“A Projector At A Punk Show: An Interview With Sniff” has been a long time coming but that’s the busybody nature of our lives isn’t it? Now, Sniff, if you are unaware, has since the tail end of 2020.1 caused quite the perplexed but playful stir amongst the DIY Punk and Alternative scene. The project’s sudden casual appearance into the scene was unapologetically unexpected though I’d bet that some indeed knew it was coming. I’m looking at YOU Falmouth folk. Anyway, at this year’s Manchester Punk Festival, I found myself chatting to Sniff about it all and we decided we would have a sit-down, email each other on “work time” and get to the bottom of it all.
So yes, “A Projector At A Punk Show: An Interview With Sniff”.
So, to start, badly tell us who you are and what you do in the most Cornish version of Moe Szyslak you possibly can.
Awww, heya Midge I’m Sniff and I do uhh music and such. Geddon!
I mean if you want a proper answer, I’m Alex Smith, I play bass in Bobby Funk and drums in TinnedFruit and I’m a recording and live engineer and for the past couple of years I’ve been doing a solo project called Sniff.
I’m not sure what I was expecting but that works! I’m sure we could talk leagues about your work with Bobby Funk and TinnedFruit so, instead and so we don’t ignore it, in the style of Comic Guy, summarise your work with the two and then we may actually take this somewhere.
“Worst. Bands. Everrr”.
Haha! Nah for real, I love both those bands dearly. I started Bobby Funk years back with our singer Ollie. We wanted to do a proper Hardcore skate band that was also silly. I think we were both tired of how serious Punk was getting and wanted to bring the humour back into things. So we just wrote stupid songs but tried to make it as interesting and musically out there as possible. I think the ultimate joke is us actually being good. Like that’s funny, right?
TinnedFruit were already going when I joined but they needed a new drummer. I filled in for a couple of gigs and then never left! We’ve written three albums and an EP since. I love playing drums and I love heavy Garage Fuzz-Punk shit so it’s perfect. Dan and Danny will always be a couple of the best songwriters around as far as I’m concerned!
I think that is as true a statement as I’ve heard. It’s a serious old time in this scene, but fun is still very much fun! In or out of the Gammon Club.
Do you think all of this is what made you decide on the Power-Pop and Garage Punk-Rock sound for Sniff? Do you think you’d have gone in any other directions initially? I suppose there is always time.
Yeah, I think both the bands have had their influence on me for sure but it’s mainly just what I’ve been listening to daily for years. There’s a kind of scrappy Indie/Pop-Punk thing that I’ve always been in love with. I love bands like Caves and Bangers and all that sorta stuff on Specialist Subject Records and I also love the American counterparts to them such as PUP, AJJ and Jeff Rosenstock. It’s that marrying of Garage-esque lo-fi production with the kinda clean Pop chorus songwriting you get with Power-Pop. Sniff was always supposed to be about me getting those melodies outta my head and channelling them through scratchy production.
I assume the moniker of Sniff has multiple origins so at what point did you decide on using it for a musical project? Did you have it in your head before you decided to free these stylistics from the cage?
No not at all, I’d only really been called it jokingly by a couple of friends for a little while. You get lots of variations of Smith when you are a Smith but I always kinda liked that one, it had a nice ring to it but it also acted as a reminder of a speckled past with drug and alcohol abuse over the years. When I finished the first EP and decided to put it out, I thought about what nicknames I had and due to the subject of a few of the songs being about addiction etc. So that one just kinda made sense.
What actually started the creative process that became Sniff? Was it the usual musings of a musician or something specific? How long did you sit on or ruminate on the idea of putting it out?
I actually started it because I was planning on doing some academic writing (and hopefully teaching) about home recording Vs in studio. The idea was to apply what I use in terms of production techniques (space/mics/mix chain hardware and software) but within the context of home recording and see exactly how close I could get the two techniques in direct comparison. I needed original music to do this so I just sat down and knocked out the song ‘Detergent’. I listened back and liked what I did then got quickly distracted from my work and made an EP! I didn’t think anyone would really be bothered by it but I chucked it online anyway and the response was amazing. I thought, “fuck it”, and carried on doing more.
I’ve still yet to even make a start on that academic work haha.
There is always time. Perhaps you’ve just created the source material or case studies, think of it that way.
How did the projector and backing track live show come about? Backing tracks are no stranger but with Sniff being a “performance” rather than a typical set so to speak, it’s definitely of the more unique acts in this thing we call a Punk scene. Before you settled on doing this way, did you ever consider a “live band”? Do you think you ever will incorporate such into the project?
The way I perform is a funny one. It happened by accident and pure laziness. I wanted to put on a gig at a local favourite DIY art space called the Fish Factory and Teigan who runs events there said I could as long as I do a Sniff set. It was in a month’s time and I just said yeah – thinking I could easily get a band together and play the songs. I ended up forgetting to sort it out and as the time went on and it was like a week away I had to come up with an alternative.
I just thought a karaoke version of the EP would be funny but when I tried it out it seemed boring visually, so I quickly learned how to animate lyrics (which is harder than you think) and chucked ’em on a projector. That then didn’t seem to flow so I came up with a few costume changes and comedy performance art type stuff to make it all gel together and I then realized I’d accidentally written a one-man show.
I’ve been back and forth considering whether to include a live band and definitely used the tour with Bruise Control to get some feedback from audiences across the UK on this. I’m still not totally decided but I think that the show is unique enough for me to want to keep doing it like this for the time being. I love the idea of people being confused by it. I find it so funny when I put up the projector screen in the middle of a Punk show.
Why follow the crowd, eh? Just perplex them instead!
Sticking to the live show, you’ve got three EPs and I would assume more en route. Do you plan to perform them in two or three different “shows” thematically as you have with the current performance? I know I asked you this briefly at MPF at the (excellent) sober social but that was an age ago, or rather it feels that way.
I’m still playing with ideas but I was kinda planning on doing three separate shows, yeah! It’s hard to fit it all in as I’m trying to keep it to like 35 mins so it makes sense at Punk shows.
Perhaps confuse the Punks even more by going on longer! How long does it take to put the clips and such together once you’ve written the music and what is your process for putting the whole thing together? Is the editing process a chore to make it – ‘make sense at Punk shows’ as you say?
It can vary timewise, I can animate a lyric video (if it’s fairly simple) in a couple of days but if I’m shooting extra footage it can take a little longer. The interactive elements of the show where I’m talking to a past version of myself are fairly quick, I tend to just improvise one half of an argument to the camera in one take and just make sure I leave an appropriate amount of time for the version of me that’s performing, to respond.
I try to keep all the elements of the show that aren’t songs, to about 5 mins or less. This kinda replicates when a band is talking shit between tunes but instead of stage banter, it’s just me performing some self-indulgent poem or something. The debut show clocks in at pretty much exactly 35 mins.
Would you ever do a full set, with all three shows? A showcase so to speak.
Yeah, to be honest, I think some sorta amalgamation of the shows for an album release would be cool. I dunno, the jury’s still out on that one.
Obviously, you’re doing this out of enjoyment but it’s never that simple. With the shows focusing on your sobriety and queerness, proudly and directly, how are you feeling about your journey through the performance and existentially?
Yeah, I’m feeling really good about all that stuff. I’ve been practising radical honesty in my life and in my relationships with others so it makes sense to practice it in my art. There’s something I love about being completely candid and exposed on stage (emotionally and physically) – I think it allows me to process a lot of the more difficult aspects of my existence. Talking about sexuality and addiction and channelling it through comedy and Punk, allows me to be as authentic and vulnerable as possible and that’s something I’ve always respected in other people’s music and performance.
I was going to ask if the project has allowed you to get where you need to be, but it seems that it is itself a byproduct of where you need to be. Is there any advice you’d give to artists and such who are seeking this same level of clarity?
Yeah, to be honest, it’s kinda both. Like, I wouldn’t be where I needed to be in recovery and comfortability in life etc – without the show, but the show certainly wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for me making some very serious changes to my life and my relationships.
As far as advice goes – shit man, I have no fucking idea. I mean this all happened by accident for me and just snowballed out of control in the most beautiful way hahaha. I guess I would say do whatever YOU think is cool. What would YOU be impressed by? What would YOU find funny? What would YOU find touching? Then just make it – make something, anything and fuck everyone else.
Has Sniff altered how you view your other projects? Now you’re occupying your new space.
As advice goes, I’d say that’s the best Punk-Rock advice I’ve heard this week!
Yeah, I think it’s changed the way I understand how different audiences react to different things but there’s not much I’d do to change how the bands I play in perform. Bobby Funk will always be silly and thrashy and non-stop energy with plenty of audience participation and TinnedFruit will always come on stage, say very little and be very loud then leave immediately with no fuss. It’s all about the context of those specific projects.
In terms of songwriting, I think Sniff has taught me to not be so much of a perfectionist, just go with the flow and it’ll probably turn out fine. That’s something I’ll definitely bring over to the other projects.
With music being a huge part of the reason why we are having this conversation, who are your top five “old school” bands that got your taste and creative side to where it is?
*In no particular order*
- 999 – I’ve always absolutely adored their slick but weird aesthetic, Nick Cash’s lyrics, and the way they use cheeky little guitar riffs to kind of pepper their verses – that’s something I always try and replicate when writing Sniff.
- Rezillos – Just fucking decent Rock n’ Roll innit? With far more interesting songwriting than some of their contemporaries at the time.
- Wire – Complete disregard for where verses and choruses should go. Prioritizing subversion and art. Perfect.
- Dead Kennedys – Riffs and energy the whole time. Jello, just like in general – everything about him. Their humour and relentlessness have been a giant influence on Bobby Funk and I love the sound of every record, dancing the line between garage and studio – Hi and lo-fi.
- The B-52’s – Silly, innovative, Queer AF.
That’s an expansive and expressive list! The same question as the above but this time pick from your peers.
- Bruise Control – They are the most exciting band right now. I had the absolute pleasure of touring with them and watching them perform every night was just mind-blowing. A perfect mix of Punk and dirty Rock n’ Roll. Really fucking decent garage that innovates not only through songwriting but sheer performative energy.
- Rash Decision – I mean they’re not like Sniff at all musically but fuck me do I love this band. Thrash at its purest. An honour to call them friends of mine.
- Aerial Salad – Hilarious guys, brilliant live, but wow the songwriting. It’s super understated and simple but just gets to the point and perfectly wraps pop sensibility into this kind of nostalgic blanket that reminds me of all my favourite ’90s Punk/Indie/Grunge bands and yet still remains current.
- Gurnal Gadafi – Dope AF Hardcore that hits the spot, but for me its the live show. I was lucky enough to catch their set at MPF this year and had wanted to for ages. Cookie performs these heartfelt, beautiful, exposing and funny poems in between and introducing the songs. It’s an amalgamation of art forms that works so well as a full performative piece and also makes me wanna kick the fuck out of a bin. *I also caught this and was equally transfixed by the whole peformance. Don’t sleep.
- Animal Byproducts – It’s literally the perfect Indie-Punk. Everything about it is good. The trumpet sets them apart, the writing satisfies and the lyrics are so touching. When I wrote my song ‘Queer’ I felt kind of alone, talking about my bisexuality in that context, soon after though, I heard their song ‘There Are Dozens Of Us’ and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like my song had this long-lost brother! Josh’s article for Shout Louder about bisexuality in Punk made me cry, I identified with his words so much and all of this had made my listening and watching experience with this band so much more special.
I’ve seen most of those play live and I couldn’t agree more! We are blessed with the scene here at the moment, long may it continue. To quickly digress from this theme, how was the tour with Bruise Control? Though you’d played shows, how was the experience of performing as Sniff in a touring setting?
Tour was amazing. We all had such a laugh and I think we were all really happy with the outcome as it was the first tour for both outfits and it was really successful! I genuinely had one of the best weeks of my life and have made lifelong friends with those boys in the process.
Touring the show was interesting. It was super eye-opening to see how different crowds respond to the show in different places and I ended up rewriting quite a few bits as we were on the road. Everywhere we played I was made to feel welcome and looked after by a crowd that wasn’t sure what to expect with a performance like mine.
That’s really heartwarming, I’m happy for you. Now, back to the contemporary!
Continuing with the previous theme, if you could make a “supergroup” (that you’re in) from Queer Folk from the music scene (big or small) who would you pick and what would you call yourselves?
- Sadie “Switchblade” Smith (vocalist from G.L.O.S.S)
- Chris Freeman (Bassist from Pansy Division)
- Me on guitar
- Paul Henry (drummer from Limp Wrist)
We’d be called “Raw Dogs”
This is something I ask everyone I interview.
Pick Five songs from the Sniff catalogue, released or otherwise, that you feel illustrate the project. A sampler of sorts.
- ‘Horizontal Friend’
- ‘Changing, Serenity, The Ending’
Right before I give a question you will really need the entirety of cranial power to process, it’s time to get potentially quite spicy.
What is your unfettered opinion of the UK Punk scene? Go into as much or as little detail as you please.
In short, it’s incredible. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s a network of people all with shared passions and morals helping each other to just have a good time doing what they love. It’s mutual aid in the purest form. No one is out to make any big profits, just enough to do the next gig or record. It’s really quite special and something I think you would struggle to understand without being a part of it. It’s my passion and my family.
Plenty of nutrition there and no unwanted spice!
Now, I really want you to think about this. You’re putting together a band, that again, you’re in but its other members are comprised of the residents of Springfield (in whatever state that is) from The Simpsons universe. Who is playing what and what are you called?
- Kirk VH on lead vox
- Evil Bart from the attic on guitar
- Me on bass
- Dr Marvin Monroe on drums