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Traindodge returns with 'The Alley Parade'

(L-R) Rob Smith, Chris Allen, Jason Smith and Ross Lewis.
Dylan Johnson
(L-R) Rob Smith, Chris Allen, Jason Smith and Ross Lewis.

Oklahoma City-based band Traindodge released its latest album, "The Alley Parade," in late 2023. Co-founding member Jason Smith says that nearly 30 years into the band's career, the members are still learning about their creative process and still finding new fans.

Oklahoma City’s Traindodge returns to Wichita on Tuesday, April 16 for a show at Barleycorn’s along with Kansas City’s Heels and Season to Risk.

In late 2023, Traindodge released its latest album, “The Alley Parade,” which stands as among the best recordings the quartet has made in its nearly 30-year career with material such as “Cheap Charisma,” “Real Talk” and “The New Low” finding their place among the group’s most storied tunes. (The band has also since issued two bonus tracks, “Argument for One” and “Trouble in The Hills.”)

Guitarist and vocalist Jason Smith, along with his brother, Rob Smith (drums/keyboards/backing vocals) and bassist Chris Allen (bass/backing vocals) formed the band c.1996 and quickly set about establishing themselves as one of the region’s premiere indie rock bands. The group quickly released a series of albums, including “On a Lake of Dead Trees” (2002) and “The Truth” (2004) that advanced this reputation. (Guitarist and backing vocalist Ross Lewis made his recording debut with Traindodge on 2013’s “Supernatural Disasters.”)

Jason Smith recently spoke with KMUW about this moment in the band’s history and the various evolutions Traindodge has experienced across the decades.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Your latest album, “The Alley Parade,” has been well received. 

We know that that the diehards will give it a fair chance and say, “Oh, yeah! Not bad guys!” They’ll be polite. There have been a few comments from people [saying], “This is the best one in years. You guys have not buckled down like this in a long time.” That has been really good to hear. All the feedback is nice but when someone takes the time to say, “No, where you’re at right now is really focused and strong,” it hits. It feels good.

When you’re making a new record, do you have conversations about things that didn’t work the last time or didn’t, in your opinion, fully hit the mark? 

That’s usually our MO making any record. We look at the last one and say, “Alright, what did we learn? What do we want to do again? What do we not want to do again?” While we were writing it there was no sense of, “I think this is going to do better.” At the time, we just thought the better creative choice would be to harness the same elements from the last record but not make it sprawl so much. That was one goal we had. We wanted it to be one LP. The last one was two. I don’t consider it a double album. It’s 55 minutes, which is a typical Traindodge album, it just took two LPs to do it.

We used that as an inspiration for the album “Wolves” [2006] after the double album “The Truth” 20 years ago. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an album and it would fit on one 12-inch record?” “Wolves” hasn’t made it onto vinyl yet but that was a good assignment. Forcing ourselves to be restrained and edit and be more discerning did more for our songwriting abilities [than anything]. We didn’t say, “Well, a 12-minute song is a 12-minute song. So what?”

We had a similar inspiration this time. We knew that if we were going to cover the same [stylistic] width of the last album, we needed shorter songs. I think there’s only one that’s over five minutes.

Is there also room to say, “We haven’t explored a certain idea before, let’s do that”? 

For sure. Records like “I Am Forever” [2009] and “Supernatural Disasters” explore that. Both of those records went hard in a certain direction. We did have to make certain choices. In the case of “I Am Forever,” the guitar had to take kind of a back seat. That was an interesting way for me to view our songs again. It was abstract enough to be interesting. That was forging a new path. Just letting the guitar be more like an Alex Lifeson [Rush] textural space than it being part of the riff that drives the song. That was a different muscle to stretch.

On “Supernatural Disasters” we dove into a hard rock direction that would have been a hard sell for us in 1998 or 1999. Did we need to do that? I don’t know. [Laughs.] But it was a fun assignment and journey. We use things like that to push what we think a Traindodge record is and isn’t. We’re constantly breaking our own rules and saying, “You know what? We can do whatever.” By the time I’m singing on it, it’s going to sound like Traindodge. That let us be free to do whatever.

Given that Rob doesn’t live in this part of the country, do you work remotely or is this down to having everyone in the same room at the same time? 

We’ve [worked remotely] in the past. “Supernatural Disasters” was absolutely constructed that way. At the time [Rob] was in Atlanta. I wrote that material and the other guys approved the songs remotely. We tracked all that material separately and when the record was done I realized that there were about three songs that the full band had never played until we had shows booked.

Rob lived in the same town as [recording engineer] Dan Dixon. Dan was able to record him without us in the room. We came in later.

It’s not ideal. You can’t replace the full band chemistry [that happens] when we’re all facing each other in a room. We’re just playing a monotonous riff over and over again and Chris will suddenly do something on bass that just jumps out and all of our ears will prick up and, all of a sudden, it’s the hook of the song. “That’s the bass line right there! Do that!” You just don’t get that when you send files back and forth. That band room energy just isn’t there. I had that MO [of working together] for the last record and I definitely had it for this record. I wanted it to be written in a room by the four of us. There are just certain interactions you can’t replicate elsewhere.

Did you have a sense that “The Alley Parade” is, for some people, the first record of yours that they’ve heard? 

Sure. I get that sense all the time. I’m constantly hearing from people [who say], “I don’t know how but I’m just hearing about you. I’ve been into these other bands that are similar.” This album has been much of the same. “I don’t know how but I just stumbled in here. I can’t believe I’ve missed out of so much music. You have a back catalog; I can’t wait to get to it.”

Spartan Records has been handling all the mail order for “The Alley Parade” up to now. If you’ve ordered the record or the CD, it’s coming from them. Meanwhile, the back catalog is getting a boost. That’s all me. That’s all the closets in my bedroom. I’ve been sending that stuff out constantly. That’s been awesome too.

The further we go we get new people and the catalog gets longer and longer. I just hear people being delighted by how much back catalog there is. It’s discouraging that all the hard touring you did in the past didn’t get you more fans like that sooner but I’ll take ‘em when they show up! It’s a gift every time and I love it.

I think I probably ask you this question each time we speak but the band continues to move forward each year. You’re inching up on 30 years together. What keeps you motivated? 

It’s still that thing that’s right in front of my face when I wake up. I knew I needed to pursue some kind of life in music. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant. What I didn’t want to be was 50 years old and say, “Oh, man, I probably should have given that a shot now I’m too old.” But that’s why. I didn’t want to ask those questions. And I won’t.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.