May 03, 2016
Corey Smith is an American singer-songwriter, a self-made musician and millionaire, and the producer of nine of his 10 albums.
He is also a family man — a husband and father — a reader, a writer, a former school teacher and a lifelong learner. Despite his successes, he is down-to-earth and conversational. When Connect Statesboro called him for an interview before his May 5 show at South City Tavern, he was at his home in Jefferson, Georgia, and he was fishing.
“I do most of my interviews while I’m fishing,” he said.
While he was out on the water, Smith took the time to talk to Connect about his music, where he fits in the country spectrum, valuing art over monetary gain and writing and living in the South. Here are some of the highlights of the interview:
On producing his own music:
"I love making music and I think I have a unique sound, and it makes me happy to make all those (producing) decisions. I’ve just been fortunate enough that I’ve had fans all these years and have been able to do it this way for over a decade. There are certainly easier ways to do it, and there are ways to do it where I might have had more success. But at the end of the day, I’d rather fail at doing it the way I want to do it than succeed at doing it somebody else’s way. That may sound bullheaded, but that’s who I am.”
On his sound, which could be described as “country plus”:
“I don’t’ know what it (the plus) is either. At first, I was just going into the studios early on and trying to record the songs the best I could, with what I could afford and the resources I had around me. I never thought this stuff could be on the radio anyway, so it didn’t do any good to make it sound a certain way. I just tried to do it in a way that was within my means and that I thought sounded cool. As I’ve evolved and had more resources at my disposal — more money, more experience in the studio, access to more musicians — it’s allowed me to build the sound out in different ways. I’m from a small town in Georgia — I still live where I grew up. Most of the songs are cut from my real life, so it makes sense that some people consider it country. And I don’t have a problem with that, but the tricky thing is it doesn’t sound like most mainstream country.”
On being outside the mainstream:
"I think, again, it’s not really made for radio, and most country music is, because without country radio, a country artist is not going to get heard. For a major label like mainstream artists, that’s what it’s all about, and we know the kind of songs that typically do well on the radio. That’s not to say that some of my content doesn’t fit into that mold, but if it does, it’s just by accident. I choose to write about stuff that means something to me, or that I feel is therapeutic for me. Every once in a while, I may write something that really resonates with people, and those tend to be more of the party songs for yount people. But I have no problem with that — those songs also give people a chance to listen to some of the deeper tracks that may be a little bit more philosophical in nature. It’s hard to pigeonhole, because the songs really are all over the place. And that’s a blessing and a curse."
Musicians he looks up to
"As far as the writing aspect, I’ve tended to gravitate toward pure singer-songwriters in the tradition of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson or Alan Jackson. Even though those artists didn’t write every single song they cut, for the most part, they wrote every word of the songs people know them for. I like that. John Mayer is another, more recent example. I don’t like all that John Mayer has to say. I don’t agree with it all. Some of it seems arrogant and egotistic, but I respect it because he’s being himself.
To me, that’s what songwriters are supposed to do: We’re supposed to experience the world, internalize it, and turn that experience into something else. I feel like that’s a really important part of living in a free society, where we are free to express ourselves. Historically, art has been a way for society to sort of hold a mirror up to themselves, and see what they value; see what they think’s beautiful, or funny, or sad. In order for that to work correctly, artists have to put art before commerce. They have to put being genuine before being popular or famous. I point to those songwriters because I feel like they really embody that standard."
Other inspiration, outside of music
"I love Walt Whitman, and I love Emerson and Thoreau. Robert Frost is probably my favorite poet. I’m an educator, and not to brag, but I was a really good student — I was a six-time presidential Scholar at Georgia, and I took my education very seriously. I don’t want to write stuff that’s not accessible, that’s too heady or cerebral; I try to write stuff that’s in the vernacular, I guess, and in the language we speak here in Jefferson, Georgia, or in small towns all across the country. But I like to think those lofty ideas are in there, for those that choose to dig them out. … I don’t like to hear someone come across as patronizing. But I do enjoy reading a lot, and I’d like to think it has had an impact on my writing. Truly, it has."
Smith will be taking the South City Tavern stage Thursday, May 5, at 9:30 p.m., following an opening performance by Jacob Powell at 8 p.m. As of press time Monday, May 2, the show is completely sold out. To get a taste of Smith's music, take a listen to his Spotify page, where you can find all 10 of his albums.