A long and winding road for Sisters musician

 

Slater Smith, center, came up through the Americana Project at Sisters High School and has gone on to work internationally with his band The Weather Machine. PHOTO PROVIDED

In 2019, Slater Smith sat down with three very close friends to deliver some big news: He was planning to move to New Zealand. He wasn’t sure what their reactions would be. After all, they’d been performing music as a group for almost a decade. He was leaving because he was in love, and he and his partner were ready to go back to her home country. He explained that it was also for the adventure, that he would miss Portland, and that he hoped to visit often.

And then came the really hard part — he floated the idea of continuing The Weather Machine in New Zealand with Oceania-based musicians, effectively moving forward without them.

His bandmates’ response? “Hell yeah!”

Smith relates that, as true friends always are, Luke, Andre, and Tim were nothing but excited for him.

As the conversation went on, a plan began to take shape. They would make a record together before he left. Something splashy that would represent their last decade of time together on the road. Smith had about six months left in America, so they committed to touring the West Coast to workshop new material in front of live audiences. Instead of DIYing it, they planned to bring in a proper producer this time. In doing so, they hoped to finally capture the energy and magic their live shows had come to be known for.

It almost happened that way.

Instead, 2020 brought with it the COVID pandemic.

The Weather Machine canceled their shows.

Their producer could no longer safely fly out to Portland, so they had to cancel that as well.

Suddenly, music dried up all over the country and the world.

In the isolated quiet, Smith kept writing, but at more of a distance.

The songs that came out of the period carry a mix of emotions, as Smith reflected on his time as a singer-songwriter in an American context; all of the joy and hope, but also the anger at his home country’s systems, cultural letdowns, burning forests, and tough, dark days on the road.

In his songs, he found himself trying to express the dire need to feel and find hope that had gotten him this far, working through his own complex relationship with creativity and identity, vacillating between grief and gratitude every day.

Then a kind of miracle occurred. The team found themselves standing in Flora Studios three weeks before Smith was to fly overseas. Tucker Martine, who worked on some of the band’s absolute favorite records, was able to take the project on in the midst of the pandemic. In their little corner of the Pacific Northwest, working within a bubble, The Weather Machine carved out the sounds that would become their fourth studio album, “Applecore.”

The record is a far cry from The Weather Machine’s previous recorded work. Instead, it sounds much bigger. Applecore captures the energy, precision, and depth of the live show its members built over ten years together, and it will be a treat to any longtime fan or newcomer.

At first listen, these songs are fun. Tracks like “Protection” and “Boxes” contain cheeky musical reference to retro psychedelia while also remaining grounded in catchy pop rhythms. Songs like “Uncle John” and “Applecore Part II” revel in the gaudy arena rock its creators grew up on. Dig a little deeper though, and things become more bittersweet. Beneath the surface, Applecore is thematically rooted in questions about the soul, as Smith examines his own intentions and embedded biases in an America that he sees as both shadowy and sparkling. The creative contradiction is maybe best summed up in the final words of the record:

“The world’s gonna end, and when it does I want to be in it. In the dust and the rain and all of the negative space. And if the world’s gonna end, I want to be here with you in it, and not in my head.”

The Weather Machine will open for Hillstomp at The Belfry on Saturday, March 18, 7 p.m. The Belfry is located at 302 E. Main Ave. in Sisters. For more information visit https://belfryevents.com/event/hillstomp-w-the-weather-machine.

 

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