Alone on stage, surrounded by a mess of cords and pedals and an arsenal of instruments, Tony Smiley prepares for his set.
Meanwhile, people in the audience see the unmanned instruments and look around expectantly for the rest of the band. There is none. As one fan said, Smiley is a "one-man riot loop ninja."
Most of Smiley's original musical collages begin with a simple guitar groove. He plays it, loops it and moves on to the next instrument, perhaps the keyboard, bass, electronic drum pad or tambourine. The sound builds as the song progresses and as new layers of loops, as well as vocals, are added. (All Smiley's loops are done live.) The product is an innovative mix of rock, reggae and funk.
Who: Tony Smiley
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Where: Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St., Ashland
"It's like live production," Smiley says.
"Usually, when people say, 'What kind of music are you?' I say, 'Awesome.' "
Smiley will present his high-energy solo act at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St., Ashland.
"I've been in lots of different bands, but they've always ended up not working out for one reason or another," Smiley says.
Eight years ago, he began playing independently, accompanied only by his Boss RC 300 loop station — "the brains of it all" — and a few miscellaneous pieces of technology.
Smiley has played drums since he was 8 years old. When he was 13, his parents grounded him from the drums, so he started playing his dad's acoustic guitar. That same year, his parents bought a piano, and he taught himself to play that, as well.
"The concept of music has always made sense to me," Smiley says. "I wouldn't consider myself a ripping guitar player or an amazing drummer, but I know how to build songs and compose music and find the right parts for each instrument."
"Ticket to the Trip" is Smiley's fourth and most recent album but the first that he's recorded at his home studio. Guest vocalists Redwood Son and Keegan Smith, as well as guitarist Wil Kinky, are featured on a couple of tracks.
"I used to drink a lot and party a lot, and my first two albums were pretty dark," Smiley says. "My third album was (recorded) straight out of rehab, "One Ton Heart," and this one ("Ticket to the Trip") was me putting more love into the world, ... not so many questions to ask and more positive answers. I'm not as troubled as I was."
In addition to his original music, Smiley often works songs by Billy Idol, Snoop Dogg and others into his sets. The cover to his show at Caldera is $5. Call 541-482-4677 or see www.tonysmiley.net.