Who needs a band? Not the Loop Ninja
It starts with a simple, lively acoustic riff. A pair of beatbox measures are layered in to form a backbone. Next comes a dance-rock synth melody, followed by another percussive layer of snare drum and hi-hat.
Tony Smiley then silences it all for a second, slides a bass guitar note up and down the neck, and brings the whole concoction back with an additional jazz-funk bassline. He then picks up the acoustic guitar, shreds a few Hendrix-esque bars with help from a distortion pedal, and launches into the lyrics: “I wish for everything that you want, that you can get from me / well I’m still trying to figure out just who, just who I’m supposed to be ... .”
So goes the unfolding of Smiley’s entry in the 2010 National Boss Loop Contest (the inaugural competition) in Hollywood. Also known as the Loop Ninja, he took third place in the competition, a showing that has led to many sponsorships and promotional opportunities.
His one-man band does the job of an entire rock outfit. He dances around the stage, surrounded by instruments and looping equipment, stacking musical pieces on top of one another.
The inspiring progressive loops and hip-hop roots, in Smiley’s own words, have earned the Hood River native something of a cult following in the Northwest. He has been performing since 2000, making a full-time job of it for the past eight years.
“I love what I do for sure. I love it — I get to make a living doing it,” he said.
He also heads up the Urban Sub All-Stars, a funk, soul and hip-hop supergroup with a rotating cast, including guitarist Wil Kinky, trumpeter Max Widmer, saxophonist Morgan Quinn, and emcees MOsley WOtta and Redwood Son and others.
“I just get to sit back and do looping and make up grooves,” Smiley said. “I get to be the heartbeat, the nucleus.”
Part of the magic of Smiley’s act is his relentless energy. He will jam through a rock-rap version of Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” before a sedate dinner crowd just as he would on stage in front of thousands.
He will play the Paragon Room at Hotel Oregon on Saturday. It’s one of the small-room gigs that has helped pay his bills for years, but one he may be leaving behind.
“The smaller gigs are becoming less and less,” he said. “They’re great; they have treated me really well over the years. But at this stage I’m looking to perform more of a show than just a gig, more of an experience rather than just a background.”
On July 28, Smiley will have one of those experiences with a solo show at the Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend.
But even in a coffee shop or dark corner of a bar, watching him whip up electro-acoustic musical creations before of your very eyes is an awesome experience. He has four albums of original material to work with, and a lifetime of favorites to cover — he has a knack for giving new life to ’80s tunes like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” or The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”
“I just try to keep evolving, adding new instruments and reconfiguring the types of songs I perform,” he said.
His show will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday on the ground floor at McMenamins Hotel Oregon. For more information, visit www.tonysmiley.net.
Contact Ossie Bladine at firstname.lastname@example.org.