcastic and willfully cryptic vocals.”
In 1984, Smith moved to Washington, D.C., where he promoted shows at DC Space nightclub, briefly joined local bands Velvet Monkeys and Pussy Galore, and started the band Peach of Immortality. With table guitar, cello and tape manipulations from Smith, Peach of Immortality courted confusion, titling one of their albums Talking heads ’77. “It was just a fierce racket and most people didn’t understand it,” Smith said. Recount The Quietus in 2020. “But some did!”
Smith’s longest running project emerged when he moved to Miami in 1991 and met musician and producer Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra. The couple named their band To Live and Shave in LA after a Ron Jeremy porn movie. “It fit my aesthetic,” Smith said of the band’s 2020 name. “High and low, silly but immediate.” The beginnings of the group in 1994 30-Minuten Männercreme was a dizzying barrage of cut-and-paste audio, influenced by Public Enemy’s production team, The Bomb Squad, and produced by Smith during his off hours as a sound engineer at the Telemundo television network. Re-releasing the album in 2010, Hanson Records founder Aaron Dilloway called him “a masterpiece that opened wide my adolescent mind… letting all the diseases and perversions of the world seep in and pollute it.”
In 2004, To Live and Shave in LA recorded noon and eternity at Sonic Youth’s New York recording studio, with an expanded band that included Moore on guitar and Andrew WK on drums. Their last album, Like the gods are flayed, released in 2019, inspired by what Smith called “the absolute calamity that befell humanity in 2016 and the fetid hell we descended into. Why not channel that into music?”
Based in Germany for many years, Smith was prolific until the end of his life, freeing up work through his own Karl Schmidt Verlag label. His enthusiasm for collaboration has made him a mentor to generations of experimental musicians. “I felt like he went through it all, did everything we did, thought everything we thought…summarizing these higher approaches that we could barely comprehend”, Andrew WK Recount Thread in 2008. “And it was so inspiring, the idea that this guy was doing exactly what he wanted to do, making sounds and music that I had never imagined before.”
“Music should ideally be entropic,” Smith said. Thread. “[It] should move in all dimensions and spatial configurations, and it should f****** kick** while doing so.”