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The Motown Beat: Lessons in friendship with Citizen Smile

Local indie rockers evolve from ‘gangly junior high schoolers’ to mature, full-fledged musicians

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:12 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

“Our performance is spastic and awkward at times because no one is trying to look cool. We confidently portray our true feelings as we’re feeling them onstage.”

This is how Kory Kopchick, lead guitar and backup vocals for Detroit band Citizen Smile, described playing live. Citizen Smile grew from a friendship and a shared dream. In 1999, Kopchick and James Brown, who does lead vocals and rhythm guitar, decided that “Legos and action figures just wouldn’t suffice” as entertainment anymore and decided to start jamming, Kopchick said. They grew up

across the street from one another, and they let their passion for music follow them as they became older.

Citizen Smile grew into its curent form, which also includes Ricky Ruggero on bass guitar and Will Shattuck on drums, in 2010. Kopchick gave credit to the workability of the band by saying,“the band’s roots stem from an even deeper grounding in friendship and also in the member’s individuality, and differences help to create an extraordinary dynamic within the group.”

Listening to their “Keepsakes” album, it’s easy to think of The Killers or The Buggles. Guitar and vocals are talented, but both the drum and guitar parts have many borrowed moments. Kopchick alluded to musical influences of Weezer, The Get Up Kids, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie and Tokyo Police Club, which you can hear in their songs.

They are currently recording an album to be released in late June called “Everything’s Changing and Nothing.” Kopchick said the “musical styles vary from song to song, but there are roughly four or five tracks with the classic high-energy indie-rock feel, two or three tracks that showcase a bit more of the folk influence and a few more tracks that push us toward the experimental, avant-garde direction.”

With this album, the band has not only grown as musicians in regard to their guitar work, but they have also expanded their lyrical content. This album consists of songs containing conversations about family loss, difficult relationships, self-reflection and finding your one and only.

“It should also be noted that on the first day of recording (this album or any) new album, Ruggero will make a nice, hearty breakfast for the entire band,” Kopchick said.

Speaking of Ruggero, when Brown first asked him if he could play bass, he said yes. Ruggero lied. But now he can. That’s just one example of how they have grown as a band — learning to play. Not only have they learned how to play but have also grown from “gangly junior highschoolers,” as Kopchick described them, to musicians with “personal maturity and musical maturity; however, there are still evident traces of our youthful exuberance and catchy pop melodies.”

Kopchick said their main goal has always been to “find people who love our music most and play for them. One fan who is completely infatuated with us is far greater than hundreds of fans who find us mediocre.”

Their future plans include opening for more nationally touring acts on major labels, which they have done several times before, finishing their latest album and throwing a huge CD-release party in the spring.

As for Detroit musicians, their favorite local bands are The HandGrenades, Patrick Davy and the Ghosts, The Ashleys, FAWN, Lightning Love and The Hounds Below. Hopefully we’ll see a few of those names at their album release.

Kopchick said it’s great to be in Detroit because there “will always be plenty of awesome bands from New York and California. For this reason, it’s pretty great whenever a decent band comes out of Detroit. They’re immediately put under a microscope and

placed on a separate tier.”

Kopchick posed the question: “Who would you rather see? One out of thousands of bands from a majorly successful and renowned city, or one out of a handful of bands from a city that’s been nationally regarded as broken down and unfixable?

Just think of the lyrical possibilities.” Either way, Kopchick advises all aspiring musicians not to “get your hopes up.The act of ‘making it’ rarely, if ever, occurs these days. The most important thing to remember is that the art of writing, recording and performing music should be enough in and of itself to make you happy,” he said. “There will always be people out there who hate your music, but there will also always be people out there who really dig it. Find the latter, and do it for them.”

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