February 03, 2010

An Interview with April Smith

It never hurts to put faith in those who believe in you most. For burgeoning singer/songwriter April Smith, that meant depending on her fans to finance the making of her second and latest album, Songs For A Sinking Ship.

Facilitated by the artist-fundraising website, Kickstarter.com, the project generated over thirteen-thousand dollars in donations, easily exceeding its ten-thousand-dollar-target amount. When asked if the finished album measures up to what she’d originally envisioned irrespective of any thought to budget, she says without hesitation, “
Its even better.

Slated for release on February 23, Songs For A Sinking Ship finds Smith shifting from the pop/rock approach of her debut effort, loveletterbombs, to a decidedly bold and vivacious, ragtime-styled affair. She brandishes saucy bravado throughout much of the album, particularly in songs like “Wow and Flutter” — “Don’
t hate a girl because she knows/All the ways to get beneath your clothes” — as well as Drop Dead Gorgeous, in which she cheekily puts some pretty boy in his rightful, feeble-minded place. She reveals her softer side a time or two, evoking the pain of unrequited love as in the piano ballad, Beloved, and Whatll I Do, in both cases summoning all the yearning of a classic torch song.

Together with her band, April Smith and The Big Picture Show are currently on the road opening for Langhorne Slim, which is where Donald Gibson caught up with her recently to talk about her new album, the perks of being an indie artist, and the ways in which she writes her songs.

What did you see as the benefits of going this independent route as opposed to shopping for a label?

I can’t really speak from the other side of things because I’ve never been on a major label, but I do feel like when you’re doing things on your own and when you don’t have to answer to a label, it probably gives you a lot more freedom to do things the way you want to do them. And to have it sound how you want it to sound and not have rules to follow.

Countless musicians, early on in their career, have naively signed bad contracts that have come to haunt them years later. For someone who’s relatively new at making records, you’re quite savvy toward the business.

I try to keep my ears open as much as possible and really just try to be aware of what’s happening out there. And you can learn from people’s mistakes... I think a lot of newer artists are wary of labels right now for that fact. They're getting burned a lot of the time. They're putting a lot of work into their albums and unfortunately it’s not as fruitful as they would hope.

On the new record, what drew you to its retro, ragtime sound?

My writing just took a different turn. It wasn’t really a conscious effort. My first album is a lot more pop/rock. Then I wrote “Wow and Flutter.” After that, my writing sort of changed a bit and I just went with it.

What’s your songwriting process like?

It’s a little bit different for each song. I tend to start out with a line; and then I sort of build the song around that. It all depends on what the song is about. And the flow of the lyric, whether it works better with a fast song or with a slower number is key too. For the most part, typically I start out with one line in my head and it kind of snowballs from there. With the exception of a couple songs that it's like they write themselves because they’re written so fast. Unfortunately that doesn’t come too often.

The last song on the album, “Stop Wondering,” sounds a little like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” when it starts.

[Laughs] That was one that basically wrote itself. I wrote that so quickly. I just thought it’d be a funny, little interlude with the [line], “Bitch, please!” And that’s the one we get the biggest reaction from at shows; people just go nuts for it.

How do you see yourself evolving as a songwriter in the future?

I’m not sure, because my influences haven’t really changed much. I’ve always been a fan of big band and swing and early, turn-of-the-twentieth-century pop. And I feel like that just came out more on this album. I do like the feeling of that retro-pop with a swing to it, but I couldn’t see myself writing a song like “Wow and Flutter” before I wrote it. So I’m interested in what’ll happen in the next year or so. Maybe it’ll be a totally different style or maybe it’ll hang here for a little while.

Please visit the official website of April Smith and The Big Picture Show for more information, including tour dates and the 2/23 release of Songs For A Sinking Ship.