D//E Interviews: Constant Smiles

Constant Smiles have been extremely creative in the last few years, producing a stream of well-received releases. Their latest full length, Kenneth Anger, signifies a transition from independent folk to synthesizer-driven pop and post punk. The new album delves into subjects like ingenuity, society, ceremonial practices, and their significance in the process of recovery.

The project's creative force, Ben Jones, discusses the new album and more in an interview with D//E.

How did Constant Smiles come to be?

In the beginning, it was just my friend Walter and I. We started as a noise duo on Martha’s Vineyard. The name of band changed with every show, and we added new members as we evolved. We would write all new music for every show too. Then I moved to Chicago for college. We were all scattered, so the project morphed into more of a home recording project. Everyone recorded their parts remotely. We all sent each other songs we were working on and helped each other develop ideas.

How has the band's journey been so far, and what are the aspirations for the future?

The journey has been fun! I continue to work with my longtime friends, but I look forward to making new friends and collaborators too, growing the band in the process.

How would you describe the band's creative intent?

It changes from record to record and show to show, but we are always trying to push ourselves to write songs and create something that really feels special to us—to one day make the ultimate record so you can die happy knowing you did it.

Constant Smiles' music has been described as shoegaze-inspired indie rock. How would you characterize it?

Dream Pop!

Can you explain how you developed your sound and how it has progressed since its early stages?

In the earlier days, it often took much longer for us to arrive at something we felt worked. Sometimes we wouldn’t know how to get what we had in our heads successfully onto tape. I think over the years we have gotten better at executing an idea and bringing it to its best version. Even though we’re now twenty records in, we feel like we are just hitting our stride. We have also gotten really good at knowing what we are looking for in each other and then communicating that.

What drew you to Kenneth Anger's work, and how did you use it as inspiration for your latest album?

In this record, I was dealing with big overarching feelings of both anger and residual anger. At the same time I was getting back into synth music. The films of Kenneth Anger have always conjured in my mind a kind of Vangelis-esque score. So it all seemed to line up for me.

How did you first discover Kenneth Anger's work, and which of his films is your favorite?

I first discovered his work in college, just by virtue of being in art school and obsessed with film. I was immediately captivated by Anger’s films. My favorites are Puce Moment, Scorpio Rising, and Inauguration of Pleasure Dome.

What was the creative process like for the album?

I started by immersing myself in synth music. I would often watch Kenneth Angers films while playing synth at the same time—creating my own sort of soundtrack for it. I wrote a lot of songs for this one, and together with the band, we pared them down to the final tracks that made it on the record. Once we had those, the rest of the band did their over dubs and brought all the stems to Jonathan Schenke to mix and master it. We took this approach, in part, as a way to give us the opportunity to sift through all the layers of everyone’s contribution.

Were there any distinctive challenges regarding the new album?

Definitely! Sometimes things get messy before they come together. We had recorded all the synths to cassette tape so none of the arpeggios were set to an exact BPM because of the tape warble, and it made everything really hard to line up. The drums were recorded remotely which also made it super difficult and took up most of our time in the studio just linking it all together. It was definitely the hardest record I have ever done! There were also, for various reasons, a number of hold ups and uncertainties in getting it made. It really added a lot of stress and burnouts—a lot of start and stops that made me question whether the songs/record were even any good. But I feel very lucky that I have such great friends and band that give me honest feedback about what’s working and what isn’t, so I just really trusted in their opinions.

How do you approach performing live, and what are your hopes for how audiences will receive your shows?

Live is always a blend of trying to make a great show (being tight), while also adding special things to each set so that it feels fresh and different from any other show we have played—having a wild card element by adding new sounds, songs or people. I always have a little trepidation when playing live so I really try to use it as a way to motivate writing new songs and trying out new things. A song might have a life beyond that one show, or it might just live during that one moment in time. Some songs just sound better when performed live, too and vise versa . This is something we have carried through since the beginning of the band—really trying to make each show special and unique.

How do you come up with concepts for your music videos, and what is the process for bringing those ideas to life?

It varies from one project to another and who we are working with, but my process is pretty similar to how I write songs. I will have a rough idea of a concept or visuals that I want to capture, and then I just shoot and see what things work and don’t. And usually while we are shooting or editing, the ideas and concepts start to come into focus. I love just jumping in and seeing what happens and what ideas lead to new ideas.

What's next for Constant Smiles?

We are playing in LA on May 19, Dog Days Fest in Savannah, Georgia June 3, and Martha’s Vineyard, MA June 16. Hopefully a new record done by the end of the year!

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Constant Smiles Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

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