Introducing....Caitlyn Smith

Minneapolis native and current Nashville resident Caitlyn Smith has fast become one of my favourite solo female country vocalists. Currently best known as one of the songwriters with Brett James' Cornman Music/Stage Three Music Inc. Caitlyn has written hits such as Cassadee Pope's Wasting All These Tears, Danielle Bradbury's Heart Of Dixie and Rascal Flatts' Let It Hurt.

Whilst not releasing her own music very often, Caitlyn's newest single Dream Away was released digitally on October 8th 2013. An overall well rounded, professional sounding track, Dream Away opens with an acoustic guitar and electric guitar hook that is then built upon with the addition of fiddle, banjo and drums. "Keep your head in the highest cloud, don't think you've ever got to come back down" is, in my opinion, a great lyric and one that sums up the track well.

Caitlyn also released a five song acoustic EP in 2011. Map Of The World opens the release, a track that travels through various locations within it's lyrics and presents strong imagery. Her strong voice and folk infused tone come across well throughout this and many other tracks. She is undoubtedly a talented songwriter, having had a part writing each of these songs. I also think Faces is a very strong track. Caitlyn's strong vocal and the stripped back instrumentalisation gives the track a haunting feel that works really well. You Take Me Home is probably my favourite track from this release, with lyrics such as "one bedroom apartment, mattress on the floor and a bottle of champagne that we can't afford" and "you take me home without even trying". It is very successful as an acoustic track and listeners will hear a heartfelt performance throughout. Also included within the EP are One and Hank Drank.

Hank Drank is unfortunately one of my least favourite tracks of Caitlyn's. Probably one of the most blues influenced tracks of hers, I feel like the track would benefit from a heavier production as at points it feels like Caitlyn's vocals are straining against the instrumentalisation.

Releasing all five tracks acoustically means that the listener is immediately pushed towards focusing on Caitlyn's vocals and the intricacies in each track's story rather than the production as a whole which is a very clever choice.

I was also recently able to listen to some currently unreleased music from Caitlyn including her versions of Wasting All These Tears and Heart Of Dixie. I wanted to share I Need A Mountain from that collection of tracks. I really hope Caitlyn releases a lot of tracks from the album I heard however this is definitely one of my favourites. The opening acoustic guitar and drum accompaniment gives a solid pace to the track that is then built upon with the addition of mandolin and backing vocals at the chorus.

I was recently able to catch up with Caitlyn during a break in her busy schedule and ask her some questions....

What drew you to country music as a career?
That's a great question....I grew up listening to country music non stop as a little kid and so I grew up on Alison Krauss and The Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill and Shania and The Judds and all of those strong females of country music and so I suppose it was just kind of ingrained in me as a little kid. When I first started singing I started singing in church but then I was also singing country music at county fairs and little town shows and things like that so I've always loved country music from the beginning. So that's the answer for that [laughs] but I did take a little bit of a detour when I was in about seventh grade my family was super involved in the church and I actually was in Christian music for a second, for probably four, five years I did that and then kind of slowly got back to country, after I realised I would really rather sing about sex and drinking whisky! [laughs] Just kidding but seriously....that's terrible....there's just things in the church that you can't say that I wanted to write about.
What do you think you would have been if you weren't involved in country music?
That's hard! Probably....I would probably do something along the lines of an Americana, Triple A scenario, something like Patti Griffin or Joni Mitchell. I would probably go into super folk land because as a writer I love writing that kind of stuff so if I wasn't in country music that's probably where I'd be. Playing music with Buddy Miller and Emmylou (Harris) and all those fantastic people.
You've written some hugely successful tracks, how do you feel when an artist cuts one of them?
It's a great honour when somebody cuts your song and it took a little bit of getting used to because actually a couple of the songs on the record that I sent you (unreleased material) "Wasting All These Tears" and "Heart Of Dixie" are some of the singles and so I'd originally intended those songs to be for me as an artist so when I got the call about Cassadee (Pope) wanting to do that song I was apprehensive at first like 'ohh I don't know, it's kind of my song' but thinking about it I write so much and so often that I'm like 'I can write another one', 'she's going to sing it great' and so I ended up letting her cut it and letting Danielle (Bradbury) cut the other song and after hearing that and hearing someone cut your song and sing it, it's a giant honour that somebody else would connect with your song and love your song enough to want to sing it for the people, it's a great feeling [laughs]
Congrats again on "Wasting All These Tears" going platinum!
Thank-you so much! That's the first time that's ever happened so my husband (Rollie Gaalswyk) and I got a bottle of champagne and were celebrating. That was my first radio single as well as my husband's so it was fun that we both kind of had that single together. 
Which track was your first major label cut?
It was "It Ain't Easy" by Jason Aldean which is super cool. It was kind of cool that my first cut was a guy, actually my first two cuts were guys songs, I had Jason and then I had a Rascal Flatts cut on their last record, so kind of crazy!
Do you ever write with a specific artist in mind?
Sometimes, it just depends how I'm feeling. Sometimes I like to think 'yeah I'd really love to get in a Band Perry vibe or a Carrie Underwood vibe' and sometimes that's really exciting to kind of shoot for that but it also sometimes tends to box you in as a writer and I'm like 'uh I don't know if they would say that' and then you just kind of get that kind of stuff in your head and it gets more difficult so I would say sometimes I do but normally I just like to write what's in the room. I like to write what I'm feeling that day and see what happens.
Do you always write from personal experience?
Um no, no, I think some stuff that I write I draw, like if it's a heartbreak song I kind of go back and draw from what that is or a love song I'll draw from what I know about that but sometimes it's about I hear other people's stories and write about that, things that they're going through. Or I see a movie and that's really inspiring, like that kind of concept or idea so I'd say not always but sometimes. I think some of the most emotional songs though and some of my favourite songs are written from drawing from that personal experience.
Do you start with lyrics or a melody when you're writing?
I would say ninety-nine percent of the time it starts with some sort of music. Usually someone in the room will start jamming out on a cool groove and then we'll try to sing a melody over that and then kind of decide from there well what kind of melody is this? What kind of vibe is this? Is this sad, is this happy? Is this sassy? and then try and write a lyric from that.
Do you prefer to co-write?
Yes I do. I love co-writing, I think because I'm an extrovert and I rely so much on other people's energy to become energised. For me, getting in a room with another creative person, throwing around ideas, is so fun [laughs] I'll sit down by myself and I'll get ideas and I'll get maybe like half songs but it's just not as fun like 'is this good? I don't know, wish I had somebody else here to bounce this off of' so I definitely prefer co-writing because it's way more fun.
There's rumours you've been writing with Carrie Underwood, can you confirm or deny?
I don't know what I can say! I'm not actually sure what the rule is with that...but yeah! I would say yeah, I think you can say that! They're just a little bit shh in her camp I feel like. She's so great by the way and she's a phenomenal writer. There's a lot of artists that you'll write with and they're good, they've got some ideas but they need a little nudging but she's a real writer man, she's really really great. 
Which song do you wish you had written and why?
Uh that's really a hard question! That just depends on what time of day it is and where I am. I'm such a song lover and it's constantly changing. Only one? Well today would be "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton. That's one of the best songs I think that have ever been written. It's so simple but the emotion and the melody for me like man, I want to write melodies like that. I would say that.
I saw a quote saying 'Dolly Parton wrote I Will Always Love You and Jolene in the same day, you'll never have a day that good'!
In the same day! Exactly! Can I say both of those? Can I just say that day? I would like to be Dolly Parton on that day [laughs] That would be amazing!
Who would you say your main influences are?
Well like I said before I grew up listening to Alison Krauss and I'm like obsessed with her [laughs] She's so good and she cuts great songs, her voice is perfection. Like I said before I grew up on all those strong females, I listen to mostly females when I'm trying to get inspiration so artists like Patti Griffin and Joni Mitchell and The Dixie Chicks, any strong female....Katy Perry! 
Which artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
Ohhh that's a good one....Willie Nelson because he's Willie Nelson! [laughs] That would be amazing! I did a tour with Willie about two and a half years ago, we went out on this "Country Throwdown Tour" and there were like seventeen different artists on this giant tour and it was "Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown" like he was the main act and he's such a sweet spirit and an unbelievable writer, I think it would just be absolute magic to collaborate with him.
The album (unreleased material) is really amazing but you've rarely released music in the past few years, was that a conscious decision?
Yes, when I moved to Nashville and signed my writing deal in the end of 2009 I made the conscious decision to just focus on writing for a hand full of years until I knew exactly what kind of songs I wanted to sing and what kind of artist I wanted to be and so, during that little hiatus that I have taken I think I've written over four hundred songs in the last four years, well over four hundred songs in the last few years and definitely I've carved out out of those songs what is me as an artist and so now I feel ready to go out on the road and I have something to say. 
What would you say your favourite part about being a singer songwriter is?
Well that's really two different lives because there's the performing life where you're out on the road and you're connecting with your fans and meeting all these people that connect with your music and for me that's really really, that's the best part about performing connecting with those people and playing your songs for the people and feeling them react. Then the song writing portion, my favourite part is that moment right after you've finished a song and you're done and you're looking at it and you're like 'okay a couple of hours ago this wasn't here, now this is here and this is exciting' and there's an excitement in the room, it's really very gratifying, that one minute right after you're done [laughs] Really great.
How about your least favourite part?
There aren't a lot of things that I hate about my job, I'll tell you that. There is not a lot I can think of, to be honest I write songs for my job [laughs] I don't have anything! [laughs] As far as song writing goes I don't think there's really any, sometimes you get in a room with someone that doesn't click and it's not fun but it's still like you're writing a song....I don't know, I guess I don't really focus on that, I don't really focus on things that I don't like about it because there is very little that I don't so sorry! [laughs]
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a musician?
I would say that whatever it is that you are looking to do, whether it's being a writer or a musician or a performer, that you should kind of map out what it is you want to do and do that thing so much as you can. So if you want to write then you should write, like for sure every day. If you want to be a musician you should be practising three to four hours a day and if you want to be a performer you should be playing shows in front of anybody that will listen because that's the way that you learn and honing your craft is by doing it, that's the only way that you'll get from A to B and so do it and do it with passion, that's what I say.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Umm man I'm trying to get it right in my head....I love this quote, a good writer friend of mine named Don Schlitz, who, I don't know if you know Don, he's written "The Gambler", "When You Say Nothing At All", "Forever and Ever Amen" like kind of the best songs ever [laughs] So Don was kind of my, I call him my 'Yoda', he's kind of my song writing mentor and one day he said "If you can't think of anything to write about, then you're not paying attention" and I love that because as a writer there's always things to write about, we just need to open our eyes and be aware so I really like that. There's no such thing as writer's block! You just have to pay attention! I really like that and it helps me.
We in the UK and aren't up to where the US are for 'Nashville' the TV series yet but you've had tracks featured and with the 'Nashville: On The Record' performance, how was it to be involved with all of that?
Magical [laughs] Well it was my first time playing at the Ryman and so that alone was kind of bucket list checking that off and it was just a really special event because usually the songwriters are in their room and they write their songs and nobody really knows who they are at all and so it was really really kind of them to choose to honour the song writers in a whole episode like that and so all the songwriters were super thankful and everybody was beyond happy to be there. Hayden (Panettiere) was so sweet, me and Trent Dabbs sang our song with Hayden and she did a fantastic job. It was so fun to play with Buddy Miller too! It was amazing, really a very special little thing, one of the best days of my life [laughs] 
Any plans to tour the UK?
I hope so! I'm working on it! I've just started working with a new booking agent and we've been talking about that a little bit. I would love to though, as soon as possible. But I get to open some dates here in the US with like Sheryl Crow this summer and I'm doing a bunch of festivals on the west coast so I get to play a bunch this summer. Hopefully I'll be over there too! 
As mentioned in the interview, Caitlyn has allowed me to confirm that she has been writing with Carrie Underwood in preparation for Carrie's next album!

I would definitely recommend that everyone purchases Dream Away and her self titled EP from 2011, I am very impressed! Caitlyn is certainly a talented singer-songwriter and I hope we will be able to hear some new music soon as well as see her in the UK!