Sunday, July 27, 2014


Merica Strata began with a fun concept. A long-time member of the Billings underground in various mediums (theatre, video projects, and music- Cut Cut Paste, The Slandersons, Bolga, Idiot Fuel, etc), Rob Smith was writing songs on his tablet device at home and decided to translate those solo songs into a something a full band could play. He added other reliably-local-music-involved dudes (member of the Part Time Ninjas, Cody Weis, and former NoiseNoiseNoise/Death Taxes and Failure/Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails bassist, Mat Regele), and they're now playing the ipad songs (plus more) at a ridiculous speed and veer into occasional improv(?) punk!

As I was busy as shit this week, I asked Rob if he'd like to do a text back-and-forth interview. Here's what transpired:

More like skyway to the dangerzone, am I right?

What is Merica Strata?

Merica Strata is a Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine cover band.

Is it difficult to sing “Conga” live? That’s a lot of words to spit out in a short amount of time!

Not as difficult as trying to sit through that movie Congo. It’s all up hill after Bruce Campbell dies. Hope I didn’t give anything away there for the late to the party Michael Crichton fans.

Speaking of covers and that director, I just had the idea to start a Jurassic Park-themed Ramones cover band. It will be called Chichton Hop. Have you had any goofy band ideas lately?

What year is it? Has SpeedGrass been invented yet? Off the top of my head...Nivan Nirvanadanna? ...A band highlighting my love of the work of comedian Gilda Radner and Seattle grunge. Yeah, kind of a reach. Take back the night!

Gilda passed away from cancer, if I remember right, and I’m sure a lot of us will go that way. If you could choose how you die, how would it happen?

Fighting an invading evil alien force from an intergalactic crossrip. ...Interdimensional crossrip, I mean...ahem...*pushes glasses up on nose*

Would you have a weapon in this scenario?

No. The battle will be waged in the kitchens across our planet by all the aspiring chefs lining up to be screamed at by Gordon Ramsay. The species with the best waffle wins.

You had originally written a bunch of Merica Strata songs with software instruments on your computer. Was that difficult? How was the transition from doing that to playing the songs live with a full band?

The transition was intimidating at first. But the technology does a lot of the heavy lifting. Certain challenges presented themselves. Like the ipad I had a top speed on it. So the faster songs had to be slowed down or changed a bit.Trying to convert a bleep or bloop into a guitar chord was another challenge. Because at times I wasn’t really playing notes...just bashing away on the thing as hard as I could to get it to sound frenetic and alive so manufactured and cold so as to give a better blueprint to the musician who would be playing it later to better get the vibe I was trying to convey.

Is working on songs alone easier or more difficult for you? Is it more fun doing it that way or with a band?

I always wish I could hear the songs I’ve written through the ears of the listener. Like be impartial to it? You can’t enjoy your own music the way you enjoy a song by another artist. Because you created it, so part of the surprise is gone. ...With the computer can get a hint of that because it’s easy to complete a template of the song so quickly. Still, nothing holds a candle to tearing through a few high volume songs at breakneck speed with some close friends helping to bring the group’s ideas to fruition.

Some of your tunes are reflections on your personal life, others are strange and/or funny. Regarding the latter, do you think there’s a science to humor?

Perhaps there may be some similarities between chaos theory and hilarity. You’d have to ask Ian Malcom on that one...or Malcom Jamal Warner.

Nels would like to know how many mailboxes you plan to run over in the next two weeks.

Just his.

Chips: Corn or potato? ...Or poker? ...Or buffalo?

Ponch! Come on...that was a layup!

(as a side note, I swear the question wasn’t asked to set up a joke. Serendipity!)

...Can’t think of the other guy’s name...
Ponch and Baker...

I think it was Oates. Or Roy.

And roy and roy and roy...

Since you’ve been around the Billings music scene for a while, what are some consistencies you’ve seen? Any big differences you’ve seen from then until now?

The youth and long-time music supporters are always excited, welcoming, and friendly to new bands,visiting groups, and the old timey bands that have been in the area for years. In contrary to recent publications, I feel the scene in this area and surrounding areas is as active and fertile as it ever was to try new things, dust off old things...or just show us yer things...I do think we meed more collaborations between genres though... In the past, I recall the best and most heavily attended shows were the ones with a more eclectic lineup. Done mostly because there weren’t enough bands sometimes to fill an entire bill. I’ve heard tales of bands turning down shows because they felt they didn’t fit with the other evenings’ performances...Not because of work or other prior obligations? A wise man once said...”A show is a show is a A Show.” But as another consistency with this town, there are always a lot of tales, and we are all Legend. Not just Will Smith. That movie sucked by the way, ruined a classic. Burn in hell fresh prince!

If you could have any activity take place, and budget/reality wasn’t a constraint, what would you make an event at Richard Dreyfest?

A floating stage at Lake Elmo would be fun...and we could screen Jaws. But I heard Springfield tried something similar and Green Day ended up ingesting a lot of their lake water and now all their music sucks. One day we will hold a Dreyfest atop Devil’s Tower!

Thanks for your time! Anything else Festanans should know?

Obama is a reincarnated Egyptian ruler inhabiting a clone body constructed by the Cult of Saturn. The Empire Never Ended.

And on that scary note, here's a couple songs:

And don't forget that Merica Strata also has a tune over here:

See you at Dreyfest!!!

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