“Writing a great song is like carrying an egg on a spoon for a mile”, Conner Smith explains. “There are so many places you can drop it. There are so many places you can go the wrong way”.
If last year was anything to go by, Conner Smith is going to be carrying a lot of eggs on a lot of spoons this year, and it doesn't look like he'll be dropping them anytime soon.
You don’t get more Nashville than Conner Smith. He was born in the city and grew up listening to tapes of his mother interviewing songwriters in her office. He fell in love with country music and the stories behind the songs, and by the time he was six years old, he was already writing his own. By the time he was nine, he was signed as a writer to BMI.
For a prodigious country talent like Smith, there was really only one place he was ever destined to go - he was already in Nashville, after all. The 20-year-old signed with Big Machine and went on to put out four of last year’s most anticipated country singles. He begins 2022 with a brand new EP, Didn’t Go Too Far, which collects together ‘Learn From It, ‘Take It Slow’ and the massive viral hit ‘I Hate Alabama’ with three more new songs.
Having already been picked as one of Holler’s New For 2022 artists, it seemed like as good a time to sit down with him to talk about all those eggs he'll be balancing on spoons this year, while taking a look back at a country music journey that began when he was just six years old.
Where are you from and how has that influenced the type of artist you are?
I actually grew up in Nashville, which makes me one of the rare few in this town that did. I think growing up in Nashville, I learnt right away that being a songwriter was a job and that you could pay your bills doing it. From six years old, I saw what it was to be a country music songwriter and just to write songs and tell stories. So ever since I worked at it like I was a professional. I signed to BMI when I was nine, and then when I was 16, I got my first publishing deal.
Being around songwriters has inspired and influenced me so much. It's been a big part of my story. People always say that Nashville is a 10-year town; I laugh because I started writing songs when I was six and someone offered me a publishing deal at 16.
What sort of songs were you writing when you were six years old?
Not good ones. I was just writing songs about life and about what I was living, whether that be at elementary school or playing baseball. The first song I wrote that my mom remembers realising that this was something more than just a phase was when I was eight years old. I wrote a song about her father, my grandfather, who passed away before I was ever born.
I thought, ‘Does he look like me? Does he talk like me? Does he act like me? What would we do if we were together?’ It was just a very deep thought for an eight-year-old. I've always been an old soul. I was a deep thinker, and as a writer I think that even came through when I was young.
What music were you listening to when you were growing up?
I listened to a lot of country music, and a lot of contemporary Christian music as well. My dad's an 80s guy, so if I was in the car with him he’d always be listening to 80s On 8. But my mom was country music through and through, so that's all we listened to around the house; Montgomery Gentry, The Judds, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, all those people. As a kid, I was always drawn to the lyrical aspect of country music. The way they told stories has always fascinated me.
Did you ever want to do anything other than country music?
It was just always my dream. I mean, I had dreams of playing baseball and writing in the offseason, but you know, real things come into play and you look at your high school, you look at college, and I'd already signed a publishing deal. I knew what I wanted to do and I was in the perfect place to do it. I wanted to write songs and tell stories.
The artist thing was never really part of the plan, but I think my voice developed over time, and I got to a point where I figured I might as well tell these stories. So, as much as I love songwriting, I love playing live and getting in front of a crowd too. It's a beautiful thing.
Are you more creative when you're happy or when you're sad?
Sad, for sure. It's always easier to write sad songs than happy ones, because it's easier to capture that emotion in a lyric. Heartbreak sucks, but at least when you're a songwriter you get something good out of it.
I think for a lot of songwriters, myself included, it can get difficult to live so deeply inside of your emotions all the time. So when you're sad, you're feeling all that sadness, and when you’re happy, you feel that joy. It can be a real rollercoaster at times, but I think that's the beauty of it.
For me writing songs is such a healing process; it's a part of therapy. I get to express what I'm feeling and put it into a song and then have this beautiful representation of a moment in time left for me. So yeah, definitely sad songs are easier, but as an artist, it's always better to get the happy songs.
You were writing songs when you were six, so have you always been drawn towards sensitivity and sadness?
I feel deeply. I don't know if you're into the Enneagram Personality Test, but I'm a “four” on the Enneagram. Basically, there are nine different emotions, so there are nine different personalities, and you can take a quiz. I don't know if it's scientific, but it's definitely a thing.
There are nine different base personalities and every person falls into one of them, and it kind of explains the way you think and the way you feel and why you feel certain things. So there's the “perfectionist”, there's the “giver”, there's the “peacemaker”, the “adventurer”, all these things. I’m a four, and a four is an individualist and a romantic, but it basically means you live in your emotions.
I've just always been an introspective person, a deep thinker; I try to see the world from a little bit of a different perspective from others.
Writing is obviously a very personal process for you, how do you find it writing in a room with other people? Is it hard to not just want to go off and write on your own and find your own thoughts?
I think there’s such a beautiful intimacy to writing with other people in a room. It’s such a cool thing that you get to walk into a room and your job is to sit there and write poems with a couple of people.
I love that it’s such an intimate thing and that it can get really personal, especially when you're going through something and you're trying to write it. Again, it's often a kind of therapy, being in rooms with collaborators, but there's so much beauty in it, especially in this town with so much damn talent.
What would be your dream collaboration?
In the country world it would have to be Eric Church. He's inspired me so much. Also I'm a massive Justin Bieber fan, so one day it would be nice to get around to that.
What’s next for you?
We’ve got an EP coming out at the beginning of the year, with three brand new songs on it. We've been hustling so much over last year, and this year will be even busier. We’re going to be out on the road with Ryan Hurd and then we’re going to go to Cancun with Sam Hunt for Spring Break. We've got a lot of exciting news coming out for the summer, so it'll be busy, but it’s going to be an awesome year.
Didn't Go Too Far is released on Big Machine on January 14th. You