Mindy Smith began making waves in the Americana music scene nearly a decade ago when she performed a haunting cover of “Jolene” for the Dolly Parton tribute album Just Because I’m a Woman. The performance resulted in Parton herself getting involved, appearing in the music video (below) and performing with Smith on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Since that initial introduction to the world, the singer-songwriter has released four albums of her own, charted with hits such as “Come To Jesus,” and even had her single “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” covered by Allison Krauss.
With her latest, self-titled record (released last June), Mindy Smith has joined a growing list of artists who have voluntarily walked away from their record labels to become independent. Since its release, the album has reached Number 15 on the folk charts, and Number 17 on Billboard’s “Heatseekers” chart.
Music Is My Oxygen caught up with Mindy Smith last weekend during a tour stop in Denver, Colorado. The Nashville-by-way-of-Long-Island singer was struggling with her voice—a combination of Denver’s dry, thin air and weeks of breathing smoky air drifting in from this year’s horrific fire season in the western U.S.—but as Smith greeted me in the green room, it was apparent that her vocal issues hadn’t dampened her spirits.
MIMO: So tell me, first of all, about the latest album. What stands out on this album for you, as far as differentiating from previous things you’ve done?
Mindy: This record is a fully independent release. I actually am releasing it on my own label, a co-venture with TVX Group Management record label… It’s been kind of something I’ve been preparing for for several years, and the option presented itself to me when I could leave Vanguard [my label] one record early. So when that ball started to roll, Publishing House had started retaining my publishing and I decided that it was time for me to just step out and make a record. I think it’s a throwback, maybe with a little bit more confidence vocally than maybe my first record. But it’s got a similar tone in terms of Americana roots, influences, and things like that.
MIMO: I was actually going to address the issue of leaving your label, because you had an established relationship with Vanguard. What prompted you to do this particular album without the label? What prompted you to go indie, as it were?
Mindy: It’s something I had been wanting to do. I think the industry is such, and a lot of people don’t realize that, if you don’t own the masters, it’s very difficult to fund anything, any next project, or there’s that element of recoupment. So, with this, I’ll actually be able to fund my next record, hopefully with this record, and maybe just have something that these tours can build, and I can keep coming out here on the road and talking to folks like yourself and meeting the listener. But it’s all sort of now, that’s what the industry is. Vanguard was very useful to me, and vice versa, I think. But I think it was just a good time to say, “Hey, love you, see you.”
MIMO: Try something different?
MIMO: What is your favorite part of what you do in the music business? Then the other side of the question is, what is your least favorite part?
Mindy: My favorite part is singing. It’s hands down why I do what I do. My least favorite part is the travel, the getting from point A to point B. I also don’t like the lulls and the dips in between records, and those things. Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they’re just, as you know, it’s an industry that you’ve got to stay, kind of just bring in stuff to people all the time. So lulls are nerve-wracking. But for me, the most fun I have is when I’m singing and performing.
MIMO: So are you the kind of person who feels you have to have a project on the table in order to kind of feel vibrant? Or is it just because you can’t afford to have a lull in production?
Mindy: I think it’s both, but I think I love creating the music part. I do enjoy that. I struggle sometimes writing lyrics, but I’m always coming up with melodies. So sometimes it takes me longer to cohesively make a record, because I’m very particular about what goes on a record. I’m not just going to throw anything out into the world. I think a lot of music – and it has been like this for years, though – is filler music. I don’t believe in filler music. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.
MIMO: I agree. So what does the recording studio process look like for you? Do you particularly enjoy that part of the process, being in the studio?
Mindy: I do enjoy it. There’s something about just getting the right players together and working with a co-producer, and just getting in the right studio and creating an environment, and everybody’s having a good time and hopefully enjoying playing the music. Then, if you can capture that pleasure that they’re having, I think it comes through. That’s actually what happened with this record. I’ve done records where I’ve “built” records, but I prefer to do a live recording. We recorded in three days, and then we did overdubs and vocals and things like that.
MIMO: You mentioned co-producing; do you enjoy being part of the production process?
Mindy: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m very involved. Maybe not with the logistics side of things, but the creative, I mean I… It should be that [if] you do write the song, you probably know what you want it to sound like, but I love having input from somebody else because one, it keeps you grounded, and two, sometimes you can get lost in your head when you’re creating…I think, though, I’ve always been producing my stuff since demos way back.
MIMO: Who’s dominating your own personal playlist right now? Who are you listening to?
Mindy: Well, I’m listening to a lot of Kate York, The Staple Singers, Fleetwood Mac, I would say, and Gabe Dixon. Those are my go-to right now.
(Music video of Mindy Smith “Jolene”)
MIMO: Who do you consider to be your personal influences, and who would you consider to be your musical influences?
Mindy: I think the people directly in my life are my personal influences. My family, it’s very important that we’re close and friendly, and speak to each other. We’re a very close family. Also, my friends and the people I work with. I really try to – try, I’m not always successful, we all have moments – but I try to enjoy being with the people that I’m working with. Musically, it’s all over the place. I think that’s evident.
MIMO: With your playlist…
Mindy: Yes, exactly. If people were to look at my iTunes catalog, they would probably go, “Okay,” with a funny face. But I think anywhere from 80’s pop, British Invasion, to Bluegrass, roots-y, Appalachian music and just jazz. I love – Sarah Vaughan is my favorite vocalist…I even have Ozzy Osbourne on my iTunes catalog there.
MIMO: Last question: if I were a new listener coming to your show for the first time, what do you hope that I come away with?
Mindy: I hope that you come away with a smile in your heart and maybe on your face, too. That’s up to you if you want to express that smile. I really do enjoy the interaction. I tend to worry sometimes that I interact too much because I kind of go off on my little tangents with just being…There’s a comedic element to what I do, and I think that’s just to make up for all the sad, sad, SAD songs I have to sing every night. [laughter] It seems to work…But I really want people to know that I respect that they came out to see me and that they spent their hard earned money to come out and see me, and I intend to give them the best show I possibly can. That’s where I stand on that.
(Music video of “Closer”, Mindy Smith’s latest single.)