Interview: Canaan Smith on going it alone

Newly independent Canaan Smith
Canaan Smith’s latest single is his first as an independent artist. Photo credit: Kurt Ozan

Canaan Smith’s new song Heartbreak Heaven marks his first new material since his critically acclaimed 2021 album High Country Sound, and his first release as an independent artist.

This talented singer-songwriter has toured the US with the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Dierks Bentley and Kip Moore, and appeared at C2C as well as touring the UK in his own right with his ‘Back For More’ run in 2017. As a songwriter he’s had tracks cut by artists including Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, Brian Kelley, Tyler Hubbard, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kristian Bush and Love and Theft.

With his career now on a new roll, he took time out of his busy schedule to chat with to Six Shooter Country’s Liz Thomas about how his latest single is going down, new music plans and a potential return to the UK. Here’s what he had to say:

C: Good to see you!

L: How’s things?

C: Yeah, life’s crazy right now. Full, very full of activity and children and all kinds of things.

L: You’re more than welcome. I came to your Birmingham gig in 2017, which was awesome.

C: I know I was there with The Shires first in 2016, and back on my own little tour in 2017, I think that was the last time.

I got to get back over there (to the UK). I’ve been meaning to all this time, but it just hadn’t lined up. And now I’ve got more free time. As far as my career goes, I’ve got a lot more control of it, and I’m not a slave to the road here. So I can plan ahead and build in time to go over there. And I’m looking forward to doing that.

L: Is that something that you’d be planning on coming back over soon or in a couple of years?

C: Like to make it a goal for 2023? I mean, honestly, my wife and I talk about it all the time because she was able to come over there for a couple of weeks with me when I was on the long stretch with The Shires and we just love it so much. I told her the other day, I was like, hey, I think we’re going to try to put something together for ‘23, get back over. She was jacked. And so anyhow, I’m really excited.

I’ve got new music to share, obviously, but also just I’ve missed the impactful intimacy of those shows and just that style of sitting on a stool and sharing stories. I love doing that.  You can do that over here, but they’re more like they’re few and far between and they’re more songwriter rounds. If you choose to do the tour circuit over here, it’s more like loud bars and honky-tonks, which I love, too.

L: I was going to say, surely that’s got to have some merit to it too?

C: We love it. We party so hard with the crowd every night. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do, be on stage and give it all I got. So, yeah, when I’m full band up there doing my thing, entertaining the crowd, there’s nothing like it, it’s hard to beat that.  But the other thing about it, the flip side of that coin is that a lot of the subtleties of the lyrics can be overlooked or unheard. You know what I mean? I do appreciate that more stripped-down approach because I’m proud of the music and I want people to be able to follow the story. So I’m looking forward to that.

L: Personally, I can’t wait for you to come back over, and I know that some of the Six Shooter guys are looking forward to it as well. And especially now you’re releasing new music, you’re out on your own. The video for Heartbreak Heaven, you filmed that yourself. How did that come about?

C: Spent $200 and called a friend and said, hey, you got a camera. Why don’t you just film me sitting on this stool in this old dive bar? And he dumped the footage on my computer, and I literally edited it myself on I-movie. I was on a plane flying to a golf tournament event down in Florida and had a few hours, so I taught myself how to do I-movie. I put the clips together in a sequence that I thought made perfect sense for the song. The treatment is intended to be as sort of as divey as the place in the song Heartbreak Heaven. So it turned out pretty cool. I’m excited that I only have to spend $200 to get what I wanted!

L: Well, surely that’s got to be a bonus as well?

C: It does definitely.

L: I’ve been hearing it played quite a lot on Absolute Country and I believe it’s been a spotlight song.

C: Yeah, I’m so glad to have that. That’s great news. If you’re hearing it, I’ll take that.

L: One of my colleagues has only recently started getting into country music and I’ve been throwing him music to listen to. Yours is some of the stuff and I think he has fallen in love with Hole in a Bottle

C: Oh, that’s great. Let’s go! One person at a time, one fan at a time. That’s how you do this thing!

L: I will say, at this point, this is my first artist interview for Six Shooter Country, so I am extremely nervous.

C: I like to be vulnerable and honest, so you can shoot whatever you want. I’m also equally hyped, so know that. And I would say like 2023 it’s not announced yet or anything, it’s still just an idea but I think that’s a really realistic goal that we’re going to set. Which means I’ll be putting out more music leading up to that, obviously.

 And for the time being, having the control without a label involved, it makes me shoulder more responsibility. I’m self-producing everything as well, so there’s a lot of work to be done in order to release more music. But it’s my passion, so I love it and I’ve got a lot more in the shoot. It just has to be recorded and whatnot. I think if we set a goal for 2023, a small tour across the pond, that might be a good reason to have me bear down and finish a few songs so I can have something to bring with me.

L: I suppose the good thing about doing it all on your own, even though it is a massive expense, is probably the fact that you can take your music in whatever direction you want it to go in, rather than be sort of told that it’s got to sound a little bit more like this.

C: Yeah. Honestly, even my last project, High Country Sound, I was with a record label and had more of a crew behind me. And then that label shut down, which allowed me the opportunity to reassess whether or not I even wanted to get in bed with another label. But long story short, that I was even told on that project that it was more of an art piece than it was country radio competitor. And I was like, really?

There’s songs on that album and I’m like, all you had to do was pick one and put some money behind it and shift it to the radio. We could have done that. It’s a shame when a record label feels like the box that you have to live in is very definitive and structured, because it can kill creativity for a guy like me. And when you kill creativity, you might as well just pack it up because it’s hard to come back from that.

But I was able to do that very thing, come back in a big way because I had to walk away to come back. And it feels good. It feels liberating across the board to not have to follow the rules. I’m not saying it’s nothing innovative or unheard of or new territory necessarily.  I’m just doing the kind of country that I love – and that I moved to Nashville to do whether it’s on trend or not. And I wouldn’t know if it’s on trend or not, I’m not on TikTok, I’m not a social media guy. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m proud of it and it’s something that I can hang my hat on at the end of my career. And whether or not that relates on a mass level is sort of irrelevant. You know, if I can make ends meet and do what I love, then I’m winning.

And so that’s sort of my goal right now, is to make sure that I’m proud of what I’m doing, regardless of the impact that it makes. And I’m a believer that when you do that, it does make an impact. It may not be on country radio level, stateside or whatever.  It sounds like we’re getting some love over there on the radio. There’s always an avenue. There’s always going to be people that will appreciate it. And I’ve got some very dedicated, loyal support from fans who have been there from day one, who have evolved with me, and that I owe a lot to, so I’m here for it.  And I got a lot more gas in the tank, I ain’t going anywhere.

L: That’s good to hear because, I’ve been listening to High Country Sound, and I think my favorite song off that album is Mason Jars and Fireflies.  I absolutely love that song. I’ve had it on repeat for, like, the last three or four days, I’ve driven my husband crazy with it.

C: That one has a special amount of energy to it, and it also is the first song that I produced fully myself. Because that last album, High Country Sound, was cut in two parts, two phases. There was a batch of four songs that we recorded first, and that was cooked between myself and the guys I was working with from the FGL Boys.

And then when it was time to go cut the rest of the album, I literally asked for their blessing to just go do it myself and finish it myself, because I wanted that hands-on control and had a vision for it, and they gave me the ability to do that. And that was awesome because I remember that first song we cut within those confines was Mason Jars and Fireflies. And I was like, this is so gratifying right now, because I don’t feel like it’s anything other than what I want it to be. And that feels great.

L: There is such a broad range of country music. So it’s got to be at the point where it is extremely liberating, like I said, for you to not be shoved into a box so you can go out and do your own thing.  And I fully agree with the fact you said that it might not resonate on country radio, that it will resonate to somebody, and as long as you know that you’re doing what you love. And I just think it’s incredible because, I mean, songwriting, I genuinely I wouldn’t even know where to start!

C: It’s crazy. It is not something you just pick up overnight. Songwriting, especially country music, is a difficult craft. You have to say so much in so little time. Economy of words, they call it. And yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of super mega-talented songwriters for so many years, and they’ve taught me a lot.  And it is my favourite part of the whole business. Writing and crafting a song, pulling it out there is the coolest thing ever. And then the cherry on top for me is to be able to go pick which ones I think fit the brand, who I am as an artist, or where I want to go next.

To be able to have that full control now is awesome. I can just go do what I want, so it’s cool.

L: We’ve got time for one last question. If you potentially come back over in 2023/24 will that be as an acoustic tour, like 2017, or will it be a full band?

C: It would likely be acoustic. Okay, cool. It might be solo acoustic with just a front of house engineer last time I did me plus a player, which is cool, too. But when I’m doing the stripped down thing, I really shine when it’s just myself, and I feel ownership up there and subtleties that can, again, can get a little bit stepped on if you’re not careful when other people are involved on stage.

 And so I think it would make sense to just come over there and be as vulnerable and stripped back as I possibly can to let people just get in on a level of just no smoke and mirrors, no production, nothing that would distract them, hopefully, from the songs and just have a chance to go make new fans and see some older, too.

L: When you do come over, I will definitely be there. It would be awesome to see you back over here again and obviously keep popping out new music and I’ll share it far and wide.

C: That’s badass. I appreciate you. Yeah. And stay tuned for the new music and any announcements of the tour. 

L:  Well again, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

C: Appreciate it. Go crank up Mason Jars and Fireflies. Don’t drive your husband crazy, though.

Heartbreak Heaven available on all streaming services. Visit https://canaansmith.com for more info.

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