My introduction to Smoochie Wallus was at the August First Friday night at Mainline. I found myself amongst the frenzy of moving nightlife in the Brady Arts District. Paintings by Zac Heimdale and others adorned the walls of the crowded venue. The audience sat anticipating the night’s headlining band, Smoochie Wallus.
Within the first few seconds of the band’s opening song, lead vocalist Delaney Zumwalt, with the controlled conviction of Nina Simone, lifted the audience to their feet singing. "The only thing you ought to do is feel the music move over you," she said. Couples began swing dancing.
Smoochie Wallus consists of Zumwalt, Olivia McGraw on violin, David Hernandez on guitar, Jesus Valles on bass, and drummer Jonathan Rodriguez. They’re almost a throwback to the early jazz of the roaring ‘20s, but mixed with bluegrass harmonies, and the soul of blues greats, like, Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.
It was like stepping into one of Woody Allen’s films that leaves you nostalgic, impressed with a particular feeling of place or time.
The five were set up in front of a large painting, titled "Breathe Rhythmically," that resembled two souls combined in a breath. Aesthetically, the band was as much a piece of art as the painting behind them. Zumwalt was the brightest of the five: yellow top, a flower patterned red dress, and a smile that never ceased even in the bluest of songs. Tall and almost fragile, McGraw was draped in a dress matching the blue jazz drum kit that flat-cap-wearing Rodriguez played. Towering over the others was Valles with clothes matching his long black hair, and bearded face. Opposite Valles stood his cousin, Hernandez, wearing dark sunglasses and playing a Gretsch hollow-body guitar. He owned the musical style of great French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, but with Hernandez’s Latin heritage, he’d formed a unique style of his own.
"I really love minor chords," Hernandez said. "The sad chords."
"Most [of the songs] are either clave-based or swing," Rodriguez said. "The only straight ahead bossa-nova song is our Elvis cover."
Blending originals and covers in a Smoochie Wallus set is common practice for the group. One example is the band’s combination of "Bronx Lullaby" by Tom Waits and "Summertime" by George Gershwin.
"As cliche as it might sound, we want to make music and have fun," McGraw said.
That evening, McGraw also sang lead on the band’s version of "Can’t Help Falling In Love," showing her role in the band is more than just a violinist who "swoops in and plays," as Zumwalt put it.
"Anything that I’m involved with musically is collaborative," Zumwalt said. "We all feed off of each other."
"I write words separately, and a lot of times what will happen is David will be like, ‘send some words,’ and then David and Jon will finish a song."
She went on to describe how the band formed just over a year ago.
"It was all David. I met him when I moved back to Tulsa. I went to his other band’s show and sang a little with them [that night]. The next day David called and asked if I wanted to come over and work on a couple songs he’d written with his cousin, and that was the first Smoochie practice."
"At first it was just me and David," said Valles. "We didn’t have the name yet. We said let’s get Delaney on this cause she has a really beautiful voice. Then we added Olivia and finally Jon was the last person on drums."
"I’d been friends with David for a while," Rodriguez said. "He plays in Brujoroots ... and they were going through a time where they were talking about taking a bit of a break, but David wanted to do something else. I mainly play guitar, and at practice I didn’t think another guitar was even necessary. I figured it needed something ... percussive, ya know? It worked and from that point on we’ve been together. It’s been a wild ride."
With acts of all genres coming up in Tulsa, there’s no shortage of great bands with great names: Brujoroots, Cucumber and the Suntans, Count Tutu, GoGo Plumbay. Add Smoochie Wallus to that list.
As for the story behind their name?
"We like to keep that to ourselves," Valles said. "Google it, if you haven’t."
His lone hint: "TV show."
It’s less hard to dream up who the band’s influences might be, but stamping Smoochie Wallus to any one artist just isn’t possible.
"Oh my gosh, all the greats. Aretha Franklin, Etta James," Zumwalt said.
Those legends are apparent in Zumwalt’s style and show in the Smoochie track "Spinning."
McGraw is also a fan of the greats, specifically Duke Ellington. But don’t assume they’re completely immersed in the past. Local Natives and Father John Misty are influences as well.
The band has released three songs on their official website: "Sully’s Lament," "Spinning," and "When Ya Swing." All were recorded in an undisclosed location in Tulsa by Brian Keller.
"[Keller] has helped us out a lot and asked very little in return," Valles said. "We’re looking to
have a full-length out by the end of the year."
McGraw added that they "have been booking as many shows as possible and talking about touring."
"We want to make it our own, ya know?" Hernandez said. He elaborated and gave credit to his drummer, Rodriguez: "It was Jon that said if you aren’t doing something different, you aren’t doing anything."
Catch Smoochie Wallus on August 18 at 8 p.m. at Lefty’s On Greenwood, 10 N. Greenwood Ave.