“I’ve always been drawn to music. I had a little keyboard as a kid, and I could kind of just play by ear songs that I heard,” says Sean Scanlon, front man of the heavily streamed indie pop group Smallpools, in a recent phone interview. “My mom thought that was pretty cool. So, they got me a piano, and I took some lessons.”
Smallpools’ sound is quirky yet familiar. The band’s songs carry the emotion and new age electronic production of Glass Animals and the danceability of MGMT.
Scanlon and lead guitarist Mike Kamerman met “back in the Myspace days.” They were both East Coast guys, and their respective bands had toured together a few times. Kamerman resided in New Jersey, and Scanlon was in New York. The pair began to build some musical chemistry and decided to take it seriously.
“After going to each other’s places and writing songs…we decided to go make a L.A. life change and see if we could do it for real,” says Scanlon. “We got out there, got some crappy jobs for about a year or so, and then we met a few people, and the chemistry started to kind of come together. The songs were getting a little better each day.”
Smallpools’ journey is a complex one. The band initially signed with RCA, but Scanlon and his bandmates didn’t get the freedom that they wanted there. The band then recorded several singles and a couple of EPs under a deal with “artist-friendly” label Kobalt Music Group.
Smallpools’ sophomore album, Life in a Simulation, which came out last month, was released independently. The quality of music, however, hasn’t suffered since the band left RCA.
Some of Smallpools’ most successful songs like fan-favorite “Passenger Side” and “Million Bucks,” which is hovering around 44 million streams on Spotify, were born immediately after the departure from the label.
Life in a Simulation is every bit as much of a burst of creative energy as Lovetap!, the band’s 2015 debut record with RCA.
“Our process is like, kind of shout out a bunch of gibberish that sounds cool, that sounds like it can sing well, and then see if we can build a story off of the words that we said,” says Scanlon.
Smallpools’ writing process is a very collaborative one, which is done exclusively in joint studio sessions. The band has found that they are better off together than writing solo.
“I think that everyone fills in the pieces where other people lack that day,” says Scanlon. “Like there will be a missing line or two that I couldn’t think about at all, and then Mike will throw something that I would’ve never gone towards, but it makes sense, and it fits. And then, I’m like okay, I can now add onto that idea. It’s like helping each other along the whole journey.”
The title track “Simulation” was inspired by the craziness that was the global pandemic peaking in 2020.
“Everything was so weird at the time,” says Scanlon. “And, I mean, life is already weird, without all the other weird stuff, so we just thought it was amusing, with the life in a simulation concept. And then, a lot of the songs were sounding science fiction-y, so we would kind of lean into that with some sounds.”
“Life of the Party,” however, is the new track that Scanlon is most excited to play live. He thinks it has the potential to translate just as well as the band’s first ever hit single, “Dreaming.”
“Each song does certain things live, we notice,” says Scanlon. “Something about either the tempo or vibe of ‘Dreaming’… no matter how the show was before, everyone’s going up and down. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like “Life of the Party’ might have a cool bounce to it like that.”
How songs will translate live and how they will soundtrack fans everyday lives are two things that are on the mind during a Smallpools studio session. Scanlon and his bandmates strive to create the kind of music that makes the day better or helps people get through tough times.
“You’re always trying to just imagine it different places, like the live setting, a TV show, or someone driving in their car,” says Scanlon.
The band channels all kinds of life experiences into their music to get the most genuine result.
“The world is crazy; we’re writing about the world,” says Scanlon. “This relationship is not gonna work or is gonna work…You’re watching it all happen. And you’re taking notes. And you’re putting it to song.”
Throughout all the ups and downs of Smallpools’ journey to becoming the established indie pop act it is today, the band has remained grounded.
“We’re just average musicians trying to make the best songs possible,” says Scanlon.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.