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Un-gwodly noise

Experimentalist Tom Smith gives it another go


Tom Smith, former Atlantan, CL contributor and relentless instigator of sonic debauchery, is at it again. Over the last four decades, Smith has been reinventing music, shaping and molding it into his own unique voice of the punk aesthetic. He's gone from seminal 1980s Destroy All Music staple, Peach of Immortality, to the acid lounge-noise ramblings of To Live and Shave in L.A., with a stint in the middle for legendary trash punk outfit Pussy Galore. But his newest effort: Launching his own record label, The Smack Shire, with friend Gerard Klauder, may be his most ambitious project to date.

Smith's past efforts have not always (if ever) been lucrative. That may have something to do with the inherent fringe status of experimental music, but regardless, starting up an experimental music label is a big gamble. All of the monetary risk is on him as the proprietor of the label. But Smith is no stranger to risk.

One of The Smack Shire's first releases, in fact, is a testament to the uncertainty involved in the business of experimental music. Tarot or Aorta: Memories of a PRE Festival is a compilation comprised of performances from the Tora! Tora! Tora! Festival, recorded in December 1996 at the now defunct local club, Dottie's. As co-organizer of that festival, Smith finishes the album's liner notes with the disclosure: "I lost $3,000."

"I certainly didn't go into [the festival] thinking I would make money," Smith says. "That noted, losing a small bundle certainly didn't please my accountant when tax time came round. Regarding the outcome of the fest, I simply wanted to take the dreadful hand I'd been dealt -- lousy venue, limitations on importing talent -- and manipulate it into at least a pair of eights."

Eight years later, Smith is finally able to play that hand. Tarot is a well-recorded document of a weekend still remembered by many adventurous listeners. It included killer performances from Chicago's Flying Luttenbachers, New Orleans' Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Eugene Chadbourne, Bobby Conn, Loren MazzaCane Connors, Smith's own To Live and Shave in L.A. with the Silver Apples' Simeon Coxe, and many more. Atlanta has not seen a festival as dynamic since.

Another of The Smack Shire's releases -- The Reverend Lester Knox of Tifton, Ga.'s Put Your Face in Gwod: The 366th Revival -- seems to come from an entirely different field all together. But this is not the case at all.

"I first became aware of Reverend Knox in the 1960s," Smith says. "His broadcasts were the stuff of local legend. My family was openly derisive of Knox, as were most South Georgians who were wary of his alien oratory. Being an anti-religious sort, I initially took little notice of the Reverend. Then it hit me -- this guy was punk, avant-garde, free jazz, art bruit, an implacable, hillbilly Einstein in our own back yard. And a fellow alien to boot."

Oddly enough, Smith says that so far the Knox disc is his hottest item. With camp and satire as highly regarded as they are today, it's not difficult to understand the Reverend's popularity. Knox is a real hoot, going off on lunatic rants about the "mark of the consumer" and paranoid delusions, demanding to know who's messing with the electricity during a live show. His "sermons" are interspersed with equally entertaining songs from a sort of Deep South version of the Lawrence Welk singers. One may wonder if the Reverend uses the same English language that we do.

As for the future, The Smack Shire has a number of releases planned including Orlando, Fla.'s Obliterati and some of Smith's own archival material -- if The Smack Shire "survives," he says. But given his resilient nature, it seems that survival will always be in the cards for Tom Smith.

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