A few minutes after my interview concluded with The Smile Ease bassist Marc Bourdon, the Anchorage resident shot me an e-mail with this message: “I did want to add another crazy thing about Alaska. There is a big volcano, Mt. Redoubt, that is screwing up all the air traffic in Anchorage. There is a really shitty chance that the volcano could screw up our flights and make us miss one or many of our shows if we can’t get out.”
Such is life in America’s northernmost state. “There's always something to think about here in Alaska,” Bourdon says. “Moose, bears or volcanoes.”
The former Las Cruces native left Southern New Mexico’s blue skies to take a job at a company that makes digital roads for programs like Google Earth. After a year of growing accustomed to his new environment in Anchorage, Bourdon joined The Smile Ease. It was 2007, and the prog-rock five-piece was just about finished recording its debut self-titled LP. With some gentle nudging from Bourdon to get the record out, the band released it by the end of that year.
Bourdon says the band’s songs have gotten shorter since then, and the compositions are stuffed with more instrumentation. The Smile Ease has strayed from a sprawled-out shoegazeian philosophy and now follows a more focused, linear approach.
Space rock tends to revolve around a cold, atmospheric weightlessness. The Smile Ease simmers at a much warmer temperature.
Like any prog band that’s read the genre’s manual, The Smile Ease knows dynamics must play a key role. “We tend to do a lot of buildups, both in tempo and in energy,” Bourdon explains. “Sometimes the music climbs based off a single note, and then there’s a lot of exploding.”
Space rock tends to revolve around a cold, atmospheric weightlessness. The Smile Ease simmers at a much warmer temperature. These are the tunes a stoner might trip out to on a summer day in South Beach.
Slowly, The Smile Ease has accumulated a sizeable fan base in Anchorage. It’s a tall task, Bourdon says, because the scene is clogged with hardcore and bluegrass acts. “There are these two polar opposites in terms of music, and then we sit somewhere in the middle,” Bourdon says. “A lot of these venues want you to play three or four 45-minute sets. We don’t want to hear ourselves for four hours.”
In search of a cure for cabin fever, The Smile Ease is flying to “the outside,” as Bourdon says locals call the lower 48. The band plans to hit 14 Western locales, provided Mt. Redoubt doesn’t interfere. The band members are taking as much gear on the plane with them as they can, checking a bunch of it and shipping the rest.
Life in Alaska can be a hassle, but Bourdon says the group doesn’t plan on moving to the contiguous United States anytime soon. He has a wife and a 4-month-old daughter who call Anchorage home. “A lot of the bands from here move to Portland or Seattle or somewhere,” Bourdon says. “A lot of times, they just end up moving back to Alaska because they couldn’t make it happen. We have our feet on the ground here, and just picking up the band and moving it is not possible."