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In Conversation With Country Rocker Noah Smith
Image courtesy of B! Noticed Public Relations/Artwork credit: Sandwich Jones

 The last part of 2021 is going to make it a great year for Noah Smith.  His latest album, Ain’t So Bad Round Here is finished and debuts November 19th.  Noah collaborated with some of Nashville’s most talented writers to have them add cuts to the project.  The songs are all strong on their own which makes for an album where each track complements the next.   The album, solely produced by Noah, features eight tracks,with all but one that Noah has writing credits on or shared credit for. The songs range from the title track “Ain’t So Bad Round Here”, a rock- feeling song inspired by time spent at home during the COVID lockdown, to “Heroes,” a song for all the hard working musicians who spend all their time on the road playing for fans. The album is the kind of music you want to hear when you jump in your car and head out on a road trip, as well as what you crank up when you and your friends are hanging out having a beer. The songs will take you along with them as each has its own story to tell. Noah writes in a way that is vibrant and relatable, and through his music, you feel like you are sitting beside him experiencing the songs with him.  

Noah, an Ohio native, is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a degree in Electronic Media, Music Production and Audio and Video Design. He still calls Ohio home, but also spends time in Nashville for writer rounds.  Noah has an impressive list of artists that he has shared the stage with, including The Steve Miller Band, Josh Turner, Ashley McBryde, Cassadee Pope, David Allen Coe and Levi Lowrey, to name a few. 

The album features songs co-written with some of Nashville’s most sought-after heavy hitters, like Erin Enderlin, Cheley Tackett and Levi Lowrey.  “All God’s Children” is co-written with Erin Enderlin. 

“Devil’s Reach,” with its dark, smoky vibe, is co-written with Cheley Tackett and another of the industry’s favorite sons, Blue Foley.

Even if you aren’t a songwriter, you’ll feel the despair and frustration in “God Write Me A Song.”  Just staring at a blank paper knowing that there are no ideas flowing is discouraging.  Anyone can apply that sense of despair.  For example, it can be a business idea you can’t come up with, or a presentation that you are having trouble with. Even though we are not all songwriters, we can relate to the feeling of helplessness trying to make it happen.  The co-writer is Michael Moeller, who also helped pen the title track, as well as being one of the musicians who played on the album.

“Cover Bands” is the only song Noah did not have a part in writing.  Roger Hodges and Terri Jo Box wrote this song that Noah heard and knew he wanted to cut for the record.  With a line that reads, “It took me this long to find what I don’t want to lose. I hate that I just now started loving you,” you can understand why Noah wanted it on his album. 

 I recently had the chance to catch up with Noah before his album release.  Here is the conversation with this insightful and talented performer. 

Catherine Norbury: Hi Noah, congratulations on your upcoming album release of Ain’t So Bad Round Here.  It’s incredible! I had it cranking all day.

Noah Smith:  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it.  I have been waiting a long time for this one for sure.

CN:  How does a guy from Cincinnati, Ohio end up here?  How did you get to this point?

NS:   I started out as a punk rock kid, playing around in pool halls and church basements in my hometown.  I just fell in love with it.  I woke up a few years ago and realized, well, I guess this is it and we’re going to burn the ships and go all in.  It’s been a slow, long-cut process for me.  I have been persistent and fell in love with songwriting and woke up one day and realized this may be all I’m good at at this point (laughs)

CN:   Do you have a crew and band that you usually work with regularly to put this all together?

Photo credit: Kaden Lucas

NS:   I’ve done a few different routes.  I’ve tracked down in Nashville with Nashville players.  I’m an audio engineer and kind of a studio head and producer at heart.  I produce a couple of other projects a year to keep my creative energy going.  We actually tracked this record at my studio with my band and we mixed it with my front house engineer.  My tour manager actually mixed and mastered it. Coming out of 2020, this was definitely our camp and I am really proud of everybody who worked on it.  Keeping a band together is like keeping a church softball team together, it’s always a wild cast of people.  I am really grateful to make this one with my band. 

CN:   You went to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and earned a degree in Electronic Media, Music Production and Audio & Video Design, and add in that you write music as well.  This is the total package for song production, I’m sure having all these different talents added to the making of an album.  Having you as a writer and performer, as well as a tech guy  must have helped with putting this all together. 

NS:   I appreciate you seeing that perspective.  It’s an interesting way that I came up.  I grew up in a blue collar construction family.   My family owned a construction business for 27 years. Then I went to a pretty prestigious music school.  I was in school with folks who were dancers and in the first chairs of symphonies.  I laugh because I think my degree and my college experience taught me how to run my own band. (laughs)

CN:   When you write a song, are you also visualizing how you are going to make the video to go along with it at the same time? 

NS:   Yeah, I joke about it.  Sometimes I wish I could just put my head down and stare at the floor and write songs, but I love it all.  I came up at a time where you just showed up and signed a record deal.  Now those days are gone and you have to really roll up your sleeves and build the whole thing.  Some people like to complain about that.  I am from the Midwest, near Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was raised to work.  I love it all.  I love the music business, I love networking.  I love songwriting.   I love the craft.  There are times where I’m like, “Man, I would love to be just a songwriter and have somebody tell me where to show up to play my songs,” but at the end of the day, I have to be honest, it’s what brings me to the table every day. I really love building the whole camp.  I always had a fantasy of Barnum & Bailey building a circus and that’s kind of what my career has turned into.  I really try to take care of our people in my camp that way, to be like a big old family being out on the road.  It’s been pretty special. 

CN:   That makes you a little bit of a unicorn, where you do it all and you make the complete package.  That’s a great gift, to be able to be so creative and do the technical work as well, not everyone can do that.  

NS:   Thank you.  We have done shows with Joe Diffie, Chris Janson, Ashley McBryde, Kentucky Headhunters and The Steve Miller Band.  We have always tried to be really easy to work with, but we have also joked that maybe we need to loosen up a little bit.  There are times I see people get management deals and I think we try too hard.  Maybe we need to sit back and relax a little bit, play some country music and forget about the details sometimes. 

CN: Your list of who you have opened for is amazing, it’s kind of an eclectic group.  How does all that happen? How do you make that happen?

NS:   I call it the “long cut.”   I have a record called Long Cut.  I started touring around when I was 17 years old.  We would do 30 to 40 shows a year.  We traveled around in a little van and played all around the Midwest and going down south, then heading up to Michigan.  It was a lot of building relationships.  I heard someone say a long time ago, from the sidewalk to the stage, you don’t know who you’re going to work with.  Over the years you would get calls from people along the way.  My first EP that I put out, my songwriting took a turn.  It was kind of folky, then it turned into a little bit more country. 

NS:   I’ve always lived the best of both worlds.  We get asked to do shows by William Morris out of relationships from Nashville.  We went out and did a couple of shows with Joe Diffie.   We did the Ashley McBryde show through them, but then you talk about being eclectic, I got a call to do a couple of dates with The Steve Miller Band.  Those two genres (country and rock), in a lot of people’s eyes, don’t necessarily add up.  My songwriting is really what creates that opportunity, it really falls into both markets.  I think real deal music fans can connect with that.  I have been really lucky, a lot of that just comes from being out on the road.  You never know who is going to ask.  I’m not at the top and I’m not at the bottom.  A lot of people ask how you get on these shows.  The Steve Miller Band was from a relationship I built 10 years ago.  The next thing you know, you get a phone call.   We call it the “Ramen Noodle Effect.”   You starve them out and eventually you get some phone calls.  That’s for all the kids out there listening. (laughs)

CN:  I can see how you would fit in with all the different artists you’ve opened for.  Your music has a range from upbeat to gritty rock.  What did you grow up listening to?  What was on your mixtapes?

NS:   Actually, when I was growing up we were a big sports family.  I fell in love with touring because my parents traveled playing competitive softball, believe it or not.   But if there was music in our house, it was Paul Simon and Alan Jackson, with some Johnny Cash mixed in there.  Growing up with Paul Simon, I really fell in love with lyrical movements and lyrics, it all starts with the song for me.  Growing up where I did there were no country bands by me.  If you wanted country music, you had to pick up a guitar and amp, get in a garage and turn the amp up loud and play with a bunch of kids.  That’s kind of where I cut my teeth.  I was always a lyrical guy. I naturally fell in love with songwriting.  Some of Alan Jackson’s early records really inspired me.  I would be at shows and I remember people coming in and saying, “I can’t understand these bands screaming, these heavy rock and roll bands.”  I thought,”Let’s start a band and sing and maybe then people will get into that.”  

NS:  I grew up a punk rock kid, but it’s always been about songwriting for me, I love it all.  I have always dreamed about having cuts on  metal or country records.  A good song will speak to you regardless of the genre.  At times I think I’m breaking down some walls.  Transparently, I think the industry wants you to be very “one thing.”  I’ve always loved what I love and what I want to put out.  I think it’s from where I came from.  Ohio is the melting pot of the country, and my music, I think, speaks to that.  When I was a kid, on Thursday nights I was stripping tobacco in the tobacco barns here in Brown County, Ohio.  I have lived it all, it’s not a fake thing.  It’s really what our life looks like out here. I was really grateful.  My dad was a construction guy, but the next thing you know, we would be going to see a play.  My dad also loved good films and we would go see them too.  The arts and culture were always a big part of our lives growing up.  Looking back on my life now, I am so grateful to have had all of that.

CN:   It is amazing how important the arts are to kids growing up and the influences it has on them.  It’s awesome your parents did that, it makes a world of difference for sure.  With the country music industry now, the looks and sounds are evolving and changing.  How do you feel about the changes?  The guys are not all looking like George Strait anymore.  Gone are the big  cowboy hats and big belt buckles.  Now it’s baseball hats and flip flops, and the music is changing also.  What is your take on all the changes?

NS:   I am a purist at heart, I embrace it all.  I don’t love the talk of, “I just listen to outlaw country, or I just listen to punk rock.  I think if you have to say you’re an outlaw, you’re probably not an outlaw, or if you say you’re punk, you’re probably not punk.  That’s how I came up, listening to what you love.  I want my fans to be music fans and I want them to love the music that they love.  There is enough of the music to go around forever.  I keep an eye on what comes and goes.  Like now you see people wear bell bottoms and it’s 2021. (laughs)

CN:   I totally agree with you on all of that, spot on observation.  Your title track for your new album, Ain’t So Bad Round Here, was there an influence for the song? 

NS:   Several years ago, my management team put together a songwriter round in Whitefish, Montana.  It was the first time I went on a writers retreat. I fell in love with the process.  I put on my own writers round and I invited a few buddies of mine to a farm in Kentucky.  We have a cabin out there and we got together to write songs.  We got a lot of breakfast meat and a Blackstone grill and we went out and wrote songs for a few days.  It was November 2020 when I wrote that song.  The world was in chaos and the country was divided with the election going on.  I remember getting up early and going out and having a back wood cigar.  I don’t smoke a lot of cigars but when we’re out on a writers’ retreat, I smoke a few.  I went out there and the fog was on the rolling hills of Kentucky.  Right before I lit up the cigar we were all hanging out and I said, “You know it ain’t so bad ‘round here”.  That song came from how divided we think we are, and how bad we think we have it.  I’m in my 30’s, and looking back on my life in the United States, I think I’ve had an incredible life and an incredible opportunity to live.  I know some don’t always have that, but at the end of the day I think we all have it pretty good, looking at the world view of what we all have.  There’s deer meat stocked in the crisper, and if you need new cable jumpers you can order them on Amazon, and they’ll show up at your house in a few days.  So, it ain’t so bad ‘round here. (laughs)

CN:  You co-wrote “All of God’s Children” with Erin Enderlin.  I have to say that her name comes up in so many of my interviews.  To write with her is a “bucket list” item for many writers.  Here you are with a song on your album co-written with her. How did you meet up with Erin?

NS:   I met Erin through relationships over the years in songwriting.  We connected through the songwriting. Erin is just a class act, and you can tell she is there for the right reasons.  People show up to Nashville to make music for a lot of different reasons.  I had an energy with Erin. We’re in the same room for the right reasons.  We connected and hit it off one day, and I said I would love to write.  We just connected.  Erin has such a vast history and knowledge of country music.  Her writing is just so special.  That’s pretty cool hearing you say that.  Some people dream of that and I was able to do it.  I appreciate you pointing that out.  Today is just a day of gratitude for sure here at the Smith house.  I’m grateful to say that Erin and I are going to write again.  Once you get a good song, you have to get back in the room and start doing it again, that’s for sure.  Erin is definitely a great person to go check out. 

CN:   I bet once you write a song with one person, you click with them. Is it easier to go into a writing room with them, do ideas come quicker?

NS:   It’s kind of like dating.  At first it’s a little awkward, and then by the third or fourth date, maybe you leave your socks on the floor (laughs)  and you get a little comfortable.  The more you write, and the more you co-write, you can get there a lot quicker because you know you’re going to end up in a good place.  There is no need to wait for that awkward stuff to wear off, you just get busy.  The cool thing is when you find a real deal song writer, they have been through that process, so when you show up, they’re ready to get creative.  Sometimes that takes longer, but the first hour of every session, even if you have written 10 times, it’s catching up, hearing about what they’re working on or talking business, or talking about songs we love. The next thing we know, an idea comes up.  Erin is one of those people I am looking forward to writing with again.  Erin, if you’re out there, let’s get busy! (laughing) 

CN:   I will tag her in this interview, don’t worry (laughing).  I went through your list of co-writers and then I listened to the songs.  I tried to put the writer with the songs and I didn’t get any of them right.  I put Erin with “God Write Me A Song.”  Everyone will relate to this song that is actually co-written with Michael Moeller.  Everyone who has tried to write something will feel the pain of looking at the blank sheet of paper, especially musicians.  It’s a super cool song, you really feel it.  Is that song written from experience?

NS:   Thank you, and yeah, I was exhausted from traveling and I was going into a publishing house in Nashville.  I had a writing session with someone and I had my guitar in my hand.  It was like a movie scene.  I stopped and said a prayer, “God,give us something today.  Give us a song today.”  It’s funny, when I left there that day, I wrote one of the lamest songs. I was chuckling when I was driving home.  It was a decent little song.  Then it hit me, “Why am I asking God to give me a song?”  Because if I’m being honest with myself, He has given us everything we’ve needed, from the ups to the downs, and the joys and the sorrows. From that day I decided to write a song about that process, and that’s where that song was born.  I got most of it written and it was sitting there and sitting there, and then I hit up my buddy Michael Moeller.  I asked him to help me finish it.  I loved it enough, and I just needed help getting it across the finish line.  I wrote that one with Michael and I think it’s lyrical and a songwriter’s song.  It’s probably one of my favorites off my new record. 

CN:   Everyone will relate to it. I see Michael also co-wrote “Ain’t So Bad Round Here.” He also did some backup singing and played some instruments on the album.  Is he your “go-to” guy? 

NS:   Yeah, Mike has been on the road with me for about eight years.  We hit it hard and we built this thing.  As of July 2020 he’s not touring with me anymore.  He’s putting out his own music and he’s touring and doing his own thing.  We came from the same area out here in Ohio. I’m really grateful we got the songs on the record, 2020 was such a crazy year with moving pieces.  He cut his last record at my house in my studio.  He’s going to have a project coming out.  I am very blessed to have some artists and writers out here around me in Ohio, as well as in Nashville. 

CN:   Do you spend much time in Nashville or are you mostly in Ohio?

NS:   In 2018 and 2019 I was pretty much in Nashville every Monday through Wednesday.  I was laying water mains 40 to 50 hours a week, and I said to my wife, “Let’s just jump off and try to figure this thing out.”  My wife is an entrepreneur and a photographer.  We’re both chasing down our dreams and building our businesses.  What I realized when I was going to Nashville weekly is that I started seeing my kids more, because when I was home, I was home.  When you’re working 40 to 50 hours a week and driving an hour each way, the next thing you know, your week is gone.  In February 2020 my first co-write got canceled.  I was supposed to write with Blue Foley and Trick Savage.  I remember making that phone call, and that’s what started it.  I stayed away most of 2020, and now I’m coming down to Nashville a couple times a month.  I will be down there November 14th playing Rowdy on The Row.  I’m back in town now a couple times a month.  People can come catch me playing writer rounds.  Sometimes I just pop in for a co-write and head back home. 

Image courtesy of B! Noticed Public Relations/Artwork credit: Sandwich Jones

CN:   Where will you be on November 19th when your album is released?  Do you have any special plans?

NS:   (Laughs) I’m actually throwing a party at my house that night.  I’m going to invite everybody who played on the record and did the record.  We’re going to have a little get-together.  We’re having a second party on November 24th.  It’s at the Southgate House Revival Sanctuary in Newport, Kentucky.  I figure it’s the busiest bar night of the year, let’s have a party that night.  The record comes out on the 19th, and we’re having a release party on the 24th.  

CN:   That gives you a few days to recover from the party at your house, then on to the next party in Kentucky. (laughs)

NS:   After 2020 I told myself that we’re going to celebrate the wins around here.  In years past, the next thing you know it’s just churn, churn and you don’t really take time to stop and reflect on what we’re doing.  I would say our small steps are someone’s big dreams.  If you’re an independent artist and you put out a single, we need to celebrate those things.  We don’t get the rewards as much as we should.  We have really been trying to take a moment, pause and reflect and grab a bottle of wine or whiskey and enjoy it.   That will give us some encouragement to make the next one.  That’s one cool thing about being an artist, we don’t just do music, we live our lives, and music is just a part of it. 

CN:   I have a favorite song on the album, and I probably shouldn’t even be picking a favorite, but the song “Cover Bands,” I just love it.  I hope you don’t mind that I picked a favorite.  It has so many great lines in it. 

NS:    I’m glad you’re a fan.  I’m a fan of that song too. I’m not a writer on that song, I was at The Local in Nashville at the Music Row Freak Show, it’s a writer round down there on Wednesday and Friday nights.  Roger Hodges was playing that song.  I went up and asked Terri Jo Box about it, she’s the one that runs the Freak Show down there.  I said, “Whose song is that, has it been cut”?  Terri Jo said, “I actually wrote that with him.”  Terri Jo, Roger Hodges and Randall Clay wrote that song.  They all have big cuts on major records.  Randall passed away a few years ago, I got to meet him and got to know him briefly.   I asked them if they had plans for it and if I could cut it.  They gave me their blessing.  You’re the first person I’ve heard say that it’s one of your favorites.  That’s really special because I’m a fan of it too, and it turns out that I get to go sing it a lot. 

CN:   The song on your album, “Heroes,” is there someone you had specifically in mind as your hero?

NS:   A few singles ago, I wrote a song called “Cigarettes and Jesus” with Ashley Taylor. Over COVID, I did a Zoom write with Ashley.  I don’t love Zoom writes, but I called her and said, “Let’s get on with it, it’s been a while.” Rarely do I say, “Let’s write a song” for this reason.  I’m an idea and lyric guy, but I told her I needed a song in my live show that’s kind of a festival rock and roll jamming tune.  I had one line, “His guitar case was covered like a NASCAR fender,” that’s the opening line, and the next thing you know, we started talking about people being on the road and about our heroes.  We were talking about people like Tom Petty, Elvis and different people in rock and roll, and the time that they put into it.  We just get a little piece of them and we feel like we know them, and they’ve changed our lives.  We wrote that song so fans can come out to a Noah Smith show and have a good time.  It’s a straight up rock and roll festival jam. 

CN:   I am going to nerd out on you and tell you that you shared the stage with another favorite of mine, Levi Lowrey.  I first saw Levi a bunch of years ago when he opened for Zac Brown and I have been a fan ever since. I am so happy to see his name on your album.

NS:   Levi is one of my favorite songwriters.  I have been lucky enough to do some shows with him.  One of these days we’re going to be writing songs together.  I’m going to call it out and put it out in the universe. 

CN:   You definitely should, let’s make this happen!   His writing is very cool, and I could see how you two fit together.  You two would make a great writing pair.

NS:   I saw Levi for the first time years ago.  They used to do a show, Clay Cook vs. Levi Lowrey.  Clay is the guitarist from  the Zac Brown Band. He just had a cut on Zac’s new record.  When Zac was off the road, Levi and Clay would tour, just the two of them.  I saw them at the Old Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky.  It was just Clay and Levi and about 40 people in the room.  Man, it just blew me away how much the two of them loved songwriting, and how songwriting had changed their lives. 

CN:   I love Levi and his teaming up with Wyatt Durrette and forming their duo, Yesterday’s Wine.  I really enjoy the two of them together.

NS:   I got to play a couple of writer rounds that Levi and Wyatt were on.  Those guys are always a blast.

CN:   We are going to wrap it up with something I call “One Grab.”  The scenario is you are running out of your house.  Your family and pets are all safe.  You can run into your house to grab one thing, what do you grab?

NS: (Laughs) Oh man, I think I would grab my Taylor 714 guitar.   I know that’s a cliché answer.   My other thought is, I have a notebook, I’ve had lots of notebooks, I’m a big journal fanatic, writing goals down and keeping track.  I can buy another notebook, so I have to go with my Taylor 714 guitar that I play out with most of the time.  My other thing is I have a pair of roller blades out in my garage that used to mean a lot to me as a kid. (laughs)

CN:   It’s the worst question, and I’ve given a lot of people an instant panic attack asking this question.  I think after I ask people this, the next call that they make is to their insurance company to see what they’re covered for. (laughs)

NS:   I felt this intense thing come over me like, “What do I grab?” That’s a great question. Economically, I will grab my guitar, then I’ll write more songs. Then I’ll sell more records, and then I can buy everything else, so it works out just fine. 

CN:   Noah, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.  Congratulations on your record release, it’s going to crush it.  Have fun at both release parties. 

NS:   Thank you very much, I really enjoyed the talk and I appreciate you digging in and being such a music fan.  It really gives me hope for the days to come after the record releases.  I can’t wait to get this out. 

CN:   I can’t wait to watch it climb as it’s released and I hope to hear it as a “Highway Find”

NS:   Let’s go, let’s do it!

To keep current with Noah Smith, including upcoming show dates, please visit his website at noahsmithmusic.com, where you’ll find all of his social media links as well.

Photo credit: Michael Clair

For more news, interview, reviews and features that always bring country closer, please visit thinkcountrymusic.com.

*Featured photo courtesy of B! Noticed Public Relations


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