Different country: Corey Smith on internet fame and Nashville

by Ryan Snyder

  He’s still one of the most popular independent artists of the internet age, but Corey Smith is completely cognizant of the trappings that have come with internet stardom, be they for better or worse. He has the loyalty and respect of millions of fans, but guitarist and songwriter Smith wants to establish himself as something other than just a byproduct of the MySpace generation. It’s acceptance from others in the music business, he says, that also motivates him to further himself as an artist.

“I think it’s been easy for a lot of people in the music industry to dismiss me as being created by MySpace and I don’t want that,” Smith said. “I just want to keep getting better and earn the respect of my peers as an artist first and foremost.” For Smith, earning that respect involves not just creating heartfelt music, but being a complete professional in the studio as well. Releasing four albums of self-produced original material between 2003 and 2007 was a learning experience for Smith, with the most valuable lesson being that of preparedness. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes producing my own records in the past,” Smith said. “I’ve learned that there’s no substitute for already having a very developed idea of how the song should be so we’re not in the studio just guessing.” While in the midst of an expansive spring and summer tour, Smith is test driving brand new material for inclusion in an album set for release sometime in the late summer or early fall of 2009. The album is tentatively titled Keeping Up With the Joneses, and he spent several months prior to the tour in preproduction arranging more than 20 new songs, which Smith feels is easily some of the best work he’s done. “I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about this record,” he stated. “I have what I think are the best group of songs I’ve ever written, which revolve around messages that I think will really resonate with people.” Of course, not all of the songs will make the final cut, but Smith has the road to sort that out. Smith still has 34 more dates scheduled after his performance on Saturday in Winston-Salem, though most are packed into the weeks leading to the end of July. With so many dates in a relatively short amount of time, Smith keeps his enthusiasm up with the notion of playing the previously unheard material to hungry audiences. One of those already becoming a crowd favorite is “Dirtier By the Year,” a song about debauched middle-aged tendencies that came to him during a fishing trip and his favorite to be the album’s first single. “That’s my favorite thing to do is play a brand new song that I know the audience hasn’t heard to see their reaction,” Smith said. “Every song that has been successful for me, I’ve known it from the first time I’ve played it.” In Smith’s pursuit for more sincere acceptance, there’s one more misconception about his music that he wants to tear down. Coming from a small town in Georgia and playing predominantly acoustic music, he says, has stereotyped him as a country artist and though he agrees with it to an extent, he doesn’t want to be thrown into the typical Nashville lot. In fact, he wants to separate himself from the pop country that is pervasive on CMT and country radio everywhere with the use of the term “progressive country” to encompass his eclectic brand of edgy Southern folk. He’s comfortable with the folksy drawl that characterizes his music, but not with the vacuously disingenuous way that popular country music portrays rural life. “It’s a gross stereotype and I don’t think that much authentic country music comes from Nashville anymore,” Smith said. “If you have a Southern drawl when you sing or talk about beer, hunting or fishing, then you’re right wing, anti-abortion, pro-gun or whatever social and political baggage that comes with it.” It’s the crass commercialism of the genre that bothers Smith the most. He’s not the type of artist who sits down with the idea of writing a radio-friendly song or one to appeal to a new audience, but the former high school teacher and family man has largely been successful through influences that arrive from a more genuine origin. “Because I have a family and have people that depend on me, I’ve been able to approach music a little differently,” Smith added. “I’ve been more focused on providing for their best interests and that’s led me to making the most sound decisions.”

Corey Smith is performing at the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem on May 16 at 7 p.m.