Smooth Hound Smith’s sound is about as roadhouse-ready as it gets. A primal bass-and-snare-drum thump provides the rhythm, a distorted six-string provides the riffs, and vocalists Zach Smith and Caitlin Doyle provide the vocals, either singing in ragged harmony or doing some sassy call-and-response over their surprisingly flexible acoustic-electric stomp blues.
What’s most fascinating is that Smith and Doyle do all of it themselves onstage. Doyle sings and plays percussion while Smith handles the drums, guitars, harmonica, and even the occasional banjo. It’s a surprisingly full sound from just two people, and it’s one that they’ve honed over 500 shows in the last three years.
It’s a formula they can stretch, too. On their most recent album, 2016’s “Sweet Tennessee Honey,” Smooth Hound Smith can handle rockin’ electric blues, mournful acoustic balladry, and burbling alt-country, all within the confines of their two-person blueprint.
The band formed five years ago in Los Angeles after Smith, who’d conceived the project and was playing as a one-man band, sat in with Doyle’s group. “I hadn’t really been playing live that much,” Smith says. “I’d just been recording. But we met through a mutual friend and I’d play upright bass with her band.”
Smith moved to Nashville, Tenn., shortly afterwards, and it was only then, “after I moved 2,000 miles away,” he says with a laugh, that he and Doyle began to sense a personal and musical connection.
“She came to visit me and played a few shows with me and it blossomed from there,” Smith says. “We ended up going on our first tour and moving in together.”
Doyle adds, “The relationship and the band happened simultaneously.”
Other than a few early shows with an extra mandolin player or fiddle player, the two-piece lineup was the plan from the beginning, if only for economic reasons. “We spent a lot of cold winters and hot summers sleeping in a van on the road to save money,” Smith says. “We looked at the gigs we’d be able to book, being a completely unknown band, and realized we couldn’t afford to do it with a four-piece or even a three-piece.”
The stomp-blues sound that the duo uses as their foundation was there from the beginning, too. “I’ve always loved that country blues with that heavy backbeat to it,” Smith says. “I wanted to be able to walk into any bar or listening room and set up my drums and my amp and have the two of us be able to entertain any loud, unruly crowd and win them over. And the way to do that was to have heavy beats that the crowd can swing their hips to.”
For their first, self-titled album, which was released in 2013, Smith wrote all of the songs, but he says they weren’t really complete until Doyle added to the arrangements and helped him create the vocal harmonies. “It’s amazing what harmony or a short bridge can do to make something feel like a complete song,” he says. “It’s a lot more than just a guy with kick drums and guitar.”
Smooth Hound Smith
Artisphere WYFF-4 Main Stage