poster by Beau Adams / photos by Olivia Lee
Smokin' Ziggurats is a San Francisco rock and roll band, mixed with four unique, fun loving dudes that bring a lot to the table. The band includes Ben McClintock, Tom Smith, Thomas Gettys, and Mario Ruiz. Tom and Ben found each other and formed the band, becoming "Guitar Soul Brothers". Delve into the music, where they challenge boundaries of the art and music they create. We talked about the band, and their new album being released early next Spring; playing at Slims on Thursday November 30, catch them while you can.
SEA WITCH: How did you guys all meet in the band?
I (Tom) moved from Chicago in 2010 and Ben was working at Mojo Cafe, so I moved in upstairs from there. One morning I came down and he was wearing a t-shirt of this blue’s club I grew up going to, called the Kingston Mines. We bonded and started hanging out on the porch and playing guitar together. I was in a band called Social Studies that I moved to San Francisco for. They’re no longer together, but I actually quit the band and Ben was later my replacement, since we were all already friends. I came back to play after a while, and after the band started going their separate ways, both of us were interested in continuing something.
We met Thomas while smoking a joint at Secret Studios and at that time we weren’t fully formed and still working on band names. Then we made our first record, with our friend Chris Sugiura (on bass), produced at El Studio in Bayview. So we made that record and Chris played in the live group for a long time. He plays in another band called Doncat and does a lot more record producing full time, so we just recorded our second LP with him, Behind the Controls, which we are releasing in Spring.
As we finished recording this record, the day we finished mixing it, we had a show, but were all of a sudden without a bass player. At that point, our friend Mario Ruis who is playing with us now, had just left a band. We needed a bass player, and he’s a close friend which is how we like to have the band; keep it in the family. Kyle Skelton played bass on our tour as well and a couple records on our album.
Fun fact: Tom is right handed but plays with his left hand, and Ben is left handed but plays with his right.
SEA WITCH: Did you guys have some favorite spots on your last tour?
(Tom) Homecoming show in Chicago was great. It was my first time playing in a band that I was fronting, after a long time. (Ben) Our drummer is from Iowa, but most of us have never been there before, so we played three shows there and that was welcoming. Portland is always good to us and we have good friends who are musicians up there as well, who are always down to give solid feedback on our music.
SEA WITCH: What’s one of the highlights of being on tour together as a band?
A big part is that the shows are a lot of fun, but it’s great staying with friends the night after the show, or the next morning when you finally have time to have breakfast and hang out. Read books, take pictures, take walks alone, when you have a free moment.
SEA WITCH: Who creates the band art?
(Tom) I’ve done the t-shirts and a bunch of our posters. Our friend, Ethan D’ercole did our album art for the first album and is actually working on the art for our second album as well, which is all layered, hand cut rubylith. So we really look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
SEA WITCH: Where does the band logo come from?
The ziggurat is an ancient Mesopotamian temple built out of clay or mud. Specifically a step pyramid which were used for sacrifices. Often it would be burning and smoke would be a signal for those sacrifices. We all smoke, so that's a signal too.
SEA WITCH: What sets your new album apart from your last album?
The first record that we did was mostly Tom and me (Ben) writing acoustic, but also more separate. The new record was more writing together, earlier on in the process, and is a little more post-punk edge/aggressive. There’s also been a lot more demo-ing, trying to figure out how we want this to sound, compared to the more set-in-stone method with the last album. For the new album, we started doing demos in January, tracked in June and the last day of mixing was the day of the eclipse. That was the day Mario joined too.
SEA WITCH: Are you guys planning on going on another national tour this year with the record release?
Yeah we definitely are, and currently working on the planning of it all, which should be happening and solid by spring.
SEA WITCH: What do you want your fans to know about you guys?
We’re a pretty distinct group of personalities that work together really well. Everyone has their own musical point of view and background. We bring that together in unique way that only we can do it, while having fun together. Everyone’s essential and brings balance to the band.
SEA WITCH: How would you classify the music you write?
At the base of it they are pop or rock songs, whatever you wanna call it. There’s a certain amount of freedom you try to incorporate into the writing of it, so that it’s not just four dudes playing their parts. Each member is so different and so we all play our parts specific to ourselves and our different backgrounds. The result of it can lead to post-punk, psychedelic moments. Everything’s pretty different in that sense, but in service to the song.
SEA WITCH: So you guys covered the Buzzocks at the Sea Witch Productions Halloween show. How was that experience?
(Tom) I grew up with the album Singles Going Steady, in my mom’s record collection, so doing this Halloween show also seemed like the perfect match for us, especially with some of our newer material having a similar feeling. It was Thomas’s first time really getting into them so it’s also pretty cool since he’s become a huge fan, and since we have a new frame of reference when we write and play songs now. There’s something unifying about playing someone else’s material.
SEA WITCH: Do you have favorite spots to play
We’ve definitely played a lot at Brick and Mortar, feels like home any time we go back. Tom worked there for a while too. The Hemlock is pretty cool, with the separation from the bar.
Our next show is December 14th at Amnesia with Luke Sweeney, and that’s also a sweet spot.
SEA WITCH: Who are some of your biggest music influences?
Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Jimi Hendrix, older Neil Young, The Cure, The Smiths, The Kinks, Wire, Television,The poet Dave Berman. People say we sound like Silver Jews. It all goes back to post-Beatles. Overall, it’s hard to say and a mixed bag too with our band members.
SEA WITCH: Do you have a favorite song to play live?
We have a new song called Boysenberry Mind. That’s actually the only original song we played the night of the Buzzcocks set.
SEA WITCH: Favorite band album of the year?
The Violent Tapes by Mazes. They’re a band from Chicago that made this record in Buenos Aires. It’s our number one played record on tour and a pretty big influence on our new album.
SEA WITCH: Any new year’s resolutions as a band?
We did one national tour last year, but it was as far east as Bloomington, Indiana, so we’d like to hit the East Coast and the South. Maybe go abroad, now that we’ve got two records under our belt.
SEA WITCH: What is your go-to liquor store snack?
On this last tour, our go-to was getting hot water because we had our own french press with our own coffee grounds in our van. Good coffee makes a big difference on those long drives. Fritos are big in the band too. Our drummer Thomas came up with a signature move called The Chip Chug. So once you get down to all the crumblies at the bottom, you just chug all the crumbs. He’s the master and definitely the best snacker in the band.