Mindy Smith is on the precipice of a new stage in her career. After four albums on Vanguard Records (including one Christmas release), Smith is going out on her own.
"When I was going to make my final record for Vanguard and there was a shift where they wanted to change the contract around a little bit and I took the opportunity to decline," says Smith in a phone while on tour. "It was time for making that leap. I had sort of wanted to make that change and it presented itself to me. I thought I might as well take it. I figured I'm not going to be any broker than I was before. It's like owning a house or not owning a house."
Smith's new self-titled and self-financed album marks the first time she will own her own recordings and publishing.
"If I wanted to have any benefits when I'm 60 years old, then I pretty much really had to step out on my own and make that kind of investment," says Smith. "The sense of ownership is so amazing. There's something about owning those masters that is empowering."
A native of Long Island, N.Y., Smith got her start in professional music while she was living in Knoxville in the mid-1990s with her father, Pastor Larry Smith, and her sister, Shannon Smith (now Bean). Her mother, Shannon Patricia Smith, had died of cancer earlier.
Mindy took guitar lessons at Pellissippi State Technical Community College from Harold Nagge and began haunting local open-mike nights and getting bookings as a singer-songwriter.
She has particularly fond memories of playing at Manhattans (now Boyd's Jig and Reel).
"When I was there, songwriting, that's what you did," says Smith. "Looks like there's been a lot of changes. My sister and my best friend live there and I tend to come to town and hang out at those old spots. JFG Coffee House. It's not open anymore. I love the Old City. And Sassy Ann's was a good place. As far as songwriter's nights, that's where I started doing that. It was critical in my career that I lived in Knoxville."
At the end of the 1990s, Smith moved to Nashville where she signed a songwriting contract and began making waves around town with songs and vocal ability.
When she landed a cut on a tribute to Dolly Parton, contributing an impassioned cover of Parton's classic "Jolene," she began to catch the attention of listeners and critics around the world. Parton herself became a fan, and sang with Smith when Smith included "Jolene" on her her debut album, "One Moment More."
Although Smith gained a solid following both with fans and critics, her style didn't fit neatly into either the country or the adult-contemporary bin, so it was tough to get radio play.
The inroads Smith made while on Vanguard Records are benefitting her now that she's on her own.
"I think the years that I put in and the relationships I've built over the years with publications and the media, it built a good relationship. Not everybody has that luxury when they're making their first independent record. It's something I'm not taking for granted, but I am taking advantage of it. It's just getting it out there and getting it heard. There's not a big machine pushing this record. It's really just organic. It's very humbling to put something like that out, and it should be humbling."
CMT recently picked up the video for Smith's new single, "Closer," and reviews of her album have been numerous and favorable.
Smith says as an independent artist she is much more dependent on word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews than she might have been in the past.
As an artist, not having to answer to anyone but herself has been good for Smith.
"As a songwriter, it's very liberating. I'm actually about to step into a situation with somebody who is going to be pitching my songs again. I'd taken a break from that, too. Everything is sort of (I'm) regrouping and building my catalog. As far as the writing goes, I kind of have the same thing I've always had. Either I'm writing a lot or I'm not writing at all. If I'm not feeling it, it's not going to come out. I haven't really had time to write, but before I left for this tour I was writing like crazy and that was really exciting."
Smith says whatever she writes she will never cease being true to herself.
"Nothing on my albums is ever going to be filler music. Whether people like that one song on the record or they don't, it's there because I intended it to be there. I hate when I buy records and then wish I had just bought the single."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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