By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
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By Adam Lovinus
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By Nate Jackson
Photo by Robert GiampaA few years ago, I was having a conversation with Smile front man Michael Rosas. I was wringing my hands over some relationship something or other. "Don't be such a what-do-I-do," he admonished. "Huh?" I asked, confused. "There are certain people who are always 'What do I do? What do I do?'" he said. "You know what to do. Just do it."
Rosas, you see, is a man of action. He's not a blur of activity, necessarily, but he's taken with finding the most efficient, appropriate and timely response to a situation. He occasionally falters in the execution.
On the euphoniously fluid "The Long Way Out," a recent unreleased Smile track, the complicated musician sings about staying in a relationship too long. "I just let things deteriorate, fall apart, instead of being a man and taking care of the situation," he explains. On the shimmering "Walk Away Sunny Day" (also unreleased), he sings "about saying fuck it and moving on from a situation you think is bullshit." In the song, he's much more eloquent of course. Poetic, really.
You'll probably never get to hear these songs, though, which are really some of Smile's best, because the band is breaking up. I think I speak on behalf of all of Orange County when I say this decision really sucks ass.
"People are really mad," says a bemused Rosas. "They've expressed huge amounts of anger over the fact that we're breaking up. I think a lot of fans literally want to beat us to a pulp."
So why then, aside from the fact that they're stupid and selfish fucktards, are they breaking up? Back to those poetic lyrics: "When you feel that the feeling has died off/And you fear that once you begin you can't stop/A conversation interrupted by the telephone/And not a breath or a sound then the moment is gone/Walk away, sunny day/Seems so wrong, to wait so long."
These lyrics were written some time ago, but they seem to cut to the heart of the matter at hand: Rosas felt the band was treading water. For the first time in a rocky 10 years, the group had lost momentum. Some members with other commitments would most likely be quitting in the near future. Others would be quitting if those certain ones didn't quit—not in a bitter, angry way, but in an "I want to be in a band that's actually doing something and going somewhere faster" kind of way. Caught in the middle, Rosas knew a major shakeup/revamp was in order. As the only remaining original member, he just didn't have the heart to go through it all again.
"I've just been through this too much," he says. "At a certain point, from a fan's perspective, it gets old. It doesn't seem like the same band anymore, so I figure we may as well break up now instead of later. I'd rather end on a high note."
All four members—Bob Thompson on bass, Matt Fletcher on keyboards, James Fletcher on drums, Rosas on guitar and vocals—want to keep playing music. For a while, there was a rumor that the band minus Thompson would re-form with a new name and new image. While that isn't out of the question, Rosas says there are no definite plans yet.
"Obviously we've talked about different things, but I personally made the choice to hold off on any serious ideas until we wrap this up. I definitely want to start another band, but at this point I don't know when or what it's going to be."
A veteran of semi-seminal OC hardcore bands Inside Out and Head First, Rosas formed Smile in 1992 with Inside Out bassist and fellow Woodbridge High student Aaron Sonnenberg. The two placed an ad for a drummer in the Recycler, which led them to the prosaic Barstow home of Scott Reeder. "He was completely different from Aaron and me," Rosas remembers. "He was this Barstow rocker guy. Long hair, checkered pants, ripped Pink Floyd tank top and a bandana on his head. He was the best drummer I'd ever played with in my life." The threesome released a seven-inch ("Resin"), and then in 1995 released a sludgy bombastic yawp of grunge called Maquee on the San Diego-based Headhunter label. Rosas' particular lyrical yens—insouciant or wry fatalism, revenge fantasies, bizarre suburban Gothicism—made early appearances here. On Maquee's very self-conscious "Rock Anthem for the Retarded Teenage Hipster Population," Rosas sings: "Before we start, I'd like to say that we're all done/Remember what we started for, remember it was fun/Now we try so hard to look like we don't try/The only things that we become are all the unimportant things we buy/ . . . The only thing we learn from our mistakes is that we make a lot of mistakes." Smile smelled like teen spirit back then.
Before long, Atlantic Records came calling, signed the band and gave them a hefty advance. The musicians quit their day jobs, moved out of their parents' houses and began touring the country. Atlantic rereleased Maquee, and "Staring at the Sun" was getting airplay. Rosas remembers pulling into a Colorado town and hearing promo spots on the radio for their show that night. When they got to the club, there was a line down the block; the show was sold out.