Sat, May 20 • 6:30PM
The Atlanta Room
MICHAEL C. SMITH / JORDAN ARMSTRONG
$8 AT DOOR
MICHAEL C SMITH
Michael C. Smith is a songwriter’s songwriter, creating lyrically-driven slices of the American experience uniquely rooted in the veins of each great vision of wanderlust that has come before him. Whether you hear Dylan, Waits, Williams or Cash when you listen to his work, you will pick out the pieces of the country that you know, feel its history under your feet and know the goodness of music crafted with heart and soul.
Though writing came easy to him, Smith wasn’t necessarily born into music. It was more of a peripheral, and an uncontrollable one filled with conflicting forces. Growing up in Gainesville, riding in his parent’s wood-paneled Chevrolet, sandwiched musically in between his parents’ country music on the car stereo and his brothers’ in the back, one with RATT on the ghetto blaster and the other listening to Duran Duran on the Walkman, Smith was exposed to a variety of musical forces. When he was young his oldest brother bought him a Sears Harmony electric guitar for $10. Smith took one lesson but he wasn’t disciplined enough to learn it at first. However, he did spend a lot of time writing. Starting around the 5th grade, poetry and short stories were being churned out on a regular basis.
“There are really two pivotal points that helped create my sound. Two cassette tapes; one being a "Nice Price" copy of "Highway 61" which I bought because I had enough money to get it and I had heard of Bob Dylan. That cassette was huge to me. It stayed in my player for a solid summer. I bought it during a summer vacation and I swear I went back to school a completely different person as a result of that purchase. The second one was John Mellencamp's "Big Daddy" record. It's a really dark record, no real hits; he didn't tour it or seem interested in trying to make anything big of it. He was so obviously being influenced by Appalachian and folk and country when he recorded it.”
Smith became sort of a musical detective as time went on; he spent time tracing the history of the music he liked, navigating the variuos roots of each genre. “Those two records pointed me in the right direction. Dylan says you should always trace music back to its oldest source material, so from those two I worked backward. Working backward from Mellencamp is where I really picked up Springsteen (which was like seeing for the first time), Steve Earle and from Dylan of course Woody Guthrie, A.P. Carter, Jimmie Rodgers, Son House, Robert Johnson... That's also when I really started paying attention to my parent's record collection. I picked up Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash,Willie Nelson and so forth from there. Even before music, I was fascinated by great story telling. Country music is built on just that.” It wasn’t until high school when Smith met a wannabe hippie characther named Justin Weeks that the idea of really making music started to formulate in his mind. Weeks’ heavy-handed Cat Steven’s style was a big influence on Smith. Always protesting, influenced equally by early Dylan and U2, Smith learned three chords and formed a band with Weeks called The Cosmic Folk Happening in 1995, even winning second place to Left Front Tire in a battle of the bands.
When Weeks moved away, Smith moved onto doing some acoustic gigs until forming Nomad with singer/songwriter Brandon Reeves, with Reeves playing guitar and Smith on vocals. They even made a record. But by 1999, Smith realized something: He couldn’t sing. Listening to the record they had created (a record Smith swears no one will ever hear) he realized he needed to learn how to sing properly.
What followed would come to be the most disciplined time in Smith’s life. He spent a long time crafting a true songwriter voice, one with an emphasis on storytelling, much like his much-loved Dylan. Smith started another band called Dixon Drive and began really paying attention, working in the studio of friend Bud Harris, a constant admirer of Smith’s work. Harris would continue to be instrumental in working with Smith, playing bass on Smith’s album Hands of the Wicked and working with Smith’s next band, Monogram 9, until 2005 when Smith decided to go solo, reintroducing the world to his newly-honed voice. In 2009 he formed Michael C. Smith and the Neighborhood, which lasted until 2011 when Smith once again returned to his solo career. His latest work, I Just Stole His Glasses (a joke referencing Smith’s resemblance to Elvis Costello), includes many live tracks recorded at Eddie’s Attic, giving the best impression of the Michael C. Smith experience.
Smith’s next album, the follow-up to Hands of the Wicked, will feature The Neighborhood’s, Chris Poma, Asher Armstrong’s Jordan Armstrong, and Erik Kasynski from the Tinsley Ellis touring band. When asked about his method for songwriting, Smith says when he’s working at it he writes every single day, sitting down at the guitar and writing from beginning to end, again and again, 3 to 5 times a day. Though most of these aren’t up to par, eventually he gets a good song out of it. Smith realizes that, even though that seems like a lot, he’s essentially doing it how anyone else would, subconsciously filtering down bulk material to the finished work happening on the page. His subject matter has matured over time but his style of songwriting has stayed consistent.
Smith believes that a great song can be great for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a beat- Billie Jean’s bass line gives the song such immunity it could be about socks and people would still be dancing, sometimes it’s all about melody. Sometimes it’s due to an emotion conveyed powerfully enough, or with enough conviction in the lyric, by someone who has something to say. And, like much of Smith’s music, sometimes it just happens to be all of those things. One thing remains clear and consistent throughout his entire body of work: the emotion is always more important than any technical aspect. Feeling over form, emotion over motion. Michael C Smith has a lot to say…and I for one, hope he always will.