Cullen Omori knows it’s a false cliché to say there are no second acts in American lives, but, after the 2014 breakup of his acclaimed band the Smith Westerns, living that cliché was his greatest fear. His solo debut, New Misery, is a direct challenge to that anxiety: an album that goes beyond the glam punch of the Smith Westerns to new sounds, new sources of inspiration, and greater self-awareness.
“I had this overwhelming feeling that perhaps the apex of my life as a musician and as an individual would be relegated to five years in my late teens/early 20s,” says Omori, who launched into the music industry when the Smith Westerns, who started in high school in Chicago, became fast-rising indie stars. “This fear really forced me to work hard as to not see the Smith Westerns as an end but as a point along a bigger trajectory.”
While New Misery grew out of a difficult personal and professional time for Omori, he says the title reflects “not so much the distress that comes with failure, but the troubles and complexities that come with any type of success. No matter what you get you're going to want more, you're going to want something different. That’s the catch.”
Synths play a much larger role in Omori’s new music than in the Smith Westerns’ guitar-fueled rock, as do a wide range of influences including Roxy Music, INXS, Spiritualized, Wilco, Garbage, Hall & Oates, Kate Bush, U2, and Sparks. There’s also a more deliberate pop streak, inspired by the top-40 radio that would play while Omori worked at a medical supply company cleaning stretchers and wheelchairs.
Along with Omori, New Misery features additional bass and keyboards from Ryan Mattos, drums from Loren Humphrey, and James Richardson on guitar. But unlike with the more distributed roles within the Smith Westerns, Omori wrote, played, and oversaw nearly every part of the new album, beginning a true new chapter of his long-term creative growth.