J.Smith

Album: Ode To J. Smith (2008)

Songfacts®:

  • Travis frontman Fran Healy told the story of this song in a blog post written at the time this song was recorded. He wrote: "This song is, for me, where the whole record turned a corner during the writing process. It came from a riff I played whilst trying out a guitar pedal, sitting on the bust up old sofa in the vintage and rare guitar shop in Denmark Street, London.

    I had picked up a Fender Telecaster copy and had it going through a little practice amp to test some pedals. The first thing played was the riff that became J. Smith. It came from nowhere. The strange thing was, I knew immediately these chords were important in some way. They came exactly as they appear in the song, in order and rhythm. A week later I got delivery of a new Vox AC30 amplifier. It sounded awesome. The first thing I played was the chords from vintage and rare a week before. They sounded even better. When (drummer) Neilly (Primrose) arrived I played the chords and he played along and instantly played the pattern. It is the best drum line Neilly has ever done. Then during this, (bassist) Dougie (Payne) came in. As he was pulling on his bass, I heard a melody in my head that sounded like it would make a great vocal. It came with the lines 'Theres a man on the street and he da da da dee from his window...' so I jumped across the room and started the Pro Tools rig recording through the couple of mics we had up around the room, incase I forgot anything. Dougie then picked up the bass line like he'd been practising it all week yet he hadn't heard this ever. It was weird. With the bass and drums locked in, the rest of the song began to roll out, lyrics and all.

    (Guitarist) Andy (Dunlop) arrived in the middle of this and casually switched his amp on and sat listening for a couple of minutes before doing his first screech on guitar, kind of Jimi Hendrix vibe, sparse then picking it up with some really gentle arpeggio to later unleash the beast that has been locked away since the solo of 'All I Want To Do Is Rock.' The song kind of wrote itself after that. My favourite line is 'And he swears at the sun and he curses the moon for his shadow.' There isn't a bit of fat on the song. Every note, every beat, is perfect.

    Back to the mix and within a couple of hours (producer) Emery (Dobyns) was done. We asked the studio manager, Lee to come and have a listen. He looked dumbstruck. 'Can I hear that again... it's awesome.'

    Such a lot happens in this song in a very short space of time. The main body of the song is 2 and a half minutes and the outro takes it to 3 minutes, and it leaves everyone that has heard it with the same puzzled face. Luke (Pritchard) from the Kooks said it was mental. Paul McCartney said it sounded like nothing else we had done."
  • In the same blog, Healy explained how he came up with the song's title. He wrote: "The title came about whilst driving through the fog towards Stansted airport one Saturday morning a couple of days after it was written. I was thinking the song is about a guy, a nameless guy. What could I call him? I wondered where Bowie had got Ziggy Stardust from, I wondered who this character could be. What was his story. As the mist cleared I realized the best name to give him was the most mundane, common name possible. So he was christened J. Smith and as the song is about him, it too got saddled with that name. To name our most elaborate almost dare I say proggy song to date with the most run of the mill name is quite cool I think."
  • Healy revealed the reasoning behind the album title: "The album is called Ode to J.Smith partly giving a heads up to the key song and partly because all the songs are written about nameless characters or to nameless characters."

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