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Mindy Smith Makes "Ballsy" Americana

Mindy Smith
Mindy Smith
Fairlight Hubbard

After four highly successful albums with Vanguard Records, singer-songwriter Mindy Smith took the bold and daring plunge into self-releasing her work, forming Giant Leap Records. Interestingly, Smith did not go off the handle and embrace genres unbecoming her trademark mix of folk and country, some with a rock and roll edge, but instead stripped down to warmly embrace a return to her roots. It's solid ground, a down-home sound blending the above styles with some Appalachian melodies and homespun tales. Many of the songs actually go back many years, Smith explained in a recent phone interview, but never found a proper home on previous releases.

So is the independence paying dividends? It's a little early to tell, but it's clear from the interview that Smith is "all in" and committed to her new venture. Given the stirring mix of songs, it's likely the transition from musician to musician/label operator will be a smooth one.

Up on the Sun: You've started your own label. It's called Giant Leap. Is that a telling name in moving from musician, songwriter and performer to handling aspects on the other side of the business? Mindy Smith: Most definitely. There's something to be said about testing yourself in a way that...I think risk is how this industry is going anyway. But it's about ownership and where your energies are being used. Making albums and music is so permanent, and to turn around and not have any control of that, it's tough. And that's part of it.

I've talked with so many bands over the years that have been out there 20 to 30 years and always had a label controlling everything, so they have no money and end up playing so-so venues to survive. I think for me the label was what I needed at the time, but when the opportunity was there to leave, I opted out. I think often times artists are stuck and can't free themselves. Unless you're getting vast quantities of tour support you're going to play dives and drive a minimum cost car to the venues, but you're doing it for the music.

In the notes on your publicity sheet about the song "Closer" you say you realize "now is the moment." Is this a reference that now was the moment to make a break from your label? Absolutely. I have thought on it for so many years and sometimes timing is everything. I have the right people in my life right now that support me in a way that two years ago when I started this process wouldn't have worked. Actually, I started this three years ago and it wouldn't have worked if I didn't have leverage. You need leverage to make this work. I wasn't investing in myself so much as waiting and cooling out waiting for the right fit. As time went by that leap of faith has taken its own form. I have great people invested in me; not only financially, but spiritually and musically. They dig it, they get it and they want to be a part of it. Hopefully we'll all reap the rewards from it.

You say this all began three years ago, which is when your last album (Stupid Love) came out. Did this give you more time to reflect more on life? It has. I'm older and when you get older it's easier to see... that's what my life was, but it's easy to see what you needed and how to change your future. They only way to do it is look at the past.   Your new album is simply called Mindy Smith. Is this sort of a reintroduction to you or an introduction to a new you? It's a little bit of both. I need to make sure people understand I'm all in and putting my name on it quite literally. I released the record with the name Mindy Smith and people can take it or leave it. ... It feels right and sometime you just have to go with what feels right. ... If this was my fifth album with Vanguard I probably wouldn't do it this way, but this is (something different) and I have my name on it.

And I think this is where America is now as a nation. I think it's what people can relate too. This is America, and whatever that means to that person is what it is, and for me it's doing my music my way.

How are things different on this album form earlier works? Labels often tell people what to do, but I'd expect you now have more freedom to musically explore? Actually, you're right. But with Vanguard I didn't have a lot of issues with what I'd record. It was something I didn't take for granted because it was unusual. For me this was a huge leap out of my normal comfort zone. ... They trusted me in my ability to be a creative person. I feel I got a lot of chops that way.

But did you try to do anything different on this album; go in a new direction?

Actually, I tried to regroup and go back to my roots. Since my first record I feel I've gotten older and a little more ballsy. My last record was more of an experiment than this one. This was more of a "what do I do, and how do I do it best?" So instead of going out and experimenting I returned to my roots. It was something I need to do for myself. It was really important to get back to an Americana artist.

You seem to touch on so many Americana styles on the album. There's dirty blues, Appalachian leaning songs and gritty country songs that make it a really a nice mix. The songs on this album, like the songs on all my albums, are written over many years. Some are newer; some are back from before I even had a record deal. I don't know how I managed to do all this as an artist. I always wanted to put some of these songs on an album, but they didn't always fit. There was a time in my life when I was more experimental and I think ... my producer was really able to capture those songs. I couldn't be happier with the album.

Tell me about the tour your on right now. Is it solo acoustic, or are you traveling with a band? I have a band right now. We get along really well and the energy is really strong. We're having a really good time. ... These guys are really great players. I feel like it works. I feel like it really works.

Mindy Smith is scheduled to perform Wednesday, September 19, at Rhythm Room.


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