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Holden’s The Smile Makers Experiment on Stage and in the Studio

Monday, June 24, 2013


A duo that sounds as powerful as a whole band.

Holden's The Smile Makers' unique, experimental and at times positively captivating sound is the result of only two minds, but of a multitude of different instruments and influences. The duo consists of Eric Donaldson and Nicole Sutka, and together they are taking New England's local music scene by storm, bringing listeners on a journey through a rhythmic wave of seamless, progressive blends of folk, blues and funk while adding little droplets of grunge, jazz and even hip hop.

Both members are multi-talented, learning to play multiple instruments at a very young age; and they take full advantage of these natural artistic abilities, constantly pushing the limits of what is thought possible both on stage and in the studio. Donaldson pitches in on the acoustic guitar, ukulele and the harmonica, while Stuka takes care of the electric bass, woodwinds and piano. Each contributes vocals.

"Nicole and I are constantly multi-tasking to fill out the sound. We like our performances to have the energy and drive of a larger group, but the focus and dynamic control of a single performer," remarks Eric.

"Our music has a different but familiar sound, I'm a song writer at heart with roots in rock, blues and 90's grunge, but Nicole is more of a Jazz and hip-hop player. So our music has some pop aspects to it, but feels different partly because of our instrumentation and partly due to Nicole's deep rooted Jazz background, she has become the major lead instrumentalist in the group which gives us an unexpected progressive rock edge," he describes

A Special Style

They succeed at this task, to maintain that "energy and drive" but "focus and dynamic control", with flying colors. They use a number of different techniques, both while recording and performing live. Eric explains a few of these tricks in great detail.

"Nicole and I put together a microphone setup with guitar effects on the flute to give it a larger range of sounds with distortion, delay and chorus. Because it's always setup on stage Nicole also uses the effected microphone to add textures to some vocal and percussion parts. Another difference in our sound comes from Nicole's bass amplifier that we have setup with a lead-tone foot switch for soloing. I also use a few effects to broaden my guitar sound, and I sometimes play harmonica lines to add a third or fourth layer to the music."

They have created three albums of original material and, after three years together, they are beginning to get some major recognition. Production companies and concert venues around New England have begun to take notice. A quick sampling of their music on their Reverbnation site will give you a taste of why. In songs like "Broken in Two", fans of 60's and 70's folk and prog rock, and blues of an earlier age, will certainly hear the intricate and layered but catchy sounds and lyrics that hearken back to those classic musicians. But those who prefer the simple yet emotional, stirring and gentle acoustic melodies of modern alternative rock will find something to enjoy as well, especially in tunes like "Drinking Alone."

A Deep Need for Music

Their reasons for loving music will be familiar to most who are attracted to creative endeavors.

"It's a hard thing to explain where the musical interest comes from, or why we are drawn to it, I think music is something that chooses the person more than the person chooses music. If you are a musician you feel compelled to play and for both of us we also feel compelled to perform and write," Eric says.

They have a full slate of gigs planned for the summer, hitting up places in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. They are scheduled to perform about two shows a week for the rest of the season. They have upcoming shows at Beatnik's (June 27th) and Vincent's (July 6th) in Worcester. Those who chose to view them live are in for a treat.

"The necessity of the music in our lives is what really drives our performances, we are usually drenched in sweat playing with an urgency that sometimes sounds like we're going to explode, we stomp yell and hammer out songs that go from whisper quiet to face-bendingly loud it's like performing short scenes from inside the brain of a poetic drugged bipolar teenager that just left home for the first time," colorfully adds Eric .

They won't be stopping anytime soon. Performing and writing is a passion, almost an addiction that needs to be constantly quenched.

"Not having a musical project is like losing daylight in the winter, when it goes away it destroys mental and emotional functioning, probably some psychological explanation for why music is so important but really it just feels necessary for survival," states Eric of this phenomenon.

For more information on The Smile Makers please find them on Facebook and look for them at a venue near you.


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