When you dub your band Handsome and the Humbles, you’re naturally boosting expectations. Granted, it has little to with the music, but there is a certain personality factor involved.
Fortunately, singer, songwriter and guitarist Josh Smith, the “handsome one” referred to in the handle, and his band mates, the so-called “Humbles” — Laurel Brisson (drums, percussion), Russ Torbett (bass), Josh Hutson (guitar) and Marcus Balanky (guitar) — make the kind of music that’s significant in itself. With two albums and two EPS to their collective credit — not to mention Smith’s solo project under his moniker as Reverend J Michael Smith — the group has certainly proven that they’re worthy of any and all accolades.
Still, the name does imply a certain distinction, even though Smith said it came about simply by chance. “When we first started, we were all sitting around and throwing names around — mostly joking,” Smith said. “I said something about how I was so handsome and humble, and our first drummer, Ryan, yelled, ‘Handsome and the Humbles.’ It kind of stuck, I guess.”
Notably then, Smith’s alter ego, “Reverend J Mikhael Smith,” does have some firmer footing. “Mikhael is my middle name,” Smith said. “At one time, I worked in a church and was an ordained minister. I’ve since left the church, but when we recorded that EP, I was jokingly calling myself by that name to our old bass player, Tyler. We recorded the whole EP live in one day at Brimstone Studios in Helenwood, Tennessee with only a couple of hours practice. It was a Brimstone Miracle!”
While the Knoxville-based band, who perform a free show this Friday, March 10, at The Shed in Maryville, has fluctuated at times, Smith has been a constant ever since the start. Not surprisingly, he frequently plays solo shows in addition to his performances with Handsome and the Humbles, although the band is never far from his mind.
“I generally hope all the songs become Handsome and the Humbles songs,” he said when asked to differentiate his individual efforts from that of the band. “When we did the Reverend J Mikhael Smith album, I just wanted to have something that was more stripped down acoustic sounding, because I play by myself so much. It ended up not sounding so stripped down when we added the fiddle, banjo, bass, and drums. Honestly though, those could’ve been Handsome and the Humbles songs. Josh Hutson and I actually redid one of them, ‘Searching for Jesus,’ for the next album.”
Smith said that he and Hutson just finished wrapped up a new Handsome and the Humbles album. Titled Alternative Country, it’s due for release on May 19. “We did 70% of it on an iPhone,” he said. “We did two songs with our drummer, Lauryl Brisson and our friend Thomas Smith. Plus, we did one song with our friend, Kris ‘Tugboat’ Killingsworth from the band Thrift Store Cowboys.”
Smith’s love of making music was spawned early on. “My sisters both sang, but we didn’t really have any ‘musicians’ in our home,” he said. “All of us loved music, and my parents used to listen to music all the time, ranging from doo-wop to Elton John and the Eagles. When I was a kid, I really loved Bon Jovi, and I also really loved rap music. I mostly listened to classic rock and rap growing up, so my influences were pretty all over the place. I first picked up a bass guitar when I was 15 or so. My best friends, Justin and Tyler, both got guitars, and I bought a bass from them and started learning. We pretty much began writing songs right away, but I didn’t start sharing my songs with people until I was 30 or so.”
Interestingly enough, his father was a professional wrestler, a fact that informed his upbringing in a certain surreptitious way.
“I loved it and still love it,” Smith said. “When I was a kid, he had scaled back and was doing it part time, but he used to take us to the matches with him. He was ‘a bad guy,’ so we weren’t allowed to tell the fans who our dad was. I still enjoy getting online and watching old videos of him.”
Smith also has positive thoughts about the East Tennessee music scene in general. “It’s so good and diverse, and it seems like there’s someone new and great popping up all the time,” he said. “Gosh, there are people at open mics that don’t really play out much but write songs you wouldn’t believe. We’re spoiled around here with all of the great original music.”
Those sentiments naturally spill over when he describes what audiences will hear at the band’s upcoming show at The Shed.
“They can expect a few new tunes,” Smith said. “We’ll be playing a few from our new album and some from the previous albums. Our former drummer, Lauryl Brisson, will be joining us for the first time in a few years. Josh Hutson and Marcus Balanky will be trading some lead guitar licks while Russ Torbett looks cooler than all of us. It’ll be a real ding dang of a hoedown.”
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