Montana-based rising stars, The Lil Smokies, have just announced the release of their third studio album, Tornillo, on January 24, 2020. Recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, with producer-engineer Bill Reynolds (The Avett Brothers, Band of Horses, Midland) Tornillo is a focused and refined representation of the sound The Lil Smokies have become known for. Their dynamic musicianship, anthemic songs, and packed tour schedule have launched The Lil Smokies’ career, checking off goals many musicians dream of; Telluride Bluegrass, Red Rocks, and millions of streams on Spotify, to name a few. Comprised of Matt Cornette (banjo), Andy Dunnigan (vocals, dobro), Scott Parker (bass), Matt “Rev” Rieger (guitar, vocals) and Jake Simpson (fiddle, vocals), The Lil Smokies’ camaraderie on stage is every bit a reflection of their bond off stage. “We’re all best friends, and I really do mean that with sincerity,” Dunnigan says. In addition to the new release, The Lil Smokies have also just announced a lengthy Winter/Spring tour throughout the US and Canada. A full list of dates can be found below. Pre-order/pre-save Tornillo here.
On Tornillo, The Lil Smokies dove deep into their well of influences—most notably Laurel Canyon songwriters from the 1970s—and used their traditional string band instruments to craft very non-traditional songs and arrangements. Throughout the album’s eleven tracks the band found themselves trekking into new sonic territory. With Reynolds’ guidance, hints of drums, baritone guitar, and synth pads wove their way into the band’s usual instrumentation. With the goal to enhance the songs, never overwhelming them, The Lil Smokies used their last few days in the studio to experiment, eventually going deep enough to find themselves tracking one of Billy Gibbons’ (ZZ Top) electric guitars through an amplifier previously used by the industrial band Ministry.
As one of the centerpieces of the album, “Carry Me” offers magnificent musicianship and eludes to the distance that is created by life on the road. Dunnigan explains, “It's about the dreams we have, and what we go through to make those dreams live on.” While that longing for a sense of home permeates Tornillo, the band also found inspiration in unlikely places. For example, “Giant” was written after Dunnigan watched a documentary about Andre the Giant and his struggles with living in the public eye. Other songs, like “Fortunes” and “True Blues,” are less obvious in their origins, which is intentional. “I like having a little bit of ambiguity in songs, using some impressionistic lyrics, and making it sparse,” Dunnigan says. Another common thread weaves through the entirety of Tornillo; room for the music to breathe. “It seems like over time we’re learning that it’s not the more you play, but the tastefulness and space in between the notes that can pull that emotion out,” says Dunnigan. The band attributes a lot of that space and emotion to the outdoors, where they recharge and find their inspiration.
The album closes with the title track, “Tornillo.” Having gone through a few different arrangement ideas for “Tornillo,” The Lil Smokies eventually landed on a simple, uplifting piano arrangement to carry the album home. “Although initially inspired by an article on simulation theory, Tornillo was written for my girlfriend,” says Dunnigan. But the song can just as easily be interpreted as a love letter to the town of Tornillo and the band’s experience on the 2300-acre pecan orchard which houses the Sonic Ranch studio.
“Our time there encapsulates all of the good things about being in a band and making music,” Dunnigan says. “The word ‘tornillo’ in its literal definition means a screw or a bolt. That’s exactly what this experience in the studio did for us as a band. We really came together and worked as a unit, and we got back to those reasons why we do this.” The transcendent vibe of Sonic Ranch ultimately helped the band recalibrate, resulting in an album that’s both exhilarating and introspective.
Catch The Lil Smokies On Tour:
Dec. 13 - Berkeley, CA - The UC Theatre
Dec. 19 - Breckenridge, CO - Riverwalk Center
Dec. 20 - Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
Dec. 21 - Boulder, CO - Boulder Theater
Dec. 27-29 - Whitefish, MT - Great Northern
Dec. 31 - Missoula, MT - The Wilma
Jan. 23 - Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre
Jan. 24 - Vancouver, BC - The Biltmore Cabaret
Jan. 25 - Portland, OR - Aladdin Theater
Jan. 31 - Morro Bay, CA - The Siren
Feb. 1 - Los Angeles, CA - Lodge Room
Feb. 6-7 - Durango, CO - Animas City Theatre
Feb. 9 - Crested Butte, CO - Public House
Feb. 15 - Salt Lake City, UT - State Room
Mar. 5 - Philadelphia, PA - Boot & Saddle
Mar. 6 - Brooklyn, NY - Knitting Factory
Mar. 7 - D.C. - 9:30 Club
Mar. 11 - Boston, MA - The Sinclair
Mar. 12 - Burlington, VT - Higher Ground Lounge
Mar. 14 - Jay, VT - Jay Peak Resort
Mar. 27-29 Squaw Valley, CA - WinterWonderGrass
Apr. 8 - Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
Apr. 9-10 - St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
Apr. 16 - Nashville, TN - Basement East