Detroit. Memphis. Philly. These are the cities that are usually affiliated with soul music. But soul comes with all kinds of accents, Midwestern ones included. And in Des Moines, Dustin Smith and his band, The Maytags, are making a brand of soul that’s all their own.
After studying and playing jazz in New York for several years, “soul is something I have come to just love,” Smith says. Before soul, though, came a folky, singer-songwriter album, penned in his New York apartment between nights spent hauling his drums around the city, going from gig to gig. But for all the charms and variety the city had to offer, it was his hometown of Des Moines where Smith began to nurture a love for soul music. The musician returned there after the death of his father (about which he penned a second folky EP in 2009) before taking a hard left turn and forming a 9-piece outfit called The Sunday Silos. Their 2012 album, Northerner was where Smith began exploring new styles, including soul.
Now, with a stripped-down ensemble, Smith’s current project The Maytags have penned a new EP,Nova, with an ear for “that Motown Stax early stuff,” a natural songwriting style and a respect for the propelling power of a horn section. In the Spring of 2014 Nova was birthed in Nashville’s The Bomb Shelter Studio, where Alabama Shakes, Jay Reatard, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Benjamin Booker, Natural Child, and more have recorded. The EP was recorded to all to analog tape, giving it the sonic warmth of classic soul recordings.
“Soul musicians, they can talk about Sunday dinner in the middle of summer or a heartbreaking love song and either way it is a very natural style of music. There’s no way you can lie with it,” Smith says. The Maytag’s style of soul is unhurried and understated, trading bombastic vocal antics and outsize personas for a relaxed delivery surely informed by Smith’s time writing folky songs on his guitar. The arrangements are spacious, giving top billing to the vocals and buttressed with well-placed harmonies, tight drums and meaty bass and, of course, those boisterous horns.
This easy-going style leaves room for an audience to help set the tone of each live performance. The musicians take cues from each other, finding sweet spots during shows and running with them, making each show its own dynamic experience. With this new EP under their belts and a slew of fall tour dates to show it off, The Maytags are poised to make audiences reconsider soul’s relationship to the Midwest.