Chris Smither Discusses New Music at Newport Folk Festival
Chris Smither talks about how he is creating new material after an over 50-year career… What keeps him going?
By ISABELLE GILLIBRAND
August 7, 2018
On a hot and muggy day two of Newport Folk Festival, Chris Smither played a set with another artist, Matt the Electrician, on the Museum Stage. Many people piled into the small venue to grab a seat and escape the oppressive humidity, but soon found themselves to be captivated by the lyrics and comforted by the acoustic guitar. Smither performed like he was right at home.
This may be because Smither has performed at Newport Folk Festival several times throughout his 52-year career. He got his start when he was a teenager in the 1960s, a time when songwriters like Bob Dylan began to create waves. He was influenced by country blues singers including Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt. To begin his career professionally, Smither went to Boston, a major city for the blues music scene at the time, for what was supposed to be a summer. Little did he know that it would be the start of a lengthy career.
Over the course of his career, Smither has released over 80 songs and 18 albums, including his latest album, Call Me Lucky, which was released in March of 2018 from Signature Sounds. After years of no releases, Smither felt it was time to begin a new project. He started working on ideas for songs, and looking for a studio to record. According to Smither, he found the perfect one.
“We wound up doing [it at a] really nice place about thirty miles Southeast of Austin, Texas. It’s out in the old country, gorgeous, state-of-the-art studio, but perfectly isolated. No distractions. We did nothing but work for ten days straight,” said Smither. The isolation not only produced a disc of new recordings, but also a second disc of selected covers- of his own first track.
“The covers were done in the studio [and] it was just kind of a goof, just saying, ‘Hey man, what if we did this as a punk rock song?’ Then we put it together that way… The fast songs we would do slow, [we] would change the key, change the tempo. We were just goofing around, but the more we did it the more we kept thinking, ‘You know, maybe people should actually hear this’ … so we included it.”
Smither is well-known for including covers on most of his albums. In his opinion, “… there are so many great songs out there… it seems a shame to leave them alone, particularly if you have an idea.” On past albums he has covered songs by everyone from the Grateful Dead to Chuck Berry. Smither enjoys reinventing songs to make them new again, and this type of creativity is what continues to make him an influence throughout the years.
After years of personal experience, Smither had a few words of advice for musicians trying to breakthrough professionally.
“First thing to do is remember that it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. Another thing that I was told very early was the only reason to do anything in the arts is because you have to. So you gotta ask yourself, “Do I have to do this? Is this a requirement for my soul?” [It] probably is or you wouldn’t be asking yourself the question, but it’s a good question to keep asking yourself,”
Smither also offered some practical advice. He suggested that musicians always take the opportunity to play their music in front of crowd. Lastly, he reminded musicians of an important lesson as they gain recognition.
“And don’t step on people on your way up… They’ll be stepping on you on your way down.”
Smither continues to follow his own advice; he now does only what he wants to when it comes to his music to make it as enjoyable as possible. He has cut back on performances, due to wanting to spend time at home and not travel during the New England winter, but he says he doesn’t plan to halt his career anytime soon.
“This is what makes me happy.” said Smither.
You can listen to Chris Smither’s new album Call Me Lucky on major streaming services including Spotify, or purchase it on his website and iTunes.