Anthony Smith has an extensive list of hit songs to his credit and now he is adding producing some of Nashville’s rising stars to his list of things he does well. I sat down to talk to Anthony about some of his current projects and this is what he had to say:
Q So you’re producing for like the past two years?
A I have always loved arranging and orchestrating music when I was a kid. I played guitar in school and in church and when I was thirteen I was head of the music department so I was having to teach the harmony’s and show the parts to the other musicians who were thirty years old and I was just thirteen you know? I just knew harmony ever since I could remember. So that helped me with the orchestration and arrangement of thing so as I got older I just wanted to do the artist thing and create and that was always just in the back of my mind. I never intended on writing for anyone else. It just kind of happened and after the Mercury Record labels just liked the sound of that record so they approached me all the time and I would get phone calls wanting me to produce this new act that they found from just all the different labels over the years. I just couldn’t do it because I was still an artist and that is very consuming. I am and all or nothing kind of guy so when I jump into a project it’s going to be head first.
About two years ago I made a conscience decision that this artist thing has run its course and it is really really hard to get out of your system. It is hard when your whole life you have been an artist. It is just who you are. It is in your DNA and it is hard to just shut that off one day. It is almost like admitting defeat, particularly when you never accomplished the level of success that you came here to do, you know? But sometimes reality starts to set in and you think you know what, I believe in myself as an artist and I think I can hold my own with anybody and the fact that these politics or luck or whatever that it was that I didn’t reach my goal, I am at peace with it now finally. So I shifted over to the next thing that I love which was producing.
I really wasn’t interested in going back and producing records on established acts who had already branded their style. I really wanted to start from the ground up with new acts that were mega talented and that had that something you know so that is what I started doing. There was an act on Curb Records called Sweetwater Rain and I was approached by them and basically they told me exactly what I wanted to hear from an artist which is what got me on board but they said, “Look, we want to make unique records.”
Q So two years ago you made a conscience decision to go in another direction and start producing?
A Yeah and I always wanted to produce. It was always in my heart to do and I always did it on my records and arrangement was just the thing I loved. I loved doing string arrangement you know writing scores, those type things that was the most fascinating part. But I knew I couldn’t commit to somebody’s project until I was at rest with mine. You know I will always be an artist at heart. I will always do some performing but right now the producing thing is the best thing for me. I am loving it and I am having the time of my life and I am writing the songs for these records to help customize their sound, customize their style. Actually it is the first time really in my life that I wasn’t writing for me. You know everything that George Strait and McGraw or Trace Adkins or any of them ever cut that I had written was written for me and they just kind of borrowed that. But now I am writing for people that this is their voice or what they want to say and making it unique to them as individuals so that’s just awesome for me.
Q I don’t think that what you just said is common knowledge that everything that you wrote that what the general public would consider iconic artists was songs that you actually wrote for yourself that they ended up adopting.
A Absolutely. I mean I came here as an artist. I never dreamed in a million years that I’d be writing songs for other people. I didn’t even want to do that but I am happy that I did as it certainly helped me survive. It gave me some credibility and it just made me part of the industry. It has obviously opened doors for me as an artist and everything else. So you see it legitimizes you to go do what you really want to do and probably if I hadn’t been a hit songwriter I probably wouldn’t have gotten my record deal because they are just that hard to get.
Q So basically you had a publishing deal as well?
A Yeah. I had a publishing deal before I had a record deal.
Q Right, so you had a publishing deal and then so basically that is how these songs got found by these other guys to record?
A Or producers. I had my first writing deal in 2000 and I was there just a little over a year and I had gotten like forty-five cuts in one year and it was really unprecedented. I could not believe it because I thought you know I came to get a record deal and I got a writing deal. I was hesitant to take it but it was the only in that I had to the industry. They loved my writing so I signed hoping that I could just get one cut. If I could just get one cut enough to keep my deal and not lose it after the first of the year then I would just be happy because I had a job at the cable company installing cable and HBO and all that.
A Yeah, it’s a good job. It had good benefits and good 401K and all of that, to quit that for practically nothing. My writers deal only paid twenty or twenty-five thousand and I was making a lot more than that at the cable company. So to quit that plus there was no insurance at the writing company so it was a big gamble, I thought man I have got to make this work. This is the only opportunity that I have and I took it and seriously about eighty something percent of everything I wrote got cut and it was really amazing. Then in 2001 I signed my record deal based on that success.
Q That is an amazing story and all of those roads led to this one?
A Ah hah. No doubt.
Q And are you finding that your creative soul is being fed by producing? Are you getting full, you know what I mean?
A Oh yeah. This is the best creative outlet that I’ve ever had because you are helping young artists out there find their sound. If you listen to radio you may find a lot of artists out there who look good, have a decent voice but you can’t tell them apart. You know back in the early nineties, late eighties and all before that there was no mistaking anybody. There was just no way you could mistake the voice of a Merle Haggard or Buck Owens and a Waylon and a Willie and a Tanya. They were all their own brand but today it’s not like that.
Q They all sound alike.
A They all sound alike and it takes you a couple of months to finally figure out who somebody is. I am trying to change that. I want people to have their own brand, their own unique style and that’s what I am shooting for and that is a challenge because people in town like to run off of a formula and I hate formula but it is a challenge I am willing to meet and hopefully be successful.
Q Yeah that might be tough to overcome, that whole formula thing. You know Anthony when something is good it’s good, you know so hopefully you guys will get done and it will be successful and unique. These guys have a record deal right?
A Well Sweetwater Rain in on Curb so their single came out about a month ago and it’s doing great. It’s going to be a hit song and it’s called, “Starshine.” I actually wrote that with a friend of mine who is a bass player with Ronnie Dunn. His name is Robby Harrington, a really good guy and he actually plays bass on the recording. Some of the other groups I am producing, I am also producing a female act from Australia, she’s a big star over there and also she is a rodeo champion. She is a barrel racer and her Dad is a world champion bull rider, Eddie Fisher and her name is Shea Fisher and Shea is just a great singer. I just started recording a record on her. We are about three songs in. I tell you I think it is going to be a big record.
Q Is she here or are you doing this through electronics?
A No, she is here. She bought a place here. She has a place in Australia and she has a place in Texas too. Her family is kind of rodeo royalty. We are kind of tapping into that kind of music for her. Kind of if Shania was from Texas and throw a little bit of honky tonk in there, that is probably what Shea is. She is an original and she is really young, twenty –three year old and there is a lot of label interest out there for her.
Q The four people you are producing right now, please say their names for me again?
A Sweetwater Rain on Curb, Shea Fisher, Thirteen and I still do Lucy Angel stuff and I am working with another duo but they haven’t got a name yet so we will see. They look good and they sing good so we will see how they record.
Q So last year you became a grandfather and you are going to be a new Dad again in January? How cool is that?
A It is so cool. I can’t wait until this little girl gets here. She is going to be younger than her niece.
Q What do you want your grandchild to call you when she begins to speak?
A Pappy and we figure my new baby daughter will call me Daddy.
With that we laughed and I wished him luck on the arrival of his bundle of joy due January 14th, 2013. I said to him, look at all the things you are producing and his final response was, “I am producing and re-producing.” Anthony Smith is a really nice guy and wonderful to have a conversation with. Unless his baby comes early, he will be performing at the Wishing Well Benefit for Kimberley Dahme on January 10th at 3rd and Lindsley. Thank you Anthony for the wonderful interview and we will talk again because this was just so much fun. In the meantime check out Sweetwater Rain online at: http://sweetwaterrain.com