Small Reactions Chats Past, Present, and 'New Age Soul'

Googling Small Reactions might give you a taste, but definitely not the whole meal. You might wind up confused. Their descriptions range from post-punk, hypnotic indie, nervous energy to surf rock, jangle pop, whatever—you name it. Plus, their sound is constantly evolving, never allowing itself to get boxed in.

So this quartet of friends has created their own genre called “nerve pop,” which can only be described by listening to their music. They say they’re going for a “subversive indie-pop” sound that feels like “a new pair of shoes, assuming that those shoes really like Wire and Stereolab.”

Small Reactions’ newest album, New Age Soul, is slated to come out sometime next year. And from that album, they recently released a video for the timely single “Police State.” The track uses their genre-expanding melodies to calmly point out police brutality and systemic injustices in the United States. You can watch that below, plus, read the entire interview with Small Reactions.

Small Reactions, “Police State”

BTRtoday (BTR): I see you guys compared to a bunch of different kinds of bands, but if you could compare yourself to any band or really anything you want, what would it be?

Ross Politi (RP): Scotty is kinda like a new pair of shoes, assuming that those shoes really like Wire and Stereolab. Maybe I’m just assuming that because I think he runs a lot, although I’ve never actually seen him run. He also likes some hippie Dead stuff. Sean is kinda like a cat who stares at a fish tank—assuming that the fish tank really likes Wire and Stereolab. Sean has cats and Instagrams them a lot. The cats like Thee Oh Sees. In my self-analysis, I’m like a less-flexible lemur who likes some Wire and Stereolab, but ends up listening to Christian Death when no one is around (and I can’t quite seem to shake off Sonic Youth’s 80s albums and any Berlin-era Bowie).

Sean Zearfoss (SZ): I like to think of us as a subversive indie-pop band. We like melody and hooks as much as we like noise. We might be akin to a lovable uncle that you saw most recently a decade ago, but it was the best time you ever had because absence makes the heart grow fonder. We are your favorite uncle.

BTR: Musicians had to give up so much this year—what do you miss the most that 2020 made you put on pause?

RP: Performing in front of an audience is what we miss the most. We can be productive in all other ways. Writing, recording, social media stuff, putting new strings on a guitar, taking new strings off to replace them with slightly thicker new strings, selling a guitar on eBay to buy the same guitar 4 months later and for some reason, it doesn’t sound as good as the last one even though it’s made by Fender USA™… Anyway, it feels like we watched the first half of Shawshank Redemption on repeat, always stopping it right before the dude breaks free, and instead we just assume that he remained in prison forever while building a nice wall-hole to store his chess pieces in.

BTR: Where do you see the future of Small Reactions’ live shows going?

RP: I can’t imagine what we can do differently without a huge budget. It’d be fun to have some crazy lights and maybe a hologram Eazy-E dancing around. I always liked large inflatable things in those holiday displays. Maybe inflatable snails or a talking/singing tree? I don’t want us to totally become Gwar, but some things are inevitable. Didn’t Rush have a Chicken Rotisserie on stage? Two members of Small Reactions are vegetarian though.

SZ: I always like to strike a balance between a direct “less is more” mentality and an off the cuff open-ended show. I want to keep the shows to a tight 30 minutes (I firmly believe most people do not like their shows to go much past 30 minutes unless you’re The Cure or something) but I want to cram as many surprises and left turns in there as possible. I don’t like going on stage knowing exactly what we’ll do, but I do want to be timely. Ross plays drums too and I’ve been trying to convince him to play a show with two drummers.

BTR: Tell me about your new music—what inspired it, and what was the creative process like?

RP: New Age Soul is the most disciplined album I’ve ever been a part of. We put thought into every texture and note written, but not in a Steely Dan sort of way. In most cases, the early takes were sounding too forceful and linear and it took a while to hold back and find that perfect spot where your instinct is to play the song faster and “rock out” but you keep yourself from doing so. It creates a sense of tension that gives a different feel to these songs than the last album. We started to realize that playing things gently opens up a variety of dynamics and tones.

SZ: Usually we tried to record all of our songs in one or two takes and mostly live with few overdubs. This time, we spent more time with not only the songwriting and arrangement but also the takes themselves. We tried more keyboard, some marimba, and more. Ben Etter at Maze Studios is a fantastic engineer—working with him has made all the difference on this record. Jason Kingsland also helped push us on the right track as well, and his influence cannot be understated either.

BTR: How did you guys meet and name the band Small Reactions?

RP: The other guys met when they were still in high school and they had a few different versions of the band before becoming the “Small Reactions” that we are now. I don’t think much thought went into the band name, which is probably a good thing because all memorable band names seem to randomly appear and define themselves later. I met Small Reactions when they shared a bill with another band I was in, and I liked their sound a lot. They had a relentless drive to their music that kept people’s attention, and I remember seeing them at a house party and hearing the volume outside and feeling intrigued. When I stepped inside I was shocked by how these small, young, well-behaved lads were able to blow away all the other bands with their manic energy. Perhaps that’s what the name means then? One thing led to another, lighting struck a clock tower, a snake grew wings, someone moved somewhere else, and I’ve been in the band ever since.

SZ: Ross is right—but also, we used to call ourselves “Soup” many years ago. Another band had that name so I suggested “Tiny Explosions,” which is the name of a Presidents of the United States of America song. The guys didn’t like that, but they did like my rebranded “Small Reactions”—it sounds like chemistry, which I liked. Plus, I prefer smaller things in general.

BTR: What else should we be keeping an eye out for in the future of Small Reactions?

RP: Keep your eyes out for more visual stuff. Like, videos and maybe pictorials that’ll go along with audio releases on vinyl. Take the journey with us and we’ll hopefully stay interesting and not get dull like the ’90s bands who wanted to start showing their mature side after their third album that featured all the hits.

SZ: More overdubs. Maybe they’ll also let me use my Ace Tone Rhythm Ace drum machine on a song. I keep asking…