I honestly can’t remember how I discovered the music of Boston based Elisa Smith but I’m so glad I did! Her EP ” Hitch A Ride ” was released last year and has been a constant feature on my “favourites “playlist ever since. So when I heard of her next venture, I decided it was time to reach out and discover more about both the artist and her music…….I love her answers to my questions, which include talking about her grandmother ( who sound like an incredible lady! ), overcoming stage fright thanks to help from a country music superstar and her love of writing about strong women. I hope you enjoy our e-chat and will check out her music for yourself!
1. You describe your music as “rock and roll country” and I can definitely hear the influences of both! How did your love of these genres come about, and which artists in particular have shaped your sound?
My dad is a musician and my earliest memories are of me crawling into his guitar case with all my stuffed animals, listening to him play guitar. He loves classic rock – Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Neil Young, The Who, Santana are some of his favorites (all of which he took me to see live before the age of 10). I remember riding in his bright red jeep with the windows down in the summer time, going to get ice cream, and blasting the music from these artists as loud as he could while he clapped and sang along. It’s hard not to fall in love with classic rock n roll when you have such fond memories attached to the music. On the country side of things, I was influenced by my grandmother. She absolutely loved country music and would travel to Nashville all the time when she was young to see her favorites. I remember listening to her country records and listening to the country music radio station on this old radio in her kitchen while we played rummy. That radio is now in my kitchen and I’ll never forget the first time I heard my song play on that radio. I know my grandma was looking down on me from heaven, smiling.
2 . How did your own musical career start…..did you take an formal lessons?
I grew up playing and singing music in church. My dad was a worship pastor in our small town in Illinois and he taught me to play. When my parents realized how much I loved music, they gave me voice lessons. I was fortunate enough to be in a public school district that had a wonderful music program so I was in every choir and musical that I could be. I also played at open mics whenever I could and started a silly band with my friends.
3. You weren’t a natural performer, though were you? You initially suffered from stage fright which I gather Garth Brooks helped you overcome?
In my early days, I absolutely loved to perform, however when I was in college, things got a little foggy and I lost my sense of self. I lost my roots and what I wanted to say, and I think, because I lost that, I also lost my confidence. It got to the point where I’d get up on stage and I’d forget get the lyrics, I’d shake, I completely blank, and if I made a mistake, I would just stop. It was devastating for me because I really did love to perform. So fast forward a couple years to when I was getting my masters degree in arts education. I attended a talk that Garth Brooks an Trisha Yearwood were giving about their lives in the music industry. During the talk, Garth mentioned that he still gets stage fright to this day, but he musters the courage, steps out on stage, and once he plays the first couple chords, he remembers he loves to perform and that it’s fun – not scary. At the end of the talk during the Q&A part, I raised my hand and asked him how he even musters the courage to step out on that stage. He asked me my name and what instrument I play. Then he asked me what kind of music. And when I said country, he got a little smile on his face and he said (and this I will never forget for all the days of my life), “Well, this is what we call being baptized by fire. Come on up here and play us a song.” So he gave me his guitar, I put it on and I played a song I had just written, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, which is the first track on Hitch A Ride. After I played for him, Trisha, and the 400 other people there that day, he gave me a huge hug and told me to sing my heart out. Then, he gave me his guitar to keep, scratches and all, and that’s the guitar I play with today.
4. While it seems that a lot of country artists gravitate towards Nashville or Austin, you’re based in Boston I see…..what’s the country music scene like there ?
I travel back and forth between Boston and Nashville. There is definitely a burgeoning country music scene in Boston. I think as country becomes more mainstream, more and more folks are starting to enjoy it. I think country music has a nostalgic feeling about it and so does Boston – it’s a match made in heaven.
5. As mentioned earlier, it was your debut EP ” Hitch A Ride” that was my introduction to your music…….a collection of songs that sounded as though they took at least some inspiration from personal experiences?
Absolutely. All my songs are inspired by experiences that I have and the emotions that are born out of those experiences – but I try to channel those emotions into a story. So while the emotions I’m feeling are authentic, the story or subject of the song may be made up or borrowed from someone else’s life. I think songwriting is a powerful tool to practice perspective taking and I think if you as a songwriter only write autobiographically, you’re going to run out of material.
6. I think my favourite track from it is ” Daddy Hates These Red Boots”. Can you indulge me and tell more about how this one came to be written please?
Ha! I love this one, too. Country music is such a male dominated space and so I try to writes tunes that showcase strong women who don’t give a damn about what anyone else things. Once of my favorite movies when I was growing up was Footloose (the original with Kevin Bacon). There’s a scene where the main female character, Ariel, is in the forest after getting down with her man and she’s putting her clothes back on. She grabs these fire engine red boots and as she’s pulling them on, she says “My daddy hates me wearin’ these boots.” I knew there was a song in there somewhere.
You were definitely right there!! I love this live version……
7. What tends to come first for you when you write….melody, lyrics, concept, or is each song different?
Usually, I come up with a hook first, and the melody and the lyrics usually come to me together. Then, I kind of write the whole song around the hook. The hook is really the most important part of the whole song – it’s the point and the thing that keeps you coming back for more, the thing that gets stuck in your head and makes you want to listen to that song again and again. To me, if a song doesn’t have a great hook, then it’s not a great song, so when I write, I try my best to showcase the hook so it’s front and center. When I write the rest of the song, all the pieces kinda come out together – melody, lyrics, and harmony. I definitely edit quite a bit as a write, and even months and months later. To me, a song is never really done and some songs take me 15 minutes to write, while others have taken me 2 years.
8 . You are currently working on a new EP ” Verne’s Little Lie” which you’ve described as ” a country opera” and ” classic country tale of betrayal, murder and whiskey” which I find intriguing!! Please tell more about this concept….I gather a quote from your grandmother was at least part of the inspiration?
My grandmother (the one who loved country music) passed away 4 years ago and when she passed, my sisters (I’m the youngest of four daughters) and I were all reminiscing about her funny sayings – one of which was “It’s good to be honest, but sometimes, mostly is good enough.” and as we laughed I knew there was a song in there. So I wrote the first song in the story called A Little Lie. It’s a classic country trope of a man cheating on his wife and
she murders him by poisoning him. After I was done writing A Little Lie, I felt like there was more to this story – I wasn’t done with this character yet. And so I wrote the second part of the story called Don’t You Dare which is set three years after the main character, Verne, kills her husband. She’s dating a new man but her husband has been haunting her and she’s trying to tell him to buzz off. In A Little Lie, Verne insists that what she did was justified because he was a bad man, and she still insists the same in Don’t You Dare, but she’s starting to second guess her decision a little and she’s feeling a little remorse and guilt. After I wrote Don’t You Dare, I still wasn’t quite finished, so I wrote Five Shots (which has a bar of 5 in it which I love). Five Shots is set 20 years after she killed her husband and his ghost has been haunting her for that whole time. She’s wracked with guilt, haggard, run down, and has turned to alcohol to dull her mind from her guilt. It’s funny how a light hearted saying from my grandmother took such a dark turn, but I think when you’re writing a story, sometimes it writes itself, and this is where this story wanted to go. There also may or may not be a bonus track on the EP 😉
9. And that quote appears on the t-shirt you’ve produced, the sales of which are helping fund the recording? How’s it all progressing and it there a release date yet?
Yes! The quote is on the shirt that I designed to fund the record. We still have some shirts left – they’re signed by all of the band members and myself and they’re a limited run, copper foiled tee, so they’re pretty special. The EP is going great – we finished basic tracking and I’m heading back into the studio on June 2nd to record vocals. We’re hoping to release the EP in August.
To order the t-shirt (which includes a copy of the EP when it’s released) go to elisasmithmusic.com where you’ll also find links to all her socials
10. How is the rest of 2019 shaping up? And do you have any plans for UK dates in the near future?
2019 is going to be a blast! We’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up and we’re looking at scheduling a tour in the Northeast United States. I’m also in the early stages of planning my full length album and will be launching a kickstarter for that this fall! I don’t have any UK dates planned for the future, but I was just there in April on holiday and I would absolutely LOVE to book a tour in the UK. I love it there!
Well you’d be more than welcome here for sure!
Thank you for such a great interview, I’m so excited to hear your EP later this Summer!
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)