I’ve been doing very well, thanks! Very excited to have this record released soon, and in the meantime lying on the couch and reading art history books a lot. It’s making for a very nice summer.
Can you talk to us more about your song “Beautiful Noise”?
While rummaging through thrift-store vinyl I noticed Robbie Robertson’s name emblazoned across the cover of a Neil Diamond record, announcing him as the producer. I was familiar enough with the Band to be confused and intrigued so I purchased the album Beautiful Noise for 25 cents.
I had not given Neil a listen before and was startled by the depth of feeling and conviction that he imparted on what was on face value a rather bombastic and trite song. He somehow made the trope of “music in the air of the city finding its way into the heart of the songwriter” seem fresh. As it turned out Robbie Robertson’s production was typical of the big studio over-reaching crassness of the period. Somehow I loved it anyway. The song fell into constant rotation on my “drinking wine and DJ’ing for myself” playlist. Eventually, I found myself putting it on at parties for friends. Finally, I started playing the dang thing myself and it ended up being the opening track on my album. Go figure.
Your new album is called The Way I Feel – what’s the story behind the title?
“The Way I Feel” is a song written by George Jones and Roger Miller. It has a combination of assertive swagger and pathetic hopelessness that rings my bell. I love exercises in futility.
How was the recording and writing process?
My writing process involves sitting on the couch with a guitar and strumming ‘til some chords stick. Then humming a melody and waiting for the words to show up.
What was it like to work with Andy Gibson and how did that relationship develop?
Andy is the Han Solo of recording engineers. He somehow makes a bucket of bolts fly from point A to point B when it shouldn’t even be able to get off the ground. I met Andy through Greg Garing. Greg is an old buddy of mine who had worked with Andy on and off over the years and we just ended up stumbling over to Andy’s place to say “howdy” shortly after I moved to Nashville. It turned out that Andy and I have a mutual friend (Dan Schwartz) in Seattle, from where I had just moved. Dan played bass with me in Seattle and also toured with Hank III, for whom Andy played lap-steel for 12 years. The rest is history.
How much did he get to influence the album?
Tons. He plays all over the record and was the primary set of ears for the production. I would just say “How about blah-blah-blah…” every once in a while. He also introduced me to Billy Contreras who plays fiddle on the record and who also toured with George Jones for years doing the same.
What role does Nashville play in your writing?
Nashville is the best place to hear countless great songwriters supported by fantastic musicians. The most important thing I’ve learned from them is that you have to find your own voice and your own words to say the things you want to say. If you’re lazy about your song-craft here you can sing as pretty as you like but it’ll be as boring as the DMV.
Does your musical experience from the 90s still influence your music?
Even though I was into a lot of punk/noise/experimental stuff then I was already spending a lot of time listening to George Jones and Gram Parsons. I hope that my openness to other sounds has helped me to produce something a little fresh in the world of country/roots music.
What aspect of hope did you get to explore on this record?
Hoping to finish the darn thing…Hopes and fears knit the whole thing together from start to finish.
What else is happening next in Charlie Smyth’s world?
Thinking about opening a gallery to show my paintings and other visual works. Perhaps using it as an intimate performance space as well.