All of the best bands are homegrown and born from adversity, and Wild Smiles score highly on
both counts. In July 2012, worn down by dole life, with his previous esoteric alt-rock band falling
apart around him and his girlfriend ditching him, Chris Peden hit rock bottom.
“Everything kind of collapsed,” he remembers. “I just wanted to get away. I was on the dole for
ages, trying to get that band to work. And then my band broke up that I’d given everything to, and
then my relationship broke up. Basically there was nothing I could do but turn to music.”
Rather than wallow his way into a dead end job in suburban Winchester, Peden started writing for
his own project; bitter psych grunge pop howls about his ex-bandmates (Tangled Hair), his
“constant drone” of an ex-girlfriend (Girlfriend) and his desperation to escape (Take Me Away). His
early solo demos made an impact on the blogosphere so, envisioning himself a Hampshire Ty
Segall, he initially planned to make distorted pop as a guitar and drums duo. Chris eventually
found a drummer that September simply by asking a busker in the street for recommendations; he
suggested one of his drumming students Ben Cook, who joined him. Recruiting Chris’ brother Joe,
also on guitar, the fledgling Wild Smiles set to recording their first single on a laptop in the cramped
environs of the brothers’ shed.
“You could stand in one place and touch both sides,” Joe says. “We had to go in one person at a
time to record. We didn’t get any complaints because we did it all on headphones and the drums
were programmed then.”
Chris was not alone in his personal troubles. In the months before joining and the early days of the
band, Ben and his girlfriend split up, and Ben and Joe quit university and college respectively. All
three had nothing left but the band. Luckily, Chris’ tunes were as infectious as his rotten luck. The
band graduated to recording in the family kitchen, even filming their own psychedelic videos
against the wall with an iPhone, their then-manager introduced them to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow,
who snapped up their first single to release on his Invada label.
“I’m a big fan of Geoff, and also he didn’t wanna change anything we’d done so that was a big
bonus for us,” Chris explains. “He liked the rawness.”
And no doubt the eclecticism too. Wild Smiles’ startling debut AA single Sweet Sixteen/Tangled
Hair, released in March 2013, took in elements of Beach Boys surf pop, Velvet Underground
drones, Wall Of Sound beats, Monkees melodies, psych-era warps, Jesus & Mary Chain no-fi
garage clatter and Nirvana filth that seemed to predict the current grunge revival of Drenge and
Menace Beach. It was a dazzling stew of sound, simultaneously classic, timely and forward
thinking – it seemed amazing no-one had smashed such sprawling decades of music together
before. “I’m really into all those bands,” Chris says. “Without ripping it off, we wanted simple,
classic sounding songs. I’m not a big fan of modern production. Especially guitar bands who are so
clear and clean, it sounds over produced.”
Coming from a dead-end scene that has only Band Of Skulls and Craig David to its name, Wild
Smiles were amazed when their first single made a hefty splash. “It was all a surprise because we
had Zane Lowe play it and Huw Stephens and people like that,” says Joe. “And the blogs were
really talking about it. I was quite shocked.” “I was working as a kitchen skivvy,” Ben adds, “so we
had the radio on and when they announced ‘The next song is Wild Smiles’ it was surreal.”
A five-track Wild Smiles EP followed on Invada that summer, led by the MBV-flecked Take Me
Away, and, in that song’s spirit of escape, the band hit the road. Over 2013 they’d play shows with
Drenge and hit the Green Man and Stockton Weekend festivals, as well as a tent at The Rolling
Stones’ Hyde Park show. “Green Man was brilliant for us,” Chris recalls, “because when we started
sound checking there were fifty people in the tent, then during the first song suddenly three
hundred people rushed in and by the end of the set there were five hundred people and more
queuing outside the tent.”
They also played their own headline shows across the UK, and even ventured to Paris to play at
David Lynch’s surreal Club Silencio. “I couldn’t breathe after our set,” Ben says. “I stood up and got
jelly legs.” (The band have since gone on to become labelmates with Lynch, signing with Sunday
Best Recordings and joining a diverse and eclectic roster of artists that also includes Kitty, Daisy &
Lewis and Valerie Rose).
Wild Smiles had by this point ditched the debut album they already had completed and took time
out to concentrate on honing their song-writing, determined that every track would be a classic.
Their sound expanded – The Ramones, Pulp and Dinosaur Jr crept in. Chris also blossomed as a
lyricist. While tracks like the thrash-pop The Gun hark back to his issues with his old band
members (“I went on holiday with my family and while I was away an ex-band member put up a
picture on Facebook of him holding a gun with the caption ‘Chris is having fun in the sun, I’ve
bought a gun’,” he says. “Me and him had a big falling out”) and the download-only new single Fool
For You is “a simple love song”, the album will trace a thematic arc of growing up and getting out,
the struggles of the debt-heavy, priced-out youth generation.
“Always Tomorrow is a lot to do with getting older and all your friends moving away and everything
collapsing,” Chris explains. “The point is ‘things will get better’. I’d say that’s the main theme of the
album. The Best Four Years, that’s like the relationship side and Hold On is about getting jobs and
not having any money.”
Indeed, many of the new songs on the record tackle issues that most other young bands are too
scared or ignorant of to approach. Hold On was inspired by a friend of Chris’ who killed himself by
jumping off a bridge, and faces up to the hopelessness of British youth in 2014. “People my age
can't get a job,” Chris sings. “Nothing to do, its so fucked up/People my age can't get a job/Get a
house, get a car, get a life… who’s there for us?”. And I’m Gone and Never Wanted This are bold
rejections of the mundane sort of life we’re expected to settle for: “I could get a job I could wear a
suit/A monkey in a suit to make some money”.
“It’s our perception of life,” says Ben. “Not necessarily the voice of a generation but just how we all
see it.”
“It seems like everyone is going with what they think is right,” says Chris, “like going to uni and
ending up in loads of debt, which seems pointless when there are alternatives out there. No one
seems to try. My friends have left uni and are struggling to find jobs.”
Behind these Wild Smiles there’s something to say, and a vast array of fascinating ways to say it.
Homegrown and fighting for it, they’ll have the last cackle.