Armed with a new sound and vibrant personality, Caroline Smith plans to take the stage this Saturday with a soulful performance at Mike 'N Mollys.
When an artist decides to drastically alter the direction of their work, it has an effect on every level of the creative process. Writing, recording, and performing are just a few of the many factors that have to be broken down and rebuilt as a result of this change. Without a clear vision and a supportive cast of collaborators, an artist’s new sound can seem like a reach as their credibility as a musician dwindles. In the case of Caroline Smith, that is certainly not the case.
What made Smith’s most recent musical evolution so successful is the fact that it came from the inside out. As she explained to me in an interview earlier this week, the music her band put out while still under the name Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps felt forced and inorganic. To Smith, it seemed as though the group was trying to be a type of band, rather than define who they are themselves.
The records they released while still under their old name, however, were not without some success and a hardy showcase of talent. Bandmates Arlen Peiffer (drums) and Jesse Schuster (bass) proved their proficiency and dynamic ability within the indie-folk genre in the group’s 2011 album entitled Little Wind. At this point the band had been playing together for years and their comfort around each other as musicians was something that came through on each track. Despite this, Smith felt like she was doing it wrong. The final push for change came as she began the writing process for her next album. Smith explains:
We had written about 7 songs and I was trying to write like the old songs and they were not hearted at all. They just didn’t feel genuine. I just didn’t want to play acoustic guitar. So for the new record I didn’t write any of these songs on the guitar, I wrote them on the piano. That really freed up creative space for me. When I put the guitar down and started writing on the piano, what was coming out wasn’t as confined and behind these same block chords.
Freeing herself from the confines of a genre she was tired of playing gave Smith a new perspective on her music as well as herself. This shift is reflected back through her latest album release entitled Half About Being a Woman, where Smith explores themes of confidence and being true to oneself along a backdrop of smooth grooves and soulful R&B.
Up until this point, The Goodnight Sleeps was an established indie-folk band. The transition between the work they were doing and taking on a new R&B sound seems like a risky maneuver, as if they decided to stray a little too far from their roots. Even Smith explained how she didn’t originally plan for the new songs to be played with the same band.
I remember writing the first few songs and thinking ‘oh these are so fun and i really love these. I’ll have to use them for a different project or a different band’ and at some point I just had to have a serious discussion with the band and be like, ‘I’m throwing these old songs away, and I’ve been writing these new songs.' I showed them to them and they were actually very excited.
The work they had been doing for years was what felt strange and unfamiliar and the new direction Smith was taking with her songwriting was a like breath of fresh air. For years, the band had been putting out music they didn’t particularly enjoy playing, which makes sense considering the lukewarm reception of their previous albums which critics interpreted as derivative, claiming that it adhered too closely to the popular sounds of the time. When Smith found her new creative approach, the material that came from it felt more real than anything she had written before. She explains,
I didn’t have to think about anything, it just wrote itself naturally like it was sitting there waiting to be written. That sounds so cheesy and I’m a very cynical person when it comes to creativity but that’s seriously what it felt like.
When a band decides to make a change like this, the direction they go is somewhat up for grabs. One member’s vision can contradict another and the resulting friction can have a negative overall impact on the music that is produced. I asked Smith how their band approached the new direction they were taking and how the group avoided conflict during collaboration.
We elected for there to be one chef in the kitchen, where it was just my vision and everybody was like okay lets fall in line with this vision. We could have been like, Arlen this is your vision, and it would have turned out completely different from the old records and this record.
With Smith spearheading the genre shift, the band revealed musical ability that had been lying dormant for years, waiting to be unearthed in all its groovy glory at shows like the one this Saturday night.
Check out Caroline Smith and her band at Mike 'N Molly's tomorrow night with Emily Otnes and the Weekdays. Cover is $7 and the show starts at 9 p.m.