Two-person bands are truly in a class by themselves. In rock ‘n’ roll (especially of the garage punk variety), they have the distinction of creating music that sounds larger than it is. Unlike a one-man band, who as the sole person, simplistically executes the talent within their sole body, the duo must convince the listener that what they’re about to hear will be a display of musicianship that doesn’t need a third member, turning them into a trio. This forces them to work much harder, and depending on the instrumentation, it challenges the twosome to inaugurate a sound that’s more complex than the clangin’ and bangin’ of the Scott H. Biram wannabees found on Southern street corners. From the more popular examples such as the White Stripes, Flat Duo Jets, and the (especially early) Black Keys, to the more underground kind like the Creeping Ivies, Horror Deluxe, and the Copper Gamins, two-person bands can achieve a level of aural satisfaction when the two people in question form an almost telepathic bond with each other, resulting in a musical marriage that can pull off feats of rockin’ wonderment. One such band that’s delivering this one-two punch is Philadelphia’s own Instant Smile…
Guitarist Greg Phoenix began his self-discovering journey plying his trade in numerous rockabilly outfits with his ’63 Guild Starfire. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, he was a member of the New Jersey-based psychobilly outfit Speed Crazy, bucking the “modern rock explosion” and playing to crowds (or rather, hordes) of like-minded folks who were sick of Nickleback and Staind cover bands. In 2008, Greg formed the “swingabilly” group Delco Nightingale with future Instant Smile partner Erin Berry, releasing EPs and full length albums, most notably “Swingin’ the King” which featured covers of Elvis Presley songs. Once that band dissolved, Greg and Erin decided to challenge themselves by soldiering on as a two piece. Plowing through their record collections for inspiration, they emerged as the Greg Phoenix Experience, showcasing their love of ’60s garage, rockabilly, and the Cramps. With Erin’s Keith Moon-channeling drum talents and Greg’s trademark style of twang, the duo birthed the “Penthouse Sessions” EP in 2015, followed by “Three Sides” the following year. Putting in appearances at notable North Carolina-based music festivals such as the Heavy Rebel Weekender and Elvisfest, as well as becoming an integral part of Philadelphia’s underground music scene, the Greg Phoenix Experience had become a must-see act. Honing their skills and experimenting more, Greg and Erin began changing their musical direction, leaning more into prog rock and psychedelia territory, yet keeping their other much-loved genres close at hand. With a new year (2017) came a new attitude and a new name, as the news was announced on February 28 via Facebook that the Greg Phoenix Experience was now Instant Smile.
Currently, Instant Smile has two singles up on their Bandcamp page (which were posted on March 1). “Eight Year Itch”, an ode to moving on, is an interesting mashup of late ’70s/circa 1980 New York style no wave with a prog/psych rock flirtation. Erin’s drumming compliments Greg’s guitar playing very nicely, making you forget that there’s only two people playing on this. It starts out slow, but builds up to an uptempo crescendo with a groovin’ beat that’s a nice ride. Their other tune, “Night Shift”, keeps the garage punk flag flying with its maniacal Dexter Romweber/Lux Interior homages, harkening back to Greg’s psychobilly roots. Just listening to both of these makes one wonder where Instant Smile will go next. As serious music buffs, it’s clearly obvious that there’s no ceiling in their record vault which is clearly a treasure trove of inspiration. From the Greg Phoenix Experience to Instant Smile, they’ve run the gamut with post-punk, surf, garage, rockabilly/psychobilly, prog rock, no wave, and psychedelia. Not afraid to go above and beyond in genre-crossing, it’ll be very interesting to see what the future holds for these two. And judging by their exceptional experimentation, their (hopefully) soon-to-be released material will surely put an Instant Smile on your face.
The Greg Phoenix Experience-“Nothing’s Wrong”:
The Greg Phoenix Experience-“Barbie’s On the BBQ”:
Instant Smile-“Eight Year Itch”:
You can purchase “Eight Year Itch” and “Night Shift” on Bandcamp.
All of the recordings under the Greg Phoenix Experience can also be purchased on Bandcamp.
Instant Smile can also be found on Soundcloud.
Keep up to date with all Instant Smile news on Facebook.