Floating with Carri Smithey
Elon-based Singer/Songwriter Teams Up With Greensboro’s The Ends For Debut
Carri Smithey isn’t one to take all the credit. Smithey, who sings and writes much of the material for the Carri Smithey Band, says it’s her bandmates that make all the moving parts work together. Smithey lives in Elon, within spitting distance of Ossipee, as she puts it. Her band is made up of the members of The Ends, a steady-gigging area band that has thoroughly internalized the fundamental feel of classic and Southern rock after probably thousands of hours on club stages.
The Carri Smithey Band’s debut album, “Midnight Ride,” is set for release on Dec. 9, and the band is playing a few area shows to celebrate the event, at the Fat Frogg Bar and Grill in Elon on Friday, Dec. 9, and then at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Co. in Greensboro on Saturday, Dec. 10.
As of a few years ago, Smithey had been singing in a band that mostly did covers of contemporary country hits. A lot of Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. She was ready to do her own thing. Back in early 2014 Smithey decided to submit a tune to the songwriting contest that’s a part of MerleFest each year.
Smithey had worked with The Ends before, having sung backing vocals on their record. And so the band members were ready to collaborate when she proposed learning, polishing and recording one of her songs, “No More,” for the competition. The Carri Smithey Band includes, in addition to Smithey on lead vocals, Josh King on guitar and vocals, Keith Ingalls on guitar and vocals, Ryan Burgess on drums and vocals and Josh Coe on bass.
“I showed the band the melody and the chords I wrote it with, and they took off with it,” she says of the process, downplaying the fact that her voice and her lyrics are the center of attention, expert as the arrangement, harmonies and backing musicianship is.
When she got word that the song had won the contest, at first Smithey didn’t believe it.
“They called me on April Fools Day, and I thought it was a joke,” she says. “But they picked it.”
That led to discussions about working up some more material.
“Most writers, I guess, write all the time, and that’s what I had been doing,” says Smithey. “I’d been writing and writing.”
The Carri Smithey Band’s record has a kind of fully realized logic and scope to it. There’s a comfort and confidence with the style and emotions of the songs. Some tunes dip into Southern rock, some have a touch of soul — with slow-burn horns popping up in places, and some have a hint of a jammy groove to them. Pedal steel and honky-tonk piano round out the barrel-aged feel. But more than anything, Smithey has a swaggering woman-with-an-attitude sound. It’s bad-ass and emotionally vulnerable at the same time. This is music that shares a lineage going from the Dixie Chicks back to Tanya Tucker and Sammi Smith. For her part, Smithey says she’s a big fan of singers like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Martina McBride. And you can hear the mix of bold candor and humor that characterizes some of those classic women of country.
A song like Smithey’s “Kiss My Grits,” shows her sensibility. Smithey takes the sass-talking line, made famous to some by the tough downhome waitress character from a ‘70s sit-com, and gooses it a little. “You can kiss my grits, right down in the butter,” she sings. It’s that rare example of literally corny humor, the stone-ground kind.
“I’m a believer that comedy helps the world turn around,” says Smithey. “I think I’m funny. But I know a lot of people think I’m just a big dork. My dad loved Ray Stevens. When I was a kid I listened to all these funny songs of his.”
Smithey isn’t all funny, or even mostly funny, but even some of her most heartfelt lyrics have a note of humor to them. Listen to “Love Somebody,” which is like a mini anthem on the merits of being happy, not hating on people, and focusing on love instead of any number of other things. “Why don’t you shut up and love somebody/just mind your own business and do your best to be happy,” sings Smithey, giving some sage advice.
Smithey says she got the inspiration for that song after watching some heated and obnoxious political commentary on social media. “A little light bulb went off,” she says, when the refrain popped into her head as a response to some online loudmouth.
Some of the songs don’t come from a funny place. Smithey says several of the songs were written when she was going through her divorce, and a sense of pain and feeling betrayed come through pretty clearly on some of those. “I’ve been holding on with white knuckles to a love that’s already dead and gone,” she sings on “Greatest Love.” The chorus delivers the kicker: “Even as it was dying, it was the greatest love that I have ever known.”
Singing on stage hasn’t always been easy for Smithey, even though she comes from a musical family.
“My uncle, my mom’s brother, is a really great gospel singer,” says Smithey. “They sing in church quite a bit.”
She remembers everybody singing in harmony. “When I was little I just listened,” she says. “It took a long time for me to start singing in front of people. I was 33. I had terrible stage fright.”
Smithey says she’s “knockin’ on 40’s door” now but still has moments when being on stage presents challenges.
“I am a klutz,” she says, laughing. “It’s awful — I’ll turn and hit the mic stand with my guitar.”
Maybe it’s all part of the comic relief. Smithey likes to act like she’s just been plopped down into this gig, as if it’s not the result of years of practice, hard work, a natural gift for singing and a keen ear for melody and lyrical details. Her day job as a hair stylist gives Smithey the opportunity to listen to people talk about their lives and struggles at length. And sometimes she’ll pick up a turn of phrase or a scrap of an idea for a song while she’s snipping with the scissors.
“I’m always writing something down — daily,” says Smithey. “It’s kind of like somebody who I guess has an addiction. I just keep doing it. I do it every day. It’s how I keep my sanity.”
That creative drive could mean more songs and more recordings from the Carri Smithey Band down the road. For now, Smithey is just hoping to take the new record out to audiences around the region and to some surrounding states. She’s still mostly amped about the fact that the guys from The Ends — her band — were enthusiastic about her songs and about working them into shape.
“I’m a single mom. I’ve got two kids,” says Smithey. “The boys in the band pretty much do everything. All I do is come rehearse, every once in a while I promote a show. It’s a huge great feeling for me, for them to believe in it that much. I’m still kind of floating, thinking about it.”
You can check out the album and purchase a copy at the band’s website: carrismitheyband.com