The washing machine starts the conversation.
The drummer steps from behind his kit, wraps his knuckles in athletic tape, grabs a baseball bat and goes Capone on the Maytag, crushing a tribal beat that gets heads nodding in the audience.
Then the words draw the listener in.
Dan Smith, eyes closed and head to the sky, commands the mic with the spirit of a Baptist preacher, each word a surgical fit. He speaks in tongue-twisting riddles and metaphors of wooden hearts and mountains that fall in love with glaciers. The beams of thoughts and images feel real enough to be taken literally.
The same audience, once lost in the cacophony of washing-machine percussion is now in the grip of Dan Smith’s anti-rap assault.
This is Listener live: A rock ’n’ roll talk music collaboration led by Smith’s menacing thoughtcast.
Running parallel with the emerging popularity of rap music and slam poetry in the early 2000s, Dan Smith has existed on the margins of both. His more-than-spoken-word-less- than-hip-hop nuances defy lyricism. The narrative is delivered in prose-heavy internal rhyme schemes that occasionally line up with the beat.
Smith got his start in a Christian hip-hop group called Deepspace5 that eventually evolved into Listener, nationally known for its series of home tours where they dragged their washing machine around to basement potlucks, warehouses and art galleries throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Listener’s pivotal “Ozark Empire” album drew critical praise in indie-music circles for its brash use of sampling fused with organic instrumentation and unabashedly raw delivery.
During the live show of the Ozark Empire tour, Smith would take on the persona of a traveling salesman, describing the various kitchen knives that were protruding from a large log on the stage.
Relocating from Arkansas to Colorado, connecting with bandmates Chris Nelson and Kris Rochelle, Smith’s Listener project grew legs in 2007 and has been perpetually touring while putting out albums.
The band’s latest recording, “Wooden Hearts,” has slow moving crescendos and avant-garde compositions that lace Smith’s recurring themes of vulnerability, strife and overcoming both.
Recently the trio began recording Listener’s ninth studio album, “Time is a Machine” slated for release this year.
In addition to Listener, Smith also works as a soloist and writer. On his blog, thedancesmyth.com, he has a Q&A column where he answers how-to questions for aspiring lyricists.