Tom Smith - BIOGRAPHY
Tom discovered the joys of sonic manipulation early - he had an unnatural proclivity for spinning his parents' LPs off their axes as they wobbled on a mammoth Sylvania hi-fi console. Needless to say, parental lectures went unheeded.
Adel, the small Georgia town in which he was raised, improbably fostered a gaggle of avant-garde enthusiasts. Chief among them was high school friend and future producer/performer Don Fleming, who grew up just four blocks from Smith's parents' home.
As a result of this unusual spawning, Smith and Fleming were aware of the music of Sun Ra, Miles Davis,
variants, glam, the Canterbury school, John Cage, Stockhausen, and The Stooges before
they graduated from high school. Smith enrolled at local Valdosta State College, and quickly signed
up for their Electronic Music program. In late 1974, Tom gave his first electronic music recital,
performing the piece "Signe Fingua" (composed for tape, VSC3 synth, and guitar,
which was played by Fleming).
At Valdosta State's student-run radio station WVVS-FM, Smith ensconced himself in the facility's production studio, creating a program called "The Oddities." (Yes, named after Kevin Ayers' Odd Ditties compilation on Harvest.)
Neglected artists of the day (Eno, the Velvets, Captain Beefheart, Matching Mole, Henry Cow, Faust, etc.) were given airplay, and audiences were subjected to Smith's earliest recorded works, recapitulations of albums he felt were "underdone."
(Click above to read a 1976 "Oddities" playlist article from the Valdosta State College student newspaper "The Spectator.")
Smith neglected his studies to concentrate instead on locking himself in the radio station during weekends and cranking out remixes. After hearing Lee Perry's Super Ape album in 1976 everything fell into place (aesthetically, at least). Tom was never quite the same.
Heeding the call of punk, Smith left college in late '76 and fled to New York, where he found employment with a wholesale music distributor based in Bethpage, Long Island. There he toiled for the weekends, where he became a habitué of CBGB, Max's, etc. He met the Cramps, saw Blondie open for Suicide (!), and stepped over a passed-out Richard "DMV" Sohl in the gutter outside the Palladium. Blowing all of his money on records, he was soon forced to abandon NYC for the bucolic comforts of Georgia. Back again at WVVS in 1977, Smith assembled another round of remixes. He assayed Ramones' Leave Home, the Voidoids' Blank Generation, and (ulp) Japan's Obscure Alternatives. He then decamped to Atlanta, Georgia, where he auditioned the tapes for Danny Beard, an acquaintance of Smith's and the proprietor of DB Recs (the label that first issued The B-52s "Rock Lobster"/"52 Girls" single). Beard was decidedly unimpressed, but Mike Green, an erstwhile (and founding) member of Atlanta avant-pop pioneers The Fans, had a very different reaction. The two became fast friends, and Smith moved to Athens, GA in 1979. Rehearsals were underway by late 1979 (fueled by the pair's disenchantment with Athens' already rarified music scene), and as Prepared Party they recorded a clutch of primitive tapes. (The Cagian aspect of the "Prepared Party" moniker was intentional.)
By early 1980 Prepared Party had metamorphosed into Pre-Cave, and included inimitable guitarist Carol Levy, Mike ("Michael") Stipe (still a few months away from full-time duty with future folk-rock behemoths REM) and founders Green and Smith. Green temporarily opted out, so the trio of Smith, Levy and Stipe shaped the initial Pre-Cave ethos: looped percussion, live drums on top, with heavy, dub-inflected bass, Farfisa organ, and disembodied vocals over everything. Tom wrote the words, but the trio shared vocals.
An early Pre-Cave booking collapsed for now-forgotten reasons...
...but by October, the kinks had been thoroughly woven into the music. The group changed its name to Nest (adj.), and gave its debut performance at Athens' 40-Watt Club on October 30, 1980.
(In opposition to the more florid poster styles exhibited by Athenian groups of the period, Nest (adj.) created their inaugural flier on common notebook paper...)
By early 1981 the group had again changed its name to Boat Of, and this time the appellation stuck. The music was considerably removed from the conventions of the day, and with each year the sounds produced by the group grew ever more perplexing. The line-up shifted with each performance; a core of trusted players was employed.
(Boat Of, in Method Actors' rehearsal space, Cobb Institute, Athens, GA, early 1981. L to R: Thomas Abdu (a Rasta friend of OM's from college - they really were into dub, y'know), TS, Mike Green. Photo by Carol Levy.)
From mid-1981 the line-up had coalesced somewhat, with Mike Green (who had returned for the group's second, impromptu February 14th performance) on bass, Carol Levy on guitar, David Gamble on drums and vocals, Sandra-Lee Phipps on backing vocals and percussion, and Smith. Stipe occasionally performed in various capacities until early 1982, when he devoted the remainder of his energies to REM.
(Boat Of, live at the Night Gallery, Athens, GA, September 21, 1981. Rather blurry, but a set of four of these is all we have. First photo, L to R: TS, perhaps Carol, Dave Gamble, unknown. Second photo, L to R: TS, Sandra-Lee Phipps (?), David G, Mike Green (silhouette). Photos by Linda Hopper.)
Smith's son Evan Augustus was born on March 30, 1982. Now 19, the younger Smith
harbors DJ aspirations. Dad approves.
In mid-1982 percussionist Jim Walker was drafted into Boat Of's line-up, and in the autumn of that year Dominique Amet and Davey Stevenson (of Athens avant-tribalists Limbo District) were absorbed into the fold. Boat Of performed until March, 1983, when Levy was killed in an car crash.
(Carol Levy, climbing out of Tom's maroon Toyota wagon, Athens, GA, 1982. Polaroid by OM.)
Smith suspended the band, and took a year and a half off to take stock of things.
Boat Of gave over 30 concerts, performed in only three cities (Athens, Atlanta,
and Washington, DC), made well over 100 hours of recordings, and never released
any of them.
That was the beginning. We'll move a bit faster here on out...
Smith moved to Washington, DC in April, 1984. He was invited to DC by Don Fleming, and was quickly deputized as a member of Fleming's Velvet Monkees combo. Tom, drooling dog that he was, couldn't help but get into trouble with a certain drummer's ex-girlfriend, and was soon sent packing. Fleming had previously introduced Smith to Jared Hendrickson, a charismatic poet and provocateur of penetrating wit (albeit unbound by notions of subtlety). In June of 1984, Tom and Jared formed Peach of Immortality. POI went through various incarnations, wreaking a rather mercurial brand of havoc over the Eastern and Southern United States, issuing two full-length albums, and recording another dozen which were deemed too uncommercial to be considered for release.
In 1985 Smith met Jon Spencer, and was invited to join Pussy Galore. Playing metal percussion, Smith performed with the group from late October of '85 to January 1986, traveling the States on the group's inaugural, co-headlining tour with Peach of Immortality. On returning, Jon and Tom had a falling out, and Smith left the band. (The pair patched things up in 1987.) The unofficial Oven Bait compilation and several tracks from the Corpse Love retrospective document Tom's tenure in PG.
Hendrickson left POI in 1987 - he would later form the industrial-goth cabal Chemlab. (He now performs under the "Jared Louche" moniker, and records for Martin Adkins' Invisible Records imprint.) Peach soldiered on until 1991, when Smith moved to Miami Beach. He soon ran afoul of scene über-oddball Rat Bastard, and for the next nine years Bastard and Smith formed the nucleus of To Live and Shave in L.A.
The core TLASILA line-up of Ben Wolcott (oscillators and treatments), Rat Bastard (bass and electric guitars), and Tom Smith (vocals and "exteriors") created each of the group's albums (augmented on occasion by guest performers, most notably Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt).
Surviving seven American tours, and two especially disruptive European ventures, TLASILA pioneered the PRE ethos and foisted free-glam on a seemingly uncaring world...
(To visit the official To Live and Shave in L.A. web, please click on the above image... Additional info may be found there on Boat Of, POI, etc.)
However, with their split in the fall of 2000, TLASILA energized a host of fans (and a few former members) to create numerous "clone" spin-offs. They seemed legion, at least for a time: TLASILA 2, an alternate TLASILA 2 (the "ersatz" T2 released the first two (!) Shave-related spin-off CDs), TLASILA 3, I Live in L.A., To Live and Shave in L.A. 1975, I Love L.A., and Born in East L.A. None of the clones are currently active. The original members (Smith, Bastard, and Wolcott) approved of their activities, regardless of motive, content, or aesthetic bent. "'Tis better," said Smith at the time, "to go out in a confused tangle."
(They reformed in 2003, of course, making a mockery of their decision to disband. How dare they?!!)
To Live and Shave in L.A. have issued twelve albums, four singles, and recorded another handful that, for various reasons, were never given a proper (or timely) release. With one exception, Smith produced and mixed all of TLASILA's recordings. The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg, a 2002 double CD released by Menlo Park Recordings, elevated the group to global prominence, or at least gave them a leg up out of the fetid avant underground. The 1996 recording God and Country Rally! was issued (with a new TS mix) in 2004. TLASILA toured the States in September 2004 to wide acclaim. Original members Bastard, Wolcott and Smith were joined by Don Fleming, Mark Morgan, Andrew W.K., and majordomo Chris Grier. Their next album, Noon and Eternity, is scheduled for an early 2006 launch via Menlo Park.
Smith and Dave Phillips, along with Reto and Daniel, formed OHNE in August 2000. They toured Eastern and Central Europe from April to June 2002, and convened again in November 2004 for appearances in Finland and Russia. To date, they have released four CDs.
TS has also produced, mixed, and/or edited over 50 records for a slew of oddball artists (and nearly as many labels). These include Duotron, Obliterati, Harry Pussy, Frosty, Scissor Girls, Silver Apples, Leslie Q, Miss High Heel, Evil Moisture, Prick Decay and The Glands of External Secretion, (Electric Eels co-founder) Brian McMahon, Keiji Haino and Loren MazzaCane Connors, Woozlebug, Tanaka-Nixon Meeting, Splotch, Deerhoof, Icky Boyfriends, The Twinkle Girls, Sightings, and many others.
In 2002, Gerard Klauder and Smith launched the Smack Shire label. Six albums have thus far been issued.
Smith's writings have been published since the late 1970s. His work has appeared
in Ugly American, Forced Exposure, Bananafish, the Seattle Weekly, the
Minneapolis City Pages, Creative Loafing, Oui, Miami City Link, Antenna,
Mixtape, and a bewildering variety of small press zines, websites and
In the early 1990s Smith taught a course on cult cinema and its various sub-genres entitled "Cinema Depreciation" at the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade Community College in Miami, Florida. Smith would later expand the Cinema Depreciation concept into the long-running "Sick Sinema" series for Miami's Alliance Film and Video Project. Based on the exposure Smith received from the three-year run of Sick Sinema, he enjoyed the odd foray into the lecture circuit. In late 1995 he presented his first (informal) symposium in conjunction with the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art's "Horror!" exhibition.
Smith also worked with the late, pioneering sexploitation director Doris Wishman on a pair of projects: the (unreleased) 1993 Peach of Immortality long-form video Spatters of a Royal Sperm, and as an "actor" in Ms. Wishman's straight-to-vid feature Dildo Heaven. Much of the movie was shot in Tom's old Miami Beach apartment in 1994. In future, he promises to stick to making music.
Tom was born in Adel, Georgia, USA, on April 10, 1956.