Song River: Hey Rett, you’ve been keeping some late night hours, I totally understand. Glad I woke you up this afternoon though!
Rett Smith: Um, yeah sorry. Back in action now! (laughed)
SR: I was looking back over some of the articles that have done on you, and they mention that you were born in Texas, but place you living in a few different areas growing up.
RS: I was in Texas and lived there until I was about 3 or 4 years old. Then we moved to Southern New Mexico, not too far from the border, in the town of Ruidoso, New Mexico.
SR: That is a beautiful area to live in, a place that keeps you grounded.
RS: Totally, I miss it. I was in New York off and on for the last seven years, but now I reside in Nashville.
SR: Does the Nashville area seem to be a better fit for what you’re creating musically?
RS: Really where I live doesn’t affect me it all with what I am playing. New York is just so different now, it even was when I first moved there, but now it has changed so much. I didn’t really want to even have to leave, but I don’t know anyone who is really making music there anymore and I have a responsibility to what I am creating… it just wasn’t there for me anymore.
SR: Was there a female influential element to any of the decisions to move?
RS: No, not really. Neither a reason of influence to stay there or come here really.
SR: So this move was for music.
RS: (paused) Yeah, I mean for me this move was personal and to me that means music. And everyone has been priced out of the city. You used to able find some place to rent and it could be handled, but now- there’s no way. Now, it doesn’t matter you can’t get an apartment. It doesn’t matter if you are broke all the time, you just cant do it.
SR: Since your arrival there Nashville recently, what have you been working on and putting together?
RS: I was very conscious to not, I mean I am put off… “I came to Nashville to become a songwriter…” I came to Nashville to get my own space. That’s why I came here to give me my own space to write and think. I don’t want to hop all over. I don’t think you can manufacture a great song- it has to be what it is.
SR: Well, pop music feels at times as if its been manufactured.
RS: Yes, it does and that’s no okay with me.
SR: Are you familiar with Rick Hall founder/owner of Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama? I was just talking to him recently about the depth of music. If there isn’t anything coming from hard-work, struggles, there isn’t a story.
RS: Yeah, yeah. Actually I was on flight a while back and met Rick on a plane. Cool, cool dude and so right. I think though if you go just below the surface the credibility is still there and I think there is still great music being made.
SR: How are the bands and musicians supposed to make money though now?
RS: It’s not going to come from records, but still you can’t replace, you can’t “stream” going to a show.
You can’t download a concert experience. That’s always been what matters, as a performer. You get lost in those moments of what you want. There is money to be made, as much as there was? No, but touring makes money.
SR: Do you feel bands then must rely now days on touring and merch?
RS: Yeah. Touring for certain and merch has always played a big role in the industry. Records though that has changed. The whole industry has changed.
SR: Yes, from the songwriters/performers/ album cover artists, managers, lighting people, sound people to even the journalist and photographers. Most get paid very nominally, if at all.
RS: Yeah, I know and that’s just bullshit. I think each person has to decide in this industry how far they are willing to go within that industry to ‘give in’ or ‘sell out’ that is a personal decision. For me, I can’t. I get you have to eat, but I just can’t do it. I would rather go hammer nails, I would. You know. There’s a lot of responsibility in this shit to me, and I think that’s getting lost on some. Success, successful people who are long-term I don’t think give in. I’d be a roofer, and go nail on shingles first.
SR: Understand. We’ve all been at that ‘selling out’ moment. Maybe, more than once. But, if you really love, and respect, what it is you’re creating, it has to be your passion. Plumber, garbage collector, whatever… you give it 2000% and then some. We need to get back to that way of thinking, instead of what satisfaction can I have in the next second of my existence. Pay off comes from diligence, sweat and hard work.
SR: Now Rett, I was reading that you were involved some serious sporting. What was it?
RS: Yeah, I was a ski racer. I don’t talk about it much. All the PR try to harp on it, but I don’t talk about it much. I had moved to Austria to attend a sports academy when I was 12 years old. And I was a ski racer through up high level, international racing until I was 19. That was really my whole life, devoted to that, at least on the surface it was for sure.
SR: Well, we can leave it right there and not go any further. I just couldn’t find anything on what sport you were involved in prior to your songwriting and performing.
RS: The reason I don’t talk about it really is I have friends who are still big in it, multiple Olympias, who still ski full-time and they are very successful. And kind of like what we were talking about you know, the integrity of things. I feel like, how dare I now use skiing as such a positive influence or even a story there, because these guys still work so hard everyday. I feel it discredits my friends who are better than me at it.
SR: Your dad had introduced you to some incredible tunes while you were growing up, like Hank Williams Jr. for instance.
RS: I remember I was at the Hollywood Bowl, and I was back stage and met Buddy Guy. It was a cordial exchange of, “Hey nice to meet you,” and at that time I was writing like crazy, but it was still before I had anything big going on in the music scene. Maybe no one else around me knew it, but I did, and it was that pivotal moment I knew it was time to jump in with both feet. Music’s influences have a way of getting into you.
I know, personally I don’t want to meet most of my heroes. I know there is a difference in those who affected my life and who they might be in real life. I don’t need to know them personally. They’ve given me enough, I don’t care what they had for breakfast. What I care about is the fact they can go and be honest. That’s everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re the mailman or selling out stadiums… you’re fulfilled.
SR: You had posted on your Facebook page awhile back something like, “Fuzz is the most important meal of the day.” And as I have listened to your music, yes the fuzz pedal is your best friend. Talk about this passion you have with the guitar and the fuzz pedal.
RS: You know, I have always, always wanted to be a guitar player. That was it. I got a guitar when I was 12 and I was totally musically it was like Greek. I hadn’t comprehension how it worked. I had a tuning fork and didn’t know how to use it. I just though people knew it. I think my parents just got it for me to humor me. I was like shit, I’ll never be able to play guitar. The sounds were in my head, even without being able to play at that time. So, when I picked the guitar back up and learned a couple of songs, I knew I could make this thing work. As soon as I could do that and get these songs out of my head to my guitar it was just awesome. I dig it. I am really thankful, that I wasn’t able to play when I was young, it saved from going through so many phases. I never had to conform to anything. I was 19 years old just playing.
SR: If I understand you right, you still don’t feel any pressure.
RS: No, zero. And I try to base everything I do now off of that. I’ve learned no matter how hard I want to be whatever, my shit is still going to come through whether I like it or not. So, I might as well work on opening that up.
SR: How hard is that for you really Rett, to open up. You’ve been writing longer than you’ve been playing.
RS: Oh yeah, by a lot. Opening up in the act isn’t hard. Sometimes I think I give people too much of me and it comes back to bite me. I haven’t been good at finding that balance, but I am now getting there.
SR: Yeah, understand. It took me a long time to get there myself. And perhaps for you it will be through your expression of music that will be the catalyst to get there.
RS: Oh yeah, exactly. I’ve battled depression as a teenager, really hard. But the difference is that I know when I wake up I have an outlet I don’t take for granted. I can take a therapist for granted, or going for a walk… but not my songs, writing, playing them. It has changed my outlook on everything.
SR: I am going to be selfish a little bit, because I love Arizona, and touch on a song you wrote, one of your first batches of songs actually you ever wrote and recorded, “Lucky Strike” which is on this latest album, “Tularosa.” Talk to me about this ‘old’ song you wrote under Arizona skies.
RS: Yeah, “Lucky Strike” was one of the first songs in a batch I had written knowing that they were songs. When I was in Arizona I was definitely trying to get my head clear. It’s a song, that (paused) whether I say it was about this or that doesn’t really matter if its me. It’s a song about being limbo.
SR: Where in Arizona were you when you wrote the song?
RS: Just outside of Tucson.
SR: Your new album, “Tularosa” is available everywhere you can find music. When are you looking to tour?
RS: I was going to be on the road all this fall, but maybe right now do a short run in November and then be on the road in 2016. Have it be my year to hit t
hings. With the response I have had it’d be great.
SR: Well the press reviews have all be highly favorable.
RS: Yeah, well its just the first record… (humbly said) BUT I am so thankful it’s been well received.
SR: Finally, what has been your favorite guitar along the way?
RS: Actually it was a guitar my mom got me, and it’s the one I really learned and stretched on, it’s a really pretty Gretsch. To play though I have a 1962 Gibson es 335 and that took me 17 months to pay off, I use it to record everything. And I am really into the Les Paul’s live I can ride the volume and tones… it is a Les Paul. And when you find a good Les Paul… you better hold on to it.