John Smith is an English singer-songwriter and award winning guitar player who has steadily built a musical reputation for himself since releasing his debut album back in 2006. He was kind enough to take some time out earlier today to answer a few questions about his career to date and plans for the future…
Hi John. I believe you’ve been busy recording a new album of original songs. Can you tell us a bit more about how that’s been going, who’s been involved, and in what ways it is similar to or differs from Map Or Direction?
Hello! I’ve just finished recording. I had a few little bits to add, but touring took over. I brought in my musical partner Jon Thorne on double bass and Ross Turner on percussion. Ross comes from an electronica background and is a deeply orchestral, tasteful drummer. There are some serious female vocalists involved as well. It’s a very spacious and intimate record, cut in a small studio in the Welsh mountains. I think it’s much tighter and more focussed than Map. I’ve written a few songs with Joe Henry this year and one or two have made it on to the record. Not a murder ballad in sight.
It was an incredible tour. We re-arranged and played each other’s songs as a quartet (with Ross on drums) and it was such a pleasure to back Lisa and Joe. I always enjoy playing other people’s tunes, and those two are great writers. Joe’s songs are melodically expansive and he’s always encouraging when it comes to letting go a little bit to explore the possibilities of a song. Lisa is one of the best female singers working today and I love standing to the side and watching her do her thing.
I’ll always look back at singing ‘These Days’ with Jackson Browne as a highlight. He joined us for the LA show. I’ve been listening to him very hard for three years now, so it meant a lot to me to stand next to him on stage. He still has the most beautiful voice. He took us for sushi - I learned a lot about fish from Jackson Browne.
What does the rest of 2012 hold in store for you?
I’m disappearing for the month of August. In September I’ll be going to play at Ottawa Folk Festival in Canada, then I’ll be playing guitar for Lisa on her UK tour opening for Richard Hawley. There’s talk of more shows with Lisa in October…fingers crossed. Come the end of the year I’ll be looking to do some touring of my own. It’s been a while since I drove up and down the UK.
I get the impression your covers album ‘Eavesdropping’ released last year came about quite quickly and spontaneously. How did you go about deciding which songs to cover and include on the record?
It was something I’d considered recording for a while. It just seemed like the right time; it was nice to put something new on the website despite the fact that my own songs weren’t yet ready. They were all songs I had played live or with friends at some point, which I felt I could re-interpret in a meaningful way.
Say for instance, a big hit like ‘Not Over Yet’, that’s a deep piece of songwriting. It was just treated a certain way in the original recording that makes it perhaps a little inaccessible to a lot of music lovers. I think it’s fun to re-arrange a song like that and emphasise certain lyrical ideas.
There were others - such as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ - which I just left alone. Some songs don’t need to be re-recorded.
You generously made all the tracks from your first three albums available to listen to on your YouTube channel recently. What was the thinking behind this and do you have any plans to post more videos in the future?
I thought that free streaming on YouTube would allow people to listen, before making the decision whether or not to buy the music. Although I’m firmly against people who steal music via illegal downloading, I know it’s futile to worry about such things. I had to embrace the idea of free music and use it at least to try and build my profile, rather than just worrying about not making any money out of record sales ever again. When the new album is ready for release, I’ll throw more videos up there.
And finally is there any music you’ve been enjoying recently you would recommend we should check out?
Jackson Browne - Late For The Sky, Boubacar Traoré – Je chanterai pour toi, Afel Bocoum – Niger, Miriam Makeba - Forbidden Games …and anything by George Jones. I got a ‘Best Of’ compilation recently and it blew my mind.
(photo taken by Julian Ward of Gloria Cycles)