“Lyric-driven comfort twang”, is how Rachel McIntyre Smith describes her sound, and it’s an absolutely perfect description.
Alongside artists like Brandy Clark and Hailey Whitters, her songs revisit and rework the classic sound of honky tonk and traditional country, while adding just enough contemporary production touches to make it sound fresh and relevant.
Raised in the small East Tennessee town of Oliver Springs, Rachel began intensive piano training at nine years old, before winning the Tennessee State Piano Competition twice and earning the Paderewski Medal for Guild for 10 years of superior ratings in a row. This strong background of music theory allowed Rachel to excel in other areas of music; she taught herself ukulele and guitar and played as clarinet section leader in her school band.
Although she always dreamed of being a singer, her bashfulness kept her from singing in public until she was a junior in high school, but from a very young age, her mother, an English teacher, encouraged Rachel to write.
While she was studying at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she came across Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves, which opened her eyes to the world of country music. “I felt like I suddenly understood the direction my life would take,” she says.
One of her first original songs was ‘The Kitten Song’ (an ode to a rescued kitten), which led to her becoming a regular performer at cat cafes. “It’s like playing a cozy house show with 30 or so cats,” comments Rachel. “It’s amazing.” In early 2020, she even went out on a concert tour of cat cafés.
Rachel began working with producer Dran Michael in the fall of 2020 on her debut EP, Glory Daze, which is now set for release in the autumn.
Holler is excited to be premiering ‘Miss Highfalutin’ below.
A joyful, tongue-in-cheek takedown of anyone who has ever left their hometown and come back too big for their boots, ‘Miss Highfalutin’ sounds like Loretta Lynn for the TikTok generation; a cheeky reminder for everyone not to get above themselves and always remember where they came from.
Holler sat down with Rachel McIntyre Smith to ask about the inspiration for the new song and what's next for her in 2022.
We absolutely love the song at Holler. What prompted you to write it? Was there a specific ‘Miss Highfalutin’ that inspired it or is it a mash-up of people you know or have met?
I’m so happy you like ‘Miss Highfalutin’! I’m from a really small town in East Tennessee called Oliver Springs. As I grew up, I realized that there was a pattern of people criticizing and making fun of Oliver Springs once they moved out of town. Their hoity-toity attitude didn’t sit right with me, so I decided to write a song about it.
What was the songwriting process like for this song? How did it gel?
‘Miss Highfalutin’ is actually the first country song I ever wrote. During my freshman year of college, I became OBSESSED with Kacey Musgraves’s album Pageant Material. I thought it was so genius how she bottled all these small-town stories into fun and clever lyrics. I realized that I had spent years making observations that I could pour into my own songs. As we drove to my aunt’s house for Christmas in 2016, I sat in the backseat and googled “funny Southern phrases,” and the word highfalutin popped up. My brain instantly flooded with lyrics. By the time that we got to my aunt’s house, I had written pretty much the entire song.
What was the studio session like for this one? Any fun stories? Did it come together the way you expected it to, or did the song turn out differently than you imagined it might?
Shortly after I wrote this song in 2016, I produced and recorded it in the audio studio inside my college’s library. I’m definitely not a professional producer or mixer, so it sounded pretty rough. However, at the time, I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to help me with it, so the song just sort of existed in this less than stellar format.
Flash forward to 2022: when I decided to put together my debut EP, I realized that the lyrics for ‘Miss Highfalutin’ fit the storyline and the vibe of the project, so I decided to re-record the song with my incredible producer, Dran Michael. I played him my recording of it and told him that I had no affinity for any part of the production. I just liked the lyrics and melody. He immediately said, “This is going to be really different, but trust me. I think it could be awesome.” He started playing the really swampy acoustic riff that you hear on the track. I instantly loved it. It was definitely not what I was expecting from it. It turned out so much better than I could ever have imagined. That’s the power of a great producer.
One funny side note - when we were recording the song, Dran told me that I needed to take on a persona in order to sing the song with enough attitude. I imagined that I was in an old-fashioned, John Wayne-style Western standoff happening in the middle of the aisle at a grocery store. It worked like a charm.
What do you want people to take from this song?
I think a lot of small-town folks experience the same sort of situation where people who move away from their town talk down about it. I hope that this song puts a smile on their faces. I hope it makes them take pride in living in their town and gives them something to send to their friends to say, “Oh my gosh, doesn’t this song remind you of that person from high school?"
This song has a classic feel to it. What sort of vibe were you hoping to accomplish with the song?
Before working on this song with Dran (my producer), I told him that I wanted it to be a really fun song to play live, with areas where different band members could solo. Dran came up with the swampy vibe, and I love it. It’s very different from the other songs on the EP, but I think it still fits well with them as a whole. I love that it has a classic country vibe. I’m so pumped for people to finally hear it!
How would you describe your music to people who haven't heard it before?
As the daughter of an English teacher, I always start by writing the lyrics and then build the song around that. I’m really drawn to three-part harmony and classic country instrumentation, so the banjo, mandolin, and steel guitar are key ingredients in my music. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandaddy listening to old music, and I think it shows.
Rachel McIntyre Smith's new single, 'Miss Highfalutin', is premiering exclusively on Holler. Her new EP, Glory Daze, will be released on September 30th. Click here to pre-save.