There’s a lot of heart, meaning and intention in everything that the local band Producing A Kind Generation does, right down to the costumes they wore when they opened for My Morning Jacket’s Halloween show at the KFC Yum! Center back in October.
That night, the members of the kaleidoscopic rock band dressed as characters from “The Wizard Of Oz,” a theme that was meticulously constructed by the Kentucky-based costume design and apparel company Borderstate.
But, despite the sharp aesthetic, guitarist and vocalist Dre Smith — who was dressed as Dorothy — said the concept was much deeper than just appearance, and directly connected with Producing A Kind Generation’s 2022 album, WITCH.
“How they are going to search for this wizard, how they’re looking for something, and they work so hard to find something, to get somewhere, and then they get there and realize, ‘Yo, this is not what I thought it was,’” Smith told LEO. “And beyond that, ‘This isn’t even what I need. I already have what I need.’ It’s the journey, not the destination type of thing. That was one of the undertones in the back of my mind when I was writing WITCH.”
After releasing three full-length records since 2019, Producing A Kind Generation — Smith, Kym Williams (drums) and Ace Holmes (bass) — are back in an album cycle, and they will be performing new material at their upcoming shows at the Speed Art Museum (Friday, Feb. 17) and Whirling Tiger (Friday, Feb. 24).
LEO caught up with Smith to talk about music, life, and what’s next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
LEO: In 2020, when I interviewed you about Producing A Kind Generation’s album Teddy, we spoke a lot about how it addressed, as you said, “the battles that go on inside ourselves.” The latest album, 2022’s WITCH, seems to also address internal struggles. But, for us all, those tend to sort of become reshaped by time. So what are the themes that contributed to WITCH and what directions do think your songwriting has veered in the past few years?
Dre Smith: When I first started writing WITCH, I was going through some detachment work. I was in a relationship and I was, not in a material sense very dependent on my partner, but, emotionally, I was very codependent in that situation, so I was doing a lot of self-alienating and really working on not being so attached. I was trying to do that work. We ended up breaking up, my partner and I. We had been together for a few years. It started as one of those sort of things that you do when you break up with someone. I think everyone who writes songs, when they break up with someone, they write about it. So I was just articulating my particular emotional struggles in that time. But I don’t want to tell the story; it’s more about the emotions that I feel. I don’t want to make a breakup song about breaking up. I want to talk about the feelings that I’m feeling during the break up, so the music is not one dimensional. Instead of focusing on the actual thing that happened, if I focus on how it made me feel, then someone can relate to the emotions. Thematically, it’s consistent with Teddy and The Kids Are Watching. I tend to write from a place of internalized reflection — my emotions, my experiences, and what they mean to me in a micro-sense. But, also, I like to look at things from a macro-scope — like, if I’m feeling this, of course I’m not the only person in the world feeling this way.
That leads into my next question. I definitely pulled out those elements when listening to the album. There are a lot of personal, yet relatable lines like, “I was almost happy” or “I’m not sure, just who I am,” that are prominent and repeated. That sort of balance of being vulnerable and widely applicable. It seems like they are reminders that everyone is going through some shit. Is one of the band’s goals to remind people they aren’t alone?
I can’t speak for all of us, but, personally, the primary goal of all of the songs is connection, and to build community around emotions. Like, build community around honesty and understanding that there are times that are going to be rough and you don’t always have to be OK. It’s OK to be sad sometimes. It’s OK to have feelings. It’s OK to be confused. I just want people to know that. It’s OK, we’re in this together. That’s what matters most to me. I mean, the music thing is cool… actually, the music stuff is really tough. If there was an easier way for me to curate this community and connect in this regard, I may have actually chosen to do that. I love to consume music and listen to music and it gives me a productive means of expression, but connecting is what’s most important. The music is a means and a medium for the connection.
Through the live shows, through the records, have you been able to connect with a lot of people in that sense? I know the pandemic has made it tough, but since you all have some momentum, have you had people reach out, or been able to have those conversations frequently?
Yeah, 2022 was the year that it mostly happened. People have reached out, and it’s been very encouraging and supportive and open and some people share their stories and what a particular song meant to them and what they got from it. And it’s lovely, because it goes back to what I was saying earlier: When I omit the actual story — the action — that made me feel the way I did when I wrote the song, it allows people to fill in the blanks and make their own story. People share those stories with us, and that always feels good.
Let’s zoom in a little bit right now. What are you currently writing or thinking about? What might influence future songwriting?
We’re actually in an album phase right now. We have about 25 or 26 song ideas, and I think we’ve got it down to a solid 10 or 11 that we’re really going to lock in on and make those the focal point of upcoming performances and call those an album. I think, what’s going on with this particular body of work — listening to my stuff from the outside — I think there is some hope. I think I sound kind of hopeful. But, sometimes, overall, I’m like, I’m a pretty dark guy, and not in the worst way. But this upcoming project is probably the darkest perspective I’ve written from. But, I think the overarching theme is loneliness and yearning for a deeper connection.
In the last few years, how do you think you all have grown as a band. Not just only lyrically or musically, but the foundational relationship and how you’ve progressed as a unit?
We’ve been family for some years now — over a decade, about 14 years or so we’ve been brothers to one another. We have shared very profound camaraderie. So that love is always there and always in the art and in everything we do.
The strength and lifeforce between us has grown and is blossoming. We have a better understanding of one another, musically. Like, I can write a lyric or come up with a guitar part, some melody, and I can kind of know what direction Ace, our bass player, may take with it. I can hear the rhythm section when I’m writing my parts, and that helps me dial in ideas faster and if I’m writing a part and I can’t hear our rhythm section on it almost immediately, I almost don’t even continue on with it. •