If you ask Adam Smith to define his musical style, he's likely to just sing you a sample instead of going through the complications of trying to explain it.
Folk, country, bluegrass, alt-country, Appalachian-new-folk-coffeehouse-indie-pop, it all comes from the core of Adam Smith. As a touchstone, he'll tell people he's influenced by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Stevie Nicks. There is introspection in what he does, and his music is independent above all else.
Adam's second album, Around the Bend, is due out at the end of January. The accompanying single Something Beautiful has been out since September. His new video, Something to Believe In, was shot locally.
"These are songs that have been in my brain," Adam says. "For a long time, I've wanted to produce an album completely on my own. I basically recorded it on a laptop."
He tapped the talents of friend and fellow singer/songwriter Shane Cooley, who lent his talents on drums, electric guitar and harmonies while they recorded in his garage in Norfolk, Va. "Those were long nights of gorging on Easter candy and Northern Neck ginger ale, staying up late with a kerosene heater," Adam says.
When he had completed his parts, he brought in his fellow Sedona musicians to fill out the arrangements. You'll hear Saith, Rick Cyge, Courtney Yeates, Jesse Kalu and more at Saith's recording studio in Sedona.
A self-taught guitarist who plays piano by ear, Adam does not read music. Lyrics and tunes come to him naturally and cohesively. And one song can dictate an entire album.
A case in point was a song that came to him a friend's songwriting workshop in San Antonio. Participants were requested to collectively write a song. As they went around the room for ideas, one man was stumped.
Words and music jumped into Adam's head: I Stopped Thinking.
He had already figured out the arrangements for the 13 songs on Around the Bend before he went into the studio. The entire process took about six months, a little too quick for his comfort zone, but "the songs emerged rather quickly."
He tries to write from a hopeful place, writing from life experience. "The best way is tell what you know," he says. "I've had to overcome a lot of struggle."
Adam Smith was raised in Harlan, Ky. Music and art came to him naturally from a young age. He first picked up a guitar when he was briefly living with his brother's fiancée in North Carolina while his brother was overseas. Her brother had an electric guitar, which Adam started strumming unplugged.
At 18, he got a pawn-shop guitar and started working out Jewel songs. He toiled at several minimum wage jobs, looking for something that was "a passion and a path." While he had left Harlan several times, he always came back. He became estranged from some family members, who rejected Adam for being Adam, but had good friends in the area. Harlan also had the Artists Attic, an old courthouse building with space for young people to display art and perform, which even in jail cells was a growth experience.
It was while he was working the third shift at a gas station that he "became overwhelmed with the desire to go and pursue [music]."
At 11 o'clock at night with $300 in his pocket, Adam hit the road. He ended up in Nashville while the sun was coming up and the bar owners were sweeping up. He lived in his car for a week, playing street corners and open mics.
Colletti discovered Adam and brought him to Sedona and introduced him to Schomaker and Chris Spheeris, and that started some important networking. It was 2009, as the music scene in town was gaining its own reputation and performers were joining forces. Schomaker cleared the way for Adam to record 12 demos.
Adam soon established his own reputation for his easy-going performance style and songs that are as articulate and often as eloquent as he is. The Appalachian, southeast Kentucky influence remains strong in his approach.
"You can really hear the landscape in my voice, the mountains, wild flowers, creeks," he says. "I love my Kentucky roots. The most beautiful are the hymns, the Celtic melodies and the Irish culture."
His experience in Sedona has allowed him to open up and sort out what he wants his image to be.
"I've realized it's our duty as human beings to follow your passion and go for your dreams," Adam says. "It's OK to be just who you are. Sedona has shaped so many things about me as an artist. Coming to Sedona has been the tip of the iceberg for me because I've received so much support."
Besides his music, Adam has had his art exhibited and has participated in the making of Bullied to Silence, a documentary film about bullying.
Now based out of Phoenix, Smith has a busy couple of months coming up. Also in 2013 he will have an appearance on a national daytime TV show. Besides the launch of Around the Bend and solo performances, he has just formed a band, Radio Hill (the name based on a renowned location in Harlan), with Sean Hogan and Paul Amyx to take on the road.
With Colletti and Fama, he created a short film called And The Sky Will Never Be the Same Again, based on Lightspeed, the bonus track from Around the Bend. The film has stock footage of man and nature, flying machines, the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, the positive and not so positive impact of mankind's journey, all set to Adam Smith's music. "It's about humanity's ability to dream and manifest things," Smith says. "It's very moving." The film will have its world premier at the Sedona International Film Festival in February 2013.
"I'm in this for the long haul," Adam says. "I hope to inspire other people to follow their own path."
Edited from a 12/24/2012 article in Kudos Magazine.
The Independence of Adam Smith - Singer/songwriter prepares to release sophomore album, forms new band
Raquel Hendrickson, Kudos Co-editor and Writer