Vicious Petals is a band from Seattle, born of the longtime working relationship of songwriters and performers Ayako Okano and Cooper Smith. Both writers come from incredibly different musical backgrounds and converge. They have found that wonderful, collaborative place in musical language where differences allow for songs both beautifully haunting and strikingly powerful.
Main Street Lights, Vicious Petals’ first release, was recorded on two-inch tape at Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, WA in October 2015. In this span of songs, Smith brings his powerful and earnest voice forward with an equally deep range in his guitar. Both are wonderfully complemented, anchored, and (at times) put on a leash by Okano’s heartbreaking, virtuosic, and frequently fierce piano.
Born in Nagasaki, Japan, Okano began her musical journey in classical piano soon after moving from Tokyo to Seattle at age five. She continues to draw on the elements in her roots through refining and expanding her compositional repertoire. The results are tinged with hints of dramatic Romantic-era piano melodies, jazz, ragtime, gypsy, and psychedelic rock. Smith was born in Mobile, AL and raised in Memphis. His strongest musical influence was his mother’s voice, an instrument honed by her great aunt, who was an opera singer. Smith started classical guitar and piano young but soon left those studies to start his first rock band at the age of ten. He continued to play in the Memphis music scene until relocating to Seattle in 2002.
Okano and Smith met in 2009 while working together at an instrument shop. Smith was working as an amp tech and Okano asked him to work on her ‘66 Fender Bandmaster – a leap of faith for an owner of a vintage amp completely untouched in its workings. Smith fell in love with the amp, and Okano soon started taking lunches in the electronics shop, spending time with him talking about music, gear, and performing.
Both were frequently gigging musicians, and they eventually shared a bill at Seattle’s beloved and ancient dive bar, The Blue Moon. Impressed with each other’s performance abilities and respective melodic sense that night, the two soon began performing together in Okano’s band Wind-Up Bird. After learning more about each other as writers and performers, and wanting to dig deeper into each other’s creative well, the two sought a joint collaborative canvas.
Inspired by their shared love of old soul, jazz, classical, and the broad umbrella of offspring that comprise the scions of punk music, they formed a new eight-piece band that specialized in arrangements of songs from the 1920’s to 60’s. While they learned much from each other during a year of packed cabaret shows, they eventually disbanded that project to focus on personal writing endeavors. However, the draw to collaborate was too strong to resist, and the duo started writing original material together feverishly. The ideas became more cohesive, and Okano and Smith decided to name the project Vicious Petals.
Main Street Lights is an ambitious full-length album recorded with producer Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers) and engineer Jerry Streeter (Secret Sisters), featuring an all-star cast of Okano and Smith’s devoted collaborators from bands past. The arrangements are broad in their instrumentation, reflecting the duo’s ease working across genre and style. At times, they ring lush and vibrant with a four-piece horn section, at others powerful and pained with simple piano and voice, and still others, they build on the roots repertoire of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. Painting with a broad palette of tone and arrangement, Okano and Smith give each of their compositions the perfect framework for eloquent expression. “We recorded these songs in the most honest way possible, and in the technical style of the 60’s and 70’s, which we greatly admire,” explains Okano, “It’s an emotionally careening document for us.” Adding, Smith says, “Dark/light, love/lust, lies/retribution, belief and the cracks therein. We all have triumphs and failures. This album is our heartfelt love letter to that dichotomy of experience in life.”
Cooper Smith: vocals, guitar
Ayako Okano: piano, organ, keyboards
Scott Magill: bass
Michael Harper: drums, percussion
The VOYEURS HORNS
Kevin Slota: trumpet
Steve Cheng: alto saxophone
Mike Jauregui: trombone
Amelia Albert: baritone saxophone
On the Main Street Lights LP: Matt Sean Singer (drums, percussion, harmonica) // Ziko Tzolos (trombone)