Described as having a sound like "soulful country pop with retro production, layered harmonies and a touch of playfulness", Georgian native Jo Smith has followed up the release of her latest EP and promising single Old School Groove with an incredibly well received debut performance as part of Nashville Meets London yesterday afternoon.
I caught up with Jo shortly after she landed in London to ask her some questions....
How was your particular sound born and how would you describe it to new listeners?
I think that I could say all the cliches about how my sound was born, how it was a long time in making but I'll give you the real scoop! [laughs] I moved to Nashville in 2004 and as you can tell my accent's super thick - I'm from a farm in South Georgia - and very much superficially the stereotypical country music singer with the story to match but at a deeper level there was a lot that wasn't being represented in the music that I was making because I was young and I was learning and being led as I should have been at that time. Several years ago I experienced a lot of heartbreak in the music business and just had to kind of re-invent myself but it wasn't an invention at all, it was really just figuring out that I'd left a lot of important pieces out and that would be all of the influence that I'd gotten from my dad's record collection which was anything from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Average White Band to Steely Dan to James Taylor and then all the country music as well. I finally got it all wrapped up into one package on my EP!
You were previously a major label artist under your full name but your new EP and single has quite a different sound. What brought that about?
You're right, I went under my full name when I was signed to RCA and with the re-invention so to speak I wanted to start completely from scratch because it was so important to me that the music speak for itself and be out in front instead of the story of me because it's not really about me, it's about the music at the end of the day. I wanted to change my name in order to kind of start at ground zero and I decided to just go with Jo Smith because I love how average that is! It's every person. I love how you don't know whether it's a guy or a girl because I want my music to be so universal that it's not gender-related. Also, all my friends and family have always called me Jo so when people say Jo I warm up to them immediately. [laughs]
Who would you describe as your influences?
Well like I said before it's really anything in my dad's record collection. I've been thinking about this not too long ago, when you list out your influences I feel like to call them an influence you've got to know every song that they wrote but the funny thing is that I was very song based with my influences. It was one song by The Beatles that changed my life, one song by Chicago that just turned me upside down. So it's so many artists and it was really just whatever I had access to in my dad's vinyl collection, songs that stood out for me were "Hey Jude", "Hey Nineteen" by Steely Dan, "Colour My World" by Chicago, "Miami, My Amy" by Keith Whitley, just random songs but that kind of informed me as a song-writer as well, it is all about the songs.
Your lead single Old School Groove has a great sound, how did that track come together?
That I wrote with Ben Burgess and Bobby Huff and they were those song-writer co-writers that just took an interest in me and what I was doing and believed in it early on and when they were passionate and could see the vision they wanted to work hard on it! I remember...this doesn't happen to me a lot at this stage in my career - I'm hoping to build to it...where I get to walk in as sort of the diva artist and my writers have done homework and they're ready for me and these guys had done that on this particular day and it meant so much to me. I walked in and they had started a track and they had the title "Old School Groove". To be honest I was like ugh I don't know, there's so many songs written about music, I don't really know if I want to go there. I followed them down the path and pretty soon it just fell out, the verses were definitely lyrically in my voice and they kind of provided a framework and worked with me where I needed a lyric to go to truly be me. I just remember Ben playing that broken down solo and that was amazing. That track was really close to what the final record ended up being and Jesse Frasure my producer - co-producer with Shane McAnally - came in and just added all the sparkle and that signature Marvin Gaye sample as well which is so 'the song' now!
You released your EP prior to the lead single, what made you decide to do it that way round?
The EP was released in October if I'm not mistaken. I was about the say we have this station in the US but I forget Sirius FM and The Highway are global so you guys have that as well! [laughs] They actually chose that song as the one they loved the most and thought represented me the best and I agreed and it was an easy decision. They put it out as a 'Highway Find' and that's how that happened!
Can we expect any news about any full length release from you soon?
Yes! I don't have firm dates but I've been in the studio recently, there's new music and we're getting close to the full length album amount of recorded music so just stay tuned, it will be my dream come true!
Nashville Meets London marks your first show in the UK, what persuaded you to be part of the festival?
Somebody at my management came to me and was like we're booking you in London! Get your air fare and your hotel! I'm like when?! okay! [laughs] It didn't take a lot of persuasion at all.
Can we expect to see you return to the UK and Europe as a whole?
Yes! My arm does not need to be twisted. The poor fella that was driving me in - Peter was his name - I was asking him what he did and he was like well I tour manage here, I tour manage these artists from the US that come over and set up these gigs. I'm like well when is my run! Poor guy doesn't know me yet and I'm already signing up for a return.
How do you find the experience of touring compared to day to day life?
You know, I really like it. I like hotels, I like travel, I like meeting people, I like being on the move, I always have. I guess I was destined to always be that way - I rolled over my first day home from the hospital, my momma lost me and thought what is wrong with my child?! So I've always been a rolling stone literally! I want to see the world. We're only here for a limited time, I want to see it all. I just love sharing music, it's so neat to see people from other cultures and other parts of the world completely connect with you through music, it's magical.
Do you find you feel nervous before heading out on stage? How do you deal with that?
I do! I really really do. I try to just remember that this is supposed to be fun, this is what I do, but it's just part of it and it's a new thing every time you go out. Sometimes I'm not nervous at all, sometimes I'm absolutely terrified! It keeps it exciting, I'm a human being and as long as everybody is okay with me just being a human and Lord knows what's going to happen out there, I'm okay.
Do you find you get much chance to listen to other artists perform?
Yes, when I can, I love it. It's inspiring to me so I'm hoping to do that at this festival.
What would you like people to take away from listening to your music?
You know I just want them to feel a little bit better than they did when they got there. That's it, my hope is that as I continue to make records in the future I'll have that song like "Imagine" or "Waiting On The World To Change" because I have a social conscience. There's songs in my catalogue already that express that but right now I'm just having a lot of fun! We're talking about relationships, we're talking about feelings and I just want people to feel good! To feel like they've expressed themselves through my show and burned off some steam, just had a great time.
Thanks to Jo for her time! Old School Groove and her full EP are available digitally and you can find more details on her website here.