Local Music Check-In: The Smiling Islanders

Posted on October 22, 2014 by


Having recently opened for The Anatomy of Frank at The Southern, The Smiling Islanders have gotten their first big taste of the Charlottesville music scene and don’t want to let go. According to their Facebook page, front man David Gray, guitarist Ben Laderberg, bass player Tim Swartz, and drummer Wes Bonelli formed The Smiling Islanders after a late night “Chameleon/Cissy Strut” jam session shook the celestial universe. It’s evident through their shows and vibrant personas that the Smiling Islanders are not afraid to embrace their rock and roll roots while swiftly making their way up in the music scene.

The band will be recording their first EP this weekend, and cannot wait to share it with the world – and more importantly, Charlottesville. Be sure to check out their upcoming tunes and shows on UVA grounds and Downtown!

The Smiling Islanders

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, what brought you here?

Courtesy of the Smiling Islanders

Courtesy of The Smiling Islanders

We’re a group of UVA students from all across the beautiful state of Virginia.

What are some of your favorite local spots: to catch live music? to grab a drink? to eat?

Well, our first meal together as a band was after a late rehearsal at Zinburger that we all ranked at least one notch down from our local favorite Citizen Burger, but our other favorite places to eat include Lemongrass, and Bluegrass brunch. When we’re in need of a caffeine fix Shenandoah Joe’s is our place to go. On the road we frequent Chipotle, definitely not Qdoba guys. Our local favorite music spot is the wonderful Southern Café and Music Hall.

Any other Cville favorites?

Roger at Universal Electronics has brought all our gear back to life, and resurrected multiple guitars. Go talk to Cal at Side Tracks if you’re into vinyl or occasionally catching some local bluegrass legends perform. Rob at Bay One Studios is awesome. The IX Art Park sets the standard for one of the coolest outdoor venues. And Tim, our bassist, highly recommends the Charlottesvile golf courses. He prefers to wear a cravat when he gets his golf on.

What local musician(s) you are most excited about?

We’re huge fans of Erin & the Wildfire, who grew out of O Records at UVA like we did. The Common School Movement is great and super groovy. Another local, UVA based band that we’re all excited about is Anatomy of Frank who blows minds in live performances. Bassist Tim enjoys jazz in dark, smoke-filled rooms, like Miller’s on the downtown mall. He also wears his cravat to these occasions.

What local music projects are you/have you been involved in?

We don’t believe in musical monogamy, so we all cheat on each other quite a bit with side projects. Though for all of us right now, The Smiling Islanders is our first priority.

When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?

Ben was born with a guitar strapped to his back, which caused minor delivery problems and necessitated a cesarean section. David’s dad is Bono; no explanation needed. Tim began his musical career on violin, and then transferred to bass as his string fetish developed. Wes banged on a bunch of pots and pans when he was two, and eventually ended up banging on actual instruments. Music is innately within us, and we acted on our instincts to combine our fetishes for good.

Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

Zeppelin’s “How The West Was Won” greatly influenced Ben’s tastes. Other influences for all of us include Steve Miller Band, the Beatles, CSN&Y, Radiohead, Phish, Snarky Puppy, and a ton more.

When did you write your first song? What was it about?

Following 9/11, David wrote his first song as a personal coping method and an emotional outlet. It was a 3 chord, anti-war folk song, and ever since he’s kept on writing songs.

What influences your writing?

A raging impetus to explore the unknown, and to chart uncharted territory, both musically and spiritually. Tim would also love to find out what the deal with the Bermuda Triangle is. #Illuminati.

Courtesy of The Smiling Islanders

Courtesy of The Smiling Islanders

What aspects of life excite you and stir your affections, fuel your passions?

Stuff we hear outside in the everyday world incorporated with the organized chaos we create inside, is capable of generating intense personal meaning, both for us and, we hope, for our listeners too.

When did you play your first gig? What emotions and thoughts ran through your head after finishing?

We played our first gig at IX Art Park, which was an awesome venue. We felt the mojo, but we needed to refine it.

Do you get pumped or nervous pre-show?

Ben gets an adrenaline rush like Hercules on ‘roids. David seeks his inner Buddha. Tim doesn’t want to get anywhere near David’s inner Buddha, and distances himself as much as possible. Wes just sits there quietly and thinks about the songs.

What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?

Ben wakes up and shreds the shredstick, then practices his maraca chops until exhaustion. David won’t wake up for a while yet. Wes frequents hippie drum circles at Whole Foods. Tim showers and shaves at your local public library. As long as there are ventures to be had throughout the day, there are observations to be made and songs to be written.

What do you want people to take from hearing your music? As a fan, what do you also want people to take from experiencing your live show?

We want them to be compelled to buy CD’s, merch, and help us break down afterwards. We’re 100% profit-oriented, and we’d love to sell out. Nahh, we juz’ wanna share some truth, joy, and laughter with our audience. You can’t feel sad if you’re smiling.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for the band?

We’re recording an EP this weekend, and we’re playing a Battle of the Bands philanthropy event for Theta Chi at Boylan Heights on November 6! We’ll also be at quite a few of those hippie drum circles.

Lastly… Describe yourself in 10 words or less.

We smile a lot, on stage and in your home.