Exclusive Interview: Musician/Actor Riley Smith Debuts Single ‘I’m On Fire’ And His New Self-Titled EP
In the past could of years, one man has been showing up all over television, but is ready to be all over the radio with his new self-titled EP.
Riley Smith vocals and songwriting stunningly blend country rock, hard-hitting soulful Americana and modern pop for a sound rarely found in music today. No secret to those familiar with his lead role on the popular TV show Nashville, Smith’s gritty, yet smooth, singing voice and charismatic presence have built him a career on stage and screen. Acting in popular shows like True Blood, True Detective, and his latest lead, on The CW’s Frequency, got him out in front of the people. His love for music introduced him to them in a way unlike any other role he has played.
His long awaited self-titled EP is produced by Kevin Leach, who has previously worked with a wide array of major label acts and respected indie artists. The five song EP is inspired by his time in Nashville and is relative to feelings and emotions he had whilst living in such a compelling yet isolating city. Smith explains how time and place had a huge impact on his writing process and ultimately made the EP what it is today. “My influences are as diverse as the city.” Smith decided to return to music, after landing a role in hit TV show Nashville. Aware of the impact of being in an iconic city of music, Smith’s goal was to take this opportunity and use it to his advantage. His time spent in Nashville encouraged him to submerge himself within the world of music. Smith confides, “I set out with a goal and plan to utilize my time in Nashville to write with as many writers as I could with the goal of making an album.”
After moving to Nashville, Smith dove into the realm of old classic country music, exploring it’s history and roots. However, the longer he was there and the more musicians he collaborated with, his sound started developing into something more dynamic and divergent. Smith’s writing process began to reference a wider variety of sounds and styles resulting in a body of music that’s relatable, heartfelt and diverse. “It’s what I think makes the sound unique and kinda difficult to put in a box.” Smith reveals.
Lead single I’m On Fire features Smith’s warm vocals, resonating guitars and an infectious chorus. His heart wrenchingly authentic delivery results in a beautiful and achingly relatable record that is sure to be a radio hit. The song was a co-write with Matthew Perryman Jones and Tim Lauer (Hank Williams, Shawn Mendes, Blake Shelton). Smith describes how there was instant chemistry and respect between them all and how the song felt like it wrote itself. “I’m on Fire exemplified what my time writing in Nashville was all about to me. The synergy. The talent.”
I Can’t Keep Missing You highlights the traditional pop country sound that we are so familiar with. It successfully amalgamates pop, lyricism and sensibility. Whilst Break Something features Smith’s versatile sound of Americana with a fiery blues rock delivery.
Social Underground had the pleasure of being able to ask Riley some questions about his self-titled EP, his career, what hat’s next.
SU: What was the initial trigger that got you into music? A specific song, voice, guitar lick, or experience?
Riley Smith: Music has been inside me since I was born.
SU: Off the top of your head, what are 5 artists that have significantly inspired your music?
RS: Elvis, Michael Jackson, George Strait, The Beatles, Hank Williams
SU: What is your musical writing process? Do you start with lyrics/poetry, strumming on the guitar/piano, jamming with your band, or a mix of it all?
RS: Each song is different. Sometimes its a melody and then you find the words that fit that vibe. Sometimes its a story or thought that turn into words, that I then find chords for. Every song on the EP started with me coming into a co write session with a list of ideas I have in my notes. Things Ive been through, things I have witnessed, or things I have just thought about. Id throw out a bunch of them out and we would decide as a group which one we would want to chase.
SU: Tell me a bit about how you went into crafting your self-titled EP.
RS: I wrote with as many people as I could in Nashville. From Guys who had written number hits, to a guy who had literally just moved to Nashville to be a songwriter the day we wrote together. I wanted to just write and record while I was there. And I made a lot of songs. We actually demo’d like 13 or 14 songs and then I decided on the first 6 to put out as an EP. The material has a pretty broad sound, so it was important to me to put out the 6 songs that best fit together and explained my story and sound.
SU: Did you feel more pressure with this musical endeavor versus something like watching your performance in a TV show or film?
RS: One of my favorite quotes says that ‘If you are prepared, you shouldn’t be nervous’. There is a lot of truth in that. Its how I try to handle my business.
There is a lot more of a personal responsibility with the music now that I am releasing it. The TV/Movie business is such a team game. It takes everyone clicking on all cylinders to make a great show. The same could be said for making an album, except this time, its a one man show, and it all falls on my shoulders. But I don’t feel any pressure with it because I took my time making this EP. I crafted my words carefully and I spoke my truth. You can’t really go wrong when you speak your heart.
SU: I’ve heard of artists recording entire albums, leaving it for a month, and then coming back and starting all over. Have you ever wrote a song and loved it only to hate it later or vice versa?
RS: Oh yea, of course. I have so many songs sitting on my computer that aren’t finished yet. Some are a decade old. I am constantly starting a song, putting it down and then coming back to it when the moment feels right.
When you get into the production side of a song, you listen to it, work on it and alter it so many times that sometimes you almost can’t hear it the same anymore. That’s when its time to set it down and comeback to it with fresh ears.
SU: Is there any artist you’d really love to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet (considering you’ve worked with some great talent)?
RS: There are too many to single out one. I love working with talented people who drive me to be better, think harder, look deeper.
SU: What music are you currently listening to right now?
RS: Right this very moment I’m listening to Jack Garratt. He’s great. But I listen to a wide range of stuff. Really all Im NOT into is anything without a melody.
SU: You describe your music as “loaner music.” I find this interesting because that can mean a young high school student listening alone in a room trying to find answers, but also lead to that same kid finding friends because of the mutual bonding over the music. Is that something you were going for when crafting this or am I reading way too into that?
RS: Everyone has felt alone at some point in their life. The most ‘popular’ people can sometimes be the most insecure and alone. It doesn’t matter where you physically are, emotionally we are all going through this thing called life. And its a scary place sometimes. Some of the music on the EP relates to that.
SU: You’ve starred in some huge television properties that are essentially part of popular culture. What’s it like being recognized while trying to get a coffee or bagel? Do you think that recognition could sometimes help or hurt someone’s ego?
RS: My career has taught me to enjoy the journey. Not to worry about the destination. Its sometimes easier to say than do. But I’ve learned that you are never where you want to be if you are a competitor at heart. And that can be a good thing, but you’ve got to allow yourself to be at peace with who you are and where you are in life. There was a time in my younger life when being recognized served my ego and that wasn’t healthy. Now I get a different gratification out of it. Now it makes me feel good to bring a smile to someone who my work has touched. To someone who cares enough to say hi.
SU: Besides Nashville (And starring in the TV show Nashville), have there been any other places you’ve been that has had a major impact on your music?
RS: Vancouver, Canada will always hold a special place for me. I taught myself to play guitar there 15 years ago. I wrote one of my first songs there. And a decade later, I found myself living there again. I just spent the last year there, and there is something about that city that brings a lot out of me.
SU: Even at this moment, is there anything you would go back and change on anything you’ve recorded for the new EP? July 21st is still a ways off, and I’ve heard many musicians reflect on something they would change if they could go back.
RS: I have spent over a year and a half on this EP. I took my time and decided I wouldn’t rush so that there wasn’t any regrets. And as of now, I can safely say, there won’t be. The hardest decision was choosing which 6 songs would be on the first EP. And then I came to the realization that Ill just have to put out a full album next:)
SU: I found myself the very inexpensive Fender Squier when I started playing guitar in 1999. Being broke in high school, that guitar is still a treasure beyond all the expensive guitars I got later. What was the first guitar you bought when you started playing? Do you still have it?
RS: My first guitar was a used acoustic from a second hand store in Vancouver. Then my grandfather bought me a nice black acoustic Takamine, that I still have to this day. Now I play a Taylor mini GS. It sounds like a big body, plays like a mini and I can travel with it on my shoulder which makes it easy for as much traveling as I do. I put a pick up in it so that I can play live with it. Its honestly the only thing Ive played since I got it two years ago.
SU: What are your touring plans for this EP? I imagine that you have a full schedule for the rest of the year at this point.\
RS: I just started a month of rehearsals to gear up for some summer shows. The first show will be in my hometown of Cedar Rapids Iowa, for a charity I support back there, The Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. A non profit creative space for kids and special needs adults to go and explore their artistic side. They have an amazing studio with rehearsal space, recording studios, and art stations. Its an incredible place for kids that I wished existed when I was a kid. We will have about a thousand people at the festival and all the proceeds go to the Academy.
That will be the first official EP release show to kick off our summer show schedule. After that, I have plans (waiting on dates, due to my acting schedule) to play EP release shows in LA, Nashville, NYC amongst others. Definitely going to get a Euro tour in there somewhere too. Maybe early fall, who knows!
SU: Any film or TV projects you can give us some info on?
RS: Well, we just closed the chapter of my series Frequency about two weeks ago. So I’m officially free for the first time in a couple years. So, I’ll be fielding scripts and trying to find the role I want to give my everything to next.
Riley Smith’s self-titled EP will be released July 21st, worldwide. Follow him all over the web:
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR and by just looking up his name.