by Miss Sri P. (Vocals. Odds and ends. Sass.)
I met Daniel Landau, who plays guitar and sings in the band, our first year of college at UCLA. I can’t remember exactly when. We knew a lot of people in common, in the dorms and in and around school. We never really talked much. Mostly, we passed each other in hallways once in a while, said our hello’s, and saw each other at friends’ parties. I never knew that Daniel ever played any instruments or sang. He had no idea I sang. Later on in undergrad, after we moved into apartments around UCLA, our lives separated completely. We never really saw much of each other. The only presence we had in each other’s lives were in the realm of friends’ conversations where he or I was mentioned. When college ended, even this became a rarity.
Four or five years passed this way, and Daniel Landau became a specter of my college years (and I suppose I became the same of his). One time, a couple of years ago, Daniel was supposed to meet up a few friends of ours at a bar, where I was at also. But he never came. That’s the last I remembered of him, until one fortuitous month I cannot identify in almost-summer 2009 when we met again at a friend’s birthday party.
Gardenia. That’s the first name that comes to mind, when I think of how Smithfield Bargain started. Gardenia worked with some neuroscientists at UCLA. I knew some neuroscientists through a neuroscientist named Suren. One day, Gardenia and I met, and became fast friends over her love of piano-playing and my love of singing, soon sneaking into claustrophobic practice rooms in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA to jam on Cole Porter tunes. I showed up at her birthday party, and there was Daniel. A taller, younger version who I soon learned was named David was also there. Daniel and I looked at each other for a while, introduced ourselves, and made sense of our familiarity with each other with the where’d you lives, who do you know’s, how do you know them’s. We played with some instruments in the room for a while that Gardenia had lying around, which was fun. Daniel mentioned that he and David were in a band called The Brothers Landau, and I mentioned in passing that we should do this again. And then I actually ended up talking to David the rest of the night about education policy. Cake was had. A couple of glasses of wine. And that was that.
A few months passed and in late-summer 2009, I found out Daniel and David had a performance atop a firehouse in Downtown LA as The Brothers Landau. I went to their performance with my friend Ari. I met their mother. They were wonderful. I reminded Daniel of our jam. Daniel tells me today that he didn’t realize I sang at that point either. So I’m not sure what persuaded him to have me come by. But something did. Thank goodness.
Jam sessions for musicians are essentially music-dates, in my perspective. Some people want to get together for a one time thing. They just want something casual and something fresh for just a minute to get some new ideas and vibe off someone else. Some people want to see if there’s something to invest in with potential for the future. They take their time. Ask if you’d like a glass of water and a snack, while you’re contemplating together. Some people just don’t know what they want. They liked something about your musical style and just wanted to get together to see what would happen.
The first session is always awkward. You just stare at each other and ask questions. You’re not comfortable enough yet to share your artspace. I think it’s because artspace is a step outside of heartspace. To create something beautiful in collaboration, you really have to open yourself up and allow yourself to be vulnerable and unafraid of judgment and making mistakes in front of the other person or people you are trying to create with.
Needless to say, session one was entirely unproductive. Daniel and I, who these sessions were originally designed around, created absolutely nothing in the three hours that we met in Daniel and David’s living room. I sang a couple of jazz standards. Daniel liked my style and my voice. Daniel played me a few guitar riffs and sang a bit. I liked his playing and his voice. We went through music that inspired us on YouTube and iTunes and chatted. It was fun, at least. And we made plans to do it again. Just like that.
A month or so passed without much follow-up. Daniel and I got together again at some point. Session two, nothing happened for an hour or so. Hour two, we started toying with notions that passively came out of our conversation. We talked Django Reinhardt, Rosemary Clooney, tea rooms, Russian roulette and card games. Daniel played around with a riff all the while. I hummed a non-verbal melody. David walked in for a minute. Something piqued his interest, and he asked whether he could join. Sure, we said. This was just a game after all. David provided a bass line on his cello for our musical nonsense. Something changed. We searched for a sheet of paper. Daniel excitedly started writing some lyrics for a first verse. David and I got excited. We all sang verse one, added harmonies and wrote verse two. Instrumental break? David pulled out a kazoo. Laughter. Smiles. More talk of tea rooms and cards. A round of water on the house. A punchy last line. And “Warm Whispers,” the song that created Smithfield Bargain made itself known loud and proud to all of Daniel and David’s neighbors and their roommate Brett at the time who sweetly let us know the following session that the song had been stuck in his head all week.
On the momentum from “Warm Whispers,” we wrote ten more songs we loved and even more (perhaps to be revived in the future) throwaways in the next two months. Around April 2010, we named our music-child after laughing about funny words in an Old English dictionary. On May 2, 2010 at a benefit show for Silver Lake Conservatory of Music where we sang under a big, shady tree behind a storybook house in West Adams we had our first show. I guess that’s our official birthday! We’ve been a-playin’ and a-writin’ ever since, and will be recording our first album in a couple of weeks to be released sometime in early 2011. Neat, huh?
As for what we like to eat for breakfast (no kiddin’!), Daniel and David like omelets, eggs in various forms, including eggs benedict, and french toast. Daniel also likes “a hearty soup” on occasion and recommended it to me for a rainy day morning. I reserve skepticism on this matter. Me, I like a little sweet and a little savory for breakfast. Soyrizo/tofu scramble with a slice of toast and jam will do it. Or if I’m getting fancy, I’ll replace the toast and jam with a couple of slices of french toast. French toast dipped in black coffee is most glorious. Oh Lordie.