photo by Hillary Berg

The Middle East. Cambridge, MA.
Words: Abby Wise

For Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps’ newest record, much like the band’s current cross-country tour, Caroline Smith wasn’t driving. Smith took the writing reins for the Minnesota group’s first release, Backyard Tent Set, but their recent album, Little Wind, is a collaborative effort for which Smith wasn’t always sitting in the driver’s seat.

“I don’t drive,” said Smith about their promotional tour, done in a van. “The three boys in the band are my best friends and I can’t handle it. I can’t be in charge of three of my best friends’ lives and their $10,000 worth of gear. My knuckles turn white and they’re like, ‘Alright. Pull over. You don’t have to drive.’”

The band took turns steering during the creation of their second album, released less than a month ago at Minneapolis’ First Avenue. Little Wind shows maturity and a more serious approach than Backyard Tent Set. Many of the tracks move away from the folk sound of the band’s first record and toward complex, experimental pieces. Smith described the new release as more pop-oriented, filled with electric guitar and tribal beats.

Smith’s wide vocal range and strength set her apart from her folk competitors and are showcased more than ever in her newest album. She possesses the rare ability to sing both heartfelt soul and pop-inspired melodies. The sweetness in her rich, buttery voice makes other female, indie singers seem as disappointing as a low-fat diet.

With the sound of old-fashioned blues sprinkled throughout Little Wind, each track feels wholesome. Its serious lyrics contrast with Smith’s sing-songy voice and deal primarily with relationship struggles. “The first record’s got this really young, childish vibe,” said drummer Arlen Peiffer. “We wanted to do something a little more grown up.”

Peiffer and Smith agree that, at times, their attempt to produce deeper work resulted in conflict. “We fought so much,” said Smith. “Since we’re so different in the way that we write music and the way that we make music, I think it’s really interesting that we bring these four different elements together.”

And the various elements that each of the four members brings to the table meld together to produce works of art such as “Denim Boy,” a jazzy, soulful song in which Smith’s cheerful voice, is echoed by a jazz-inspired melody. The song’s mimicking keyboard backups are performed by the Sleeps’ newest member, multi-instrumentalist David Earl. (he’s also skilled at the banjo and guitar), who proved to be a refreshing addition.

“Arlene and I are super Type A,” said Smith. “And Dave keeps us balanced because he’s like, ‘You guys, we have to party. This is a tour. Not only do we have to party, but we have to name our tour and our tour van.’ He has a super upbeat personality and is incredibly talented.”

Bassist, Jesse Schuster brings indie rock undertones to the crew while still holding onto underlying folk vibes from the band’s previous work. Peiffer’s complicated beats are complimented by his soothing back-up vocals. Together, the three boys provide a firm spine to Smith’s whimsical voice and guitar melodies.

“Long story short, because of this record, we’re having a much better time writing together,” said Smith on the Good Night Sleeps’ newfound maturity. And even though she doesn’t trust herself behind the wheel of a tour van, she’s happy teetering between shotgun and driver’s seat when it comes to the creative process. “Now we understand each other’s ideas… we trust each other.”

Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps play tonight at the Cake Shop and tomorrow night at Brooklyn’s Union Pool.  Catch their full tour schedule here.  Listen to/download “Tanktop” off Little Wind here.  Buy the album here.

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