Just as family voices are harmonically blessed, so are those of soul mates. Two singers rise and fall like birds on a mission, dangle off the edges of pauses and take flight together with no discussion. For those with ears to hear, they add zing to any pot they’re stirred into.
Case in point: The Smoking Flowers’ Kim and Scott Collins. With two albums under their belt and another in the bullpen, the duo plays about 100 dates a year all over the country. At a recent show in front of a healthy knot of enthusiasts at The Basement East, they commanded proceedings with a set that was by turns raucous and delicate.
Looking alternative-handsome to the bone in jeans and a T-shirt with a shock of long curly hair encroaching his eyes, Scott plays a Gretsch through a giant Fender amp while his manful baritone nestles inside the power chords. Kim, meanwhile, is dressed in white, with long dark hair, a gentle high lonesome voice, and a winsome beauty that belies how she leans into her drum kit with a fair bit of John Bonham whomp and thud.
(Speaking of Bonham, she was considered by his former Led Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant for his Band of Joy project, a role that eventually went to Patty Griffin.)
Whereas many electric guitar/drums duos err on the side of noise, The Smoking Flowers tone it down often enough to great effect. At times, Kim will move out from behind her drum kit and pick from a menagerie of other instruments — mandolin, accordion, harmonica — while Scott moves over to acoustic guitar, and they share a microphone center stage. On this night, they pull out an inspired cover choice, blending their voices, the accordion, and acoustic guitar in a trip through (of all things) Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” managing to find an Appalachian folk song inside of that ’80s chestnut.
Sitting on a couch sipping merlot, the husband/wife duo expound on their live sound. “I play drums, accordion, guitar, and tambourine,” Kim says. “So it’s funny. It’s quite a challenge at times, especially when we’re limited on time on a set, just running around, making sure I know where I’m going next and making it flow. But it works, and it’s entertaining for the viewers as well, just watching it. Because — no offense to those duos just standing around playing guitar — it just adds to the nontypical married duo.”
“We try to still bring the same kind of show you’d get with a four-piece band, but with two people,” Scott says. “We’re trying to give that arc of experience. And regularly people come to us and say they don’t feel like they’re missing anything. It sounds big when we’re both singing and both playing something.”
Their second album, 2 Guns, is a panoply of Americana country and rock & roll goodness. “Golden State” and “Young Mind” are deftly crafted exuberance, while “Pistol Whip” is unbridled rockabilly that sounds like a train that could derail at any moment. “The Juggler” comes from a grittier, Neil Young-type of place — Young is Scott’s primary musical influence. “Heart Darker” isn’t terribly far removed from modern country (in a good way). “The Wrong Kind of Man” is unadulterated, whiskey-drinking honky tonk. And the chiming acoustics of “Something I Said” betray the odd Beatles chord change and a wall of sound worthy of the man who invented it. One thing that is constant is the impression that one is listening to a duo: two instruments and two voices. There is quite often much more than that going on in the mix, but the sonic appearance of a two people is
As far as the Collinses are concerned, 2 Guns is yesterday’s news. Recorded in 2011, it was not released until two years later because right around the projected January 2012 release date, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The next year was dominated 24/7 with confronting all the challenges — medical and emotional — that are inherent in cancer battles. All talk of record releases and touring fell by the wayside for a year, and during that time, Kim launched an all-out investigation into alternative cancer treatments.
Aside from a surgery, Kim’s approach to her cancer was entirely holistic. “I investigated a lot and did a lot,” she says. “I had several different protocols, and they were steps along the way, because with holistic therapy, it’s good to do several different treatments, not just one, because you never know what’s going to work.”
“When you do more than one, it supercharges,” Scott adds.
She adopted an entirely raw food diet. “That was probably the biggest thing,” she says. Along the way, she took doses of vitamin B17 and Protocell, a known cancer killer in the holistic world. She eschewed the very notion of chemo. “I don’t buy the traditional therapy of putting poison in your body and depleting your immune system,” she says. “That’s never made any sense
“That’s why recurrence is so common,” Scott notes. “Most people choose traditional therapies, and you’ll obliterate the cancer cells and tumors, but you’ll obliterate everything else as well, and then you go back to the same lifestyle that may have contributed to it. You don’t make changes, and it’s going to come back. You’ve got to change the environment.”
With the help of a benefit gig and the support of many friends, Kim could afford taking the natural path that led back to health. “It was beyond my wildest dreams,” she says of the helping hands. “I knew I had friends here, but I had no idea.” Her cancer went in remission (and has stayed that way), and in 2013, 2 Guns was finally released, just in time for the duo to have a whole new group of songs they were enthused about.
The completed new record — whose working title is Young & Brave — leans a little more toward rock than its predecessor. It is often a shade starker and covers a lot of musical territory. “Snowball Out of Hell” carries a strong whiff of John Lennon’s minimalist Plastic Ono Band period. “Outlive Me” bursts out of the speakers like early U2. Like much Nashville music, their voices have a hint of twang that sits inside otherwise alternative rock or dirty blues soundscapes. The quiet and mournful “One Friend” fully embraces mountain music, and “Woodland Avenue” recounts the story of Nashville’s rapidly evolving East Side. “Heart Before the Head” could send the fussiest baby to sleep.
While 2 Guns was a self-released affair, the duo seeks to shop the new one. “We have a couple of labels that might be interested in this, and it would be good to have it off our plate,” Scott says.
“The last one was pretty hardcore,” Kim adds. “We were DIY to the max. There were some good things and positive feelings that came out of it, but the literal work was eating into creative time. It really is worth it when you see what you can do, and I think 2 Guns did really well considering what we were working with financially, but we’re not business people. It felt good, but I don’t want to do it again. I’ve checked it off my
Born and raised in the small river town of Sikeston, Mo., Scott is a college graduate with a degree in theoretical physics, a field of study he decidedly didn’t pursue in the workforce. He wound up in New York with a guitar and a dream. Kim is from south of New Orleans by way of the mountains in East Tennessee. She found her way to Nashville in the early ’90s and became a veteran of the local scene with her band, Kim’s Fable.
They met in the fall of 1998, and sparks flew in about as much time as it takes to say hello. Scott was new in town and looking for a job when he came into 12th & Porter, where Kim was day manager. She took one look and hired him instantly — no interview, no application. He was initially just staying in town for an extended visit to check out the scene. The day after she hired him, Kim went to California for a month. The day she came back, Scott had one more day to work before he went back to NYC. He asked her out, she said yes, and they went out. He then went back to New York, cleaned out his apartment, broke up his band, and moved to Nashville for good. They were engaged within six months and married within a year.
For years, Scott played with his brother, Justin, in Pale Blue Dot, while Kim still had Kim’s Fable going. She joined Pale Blue Dot as a utility player — mandolin, accordion, vocals, etc. — much like her role in The Smoking Flowers, a project that was formed as a lark.
“It was all so effortless, and it was crystal clear to us that this is what we needed to be doing,” Scott says of the side project that quickly took preeminence.
“We didn’t really focus on it much until my diagnosis,” Kim adds. “It was oddly timed, I think on a broader level. It made me just go, ‘You know what? I’m not waiting around anymore. Life is short. Let’s just go out and
DO this!’ ”