Ask anyone in Golden Smog about how long or how far they thought this, for lack of a better word, "supergroup" was going to last, you’re pretty likely to get this response: "we didn’t."
"When we first started out [in 1992], it was just me [Kraig Johnson], Gary [Louris], and Danny [Murphy] doing acoustic stuff. We were just sitting ‘round, talking and playing some demos. It wasn’t like we did it right away," says singer/guitarist/songwriter Kraig Johnson.
Well, seven years, two full length albums, an e.p., and two U.S. tours later, the Golden Smog – containing such alt.country heroes and rock n’ roll superstars as Johnson (Run, Westy, Run), Louris (the Jayhawks), Murphy (Soul Asylum), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Marc Perlman (the Jayhawks), and Jody Stephens (Big Star) -- seem to be falling out of their "who the hell knows what’s gonna happen" attitude and into a more mature, more defined existence. And no where is that more noticeable than on the band’s latest release, "Weird Tales."
According to Johnson, the band recorded "Weird Tales" over two Januarys, 1997 and 1998, with really no expectations except following up a pretty solid album that had no expectations to begin with. In 1996, Golden Smog released their hastily-recorded full length debut, "Down By the Old Mainstream," which was recorded over a period of roughly five days in November of 1994. And previous to that, the band in 1992 recorded "On Golden Smog," its 5 cover song debut, in one weekend. This time around, the band took two months and the result is a more polished, more professional sounding effort—an idea not lost on Johnson.
"[The difference between "Mainstream" and "Tales"] is time," Johnson says. "Not only time being the time of us playing together, but in making each [album]. [Original drummer] Chris Mars (Replacements) didn’t even stay the night after recording the first e.p. [We] had a little more time and were more focused. Everyone had more songs."
Johnson says the band felt no pressure in following up "Mainstream," which contained such classics as Tweedy’s signature "Pecan Pie," Johnson’s nonsensical (and live staple) "He’s A Dick," and the Louris/Tweedy killer closer "Radio King." "I don’t think there was any pressure at all," Johnson says. "It was a more relaxed thing. We had a bunch of songs already in the [can]."
Perhaps making things more relaxed for the Smog is the attitude the band takes towards performing and recording. "Its different," Johnson says of life in the Smog. "In other bands, you tend to have a couple people who run the show. [The Smog] is a like a musical chairs kind of thing. It’s a good time. Murph’s even playing drums for crying out loud. I mean, who else is going to let him do that?"
The band has already finished a brief East coast club tour which ended in December at a Chicago show that was cyber-cast across the country. "I didn’t think anything was different until I saw all the cameras and stuff and I was like ‘what the hell is that?," Johnson says. "Chicago was fun. Minneapolis was fun."
Up next for the Smog is a West Coast tour which kicked off earlier this month. After that, though, things appear to be up in the air. "We’ve got a West Coast tour and then I don’t know. I don’t know about another album," Johnson says.