Just 23 years old and already a seasoned veteran of Nashville’s elite songwriting community, Conner Smith has emerged as one of country’s most hotly anticipated new artists who knows that the past can inspire the present, and good things come to those who wait. An uncommon talent mixing prime-of-life passion with old-soul perspective, the rising singer/songwriter has spent 15 years matching a honeyed vocal to propulsive hints of bluegrass and the warmth of ‘90s country, a classic sound infused with riveting modern appeal.
As Smith’s CREEK WILL RISE TOUR in the United Sates comes to a close, the early part of 2024 continues to be full of big things as his debut album ”Smoky Mountains” comes out through The Valory Music Co. on January 26th (pre-order HERE ) before making his first trip to Europe for C2C: Country to Country in March. Conner recently spent some time with us over Zoom to talk about the new record, his upcoming trip to the UK and a little SEC football for good measure.
Thanks for taking the time this morning Conner and we’re looking forward to you coming to see us real soon. Is coming to Europe, something that you have been looking at and wanting to do for a while? “It’s a big honour to be asked to go over and be picked out of all of the artists in Nashville so, I was really excited when we got asked. I’ve had friends do it in the past and everyone has said amazing things about the fans there and the culture. I’m looking forward to experiencing it and I’m glad that it worked out in our schedule, so it will be a lot of fun.”
That’s awesome. I’m guessing you have heard various things from other people and got some expectations of what you may find, particularly with the audiences over here. What are the main goals for you from the trip? You’re in Berlin first and then the 3 UK shows in London, Belfast and Glasgow for the festival, so what are you hoping to achieve as an artist when you come over? “I think it feels like the right time to do it. I’ve heard that people are great listeners over there which is a good thing, that people really love the stories and enjoy the stripped down versions of songs which I really relate to that. That’s how I fell in love with country music, it was through writers rounds with songwriters telling stories so I’m excited to get to do that. At this stage of my career, I’ve just put out my debut album so, getting over there early and kind of laying that foundation so that during the course of my career, we can continue to go over there and expand further.” C2C is quite different, particularly with how your performances will be here compared to festivals back home as the entire festival in London kicks off with a writers round in an arena to 20,000 people which isn’t normal for big shows in the States to start things off with 3 people on stage playing really stripped back to a huge crowd. “Yeah, I that that will be a first but one thing that I’ve learnt is that you just roll with the punches. Lauren Watkins is going to be out there with us and we’ve been doing this Creek Will Rise Tour together where she’s been opening up for us and she’s a good friend so I’m excited to be on stage with her. I’ve played so many radio shows over the last couple of years so you kind of just roll with those punches, where if it’s just me and my guitar, all the better.”
You mentioned that Lauren (Watkins) is over playing those rounds with you too and she’s been out opening up for you on your tour, firstly it must be cool to look forward to being on stage together for an extended time during shows with someone that you both are used to watching each other from the side of the stage every night but also what’s she been like as a road buddy to have around and hang out with? “I’m like the captain of her fan club, she’s such a talented songwriter, we’re both from Nashville and she’s one of the coolest girls to hang out with so I’m just a big fan of hers. When we planned the Creek Will Rise Tour, I was like, she’s the only person that I want, put her on every date if she’ll say yes. She’s been out and has a great crew who are a great group of people which makes it easy on me, then I’ve had more comments about how good the opener is than ever before on a show and that’s every night. It’s been a lot of fun so I was excited because it’s such a cool experience to go over there and see so much of the world that I haven’t seen before so, to do it with someone that you like and consider a friend makes it feel even better.”
I see that the “Creek Will Rise Tour” has a couple more shows and you are finishing up in Tuscaloosa. Have you played there before and if not are you slightly concerned how the heartland of the Crimson Tide fanbase are going to react to you playing a song called “I Hate Alabama” on stage? “We’ve done it before, probably twice and I remember the first time that we did that and I was nervous, thinking are they going to throw things? Am I going to need extra security, like what’s the goal here? Then I realised quickly that they like it more there than anywhere else!”
Oh, really? “Yeah, I think they see the backhand compliment and also you have to think about how every girl down there thinks the song is written about them so, every girl down there sends it to their ex-boyfriend and hopes that their ex sings it about them. They kind of sing it with a lot of pride and it feels like a fitting way to end the Creek Will Rise Tour down there!”
I wasn’t sure how you would go, whether you would be wary of how they would take it or whether you would go the total opposite way and remind them you’re a Vols fan by finding a way to drop a cover of “Rocky Top” into your set. “Last time we did it into “Sweet Home Alabama” which was kind of a way to hug them at the end and this time we will do “Dixieland Delight” which is their song down in Tuscaloosa. We always end the diss with a compliment so that helps but I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of videos of them screaming every word to “I Hate Alabama” from the show.” Well, they’re a wounded fanbase right now as so many people have not had to think about Alabama football without Nick Saban at the helm. As a Volunteer, with the playoffs expansion and that dynasty now being at an end, things must feel better for Tennessee fans going forward.
“OK, wow. Now tell me is college football a thing over there because you clearly know your stuff to go this deep with questions.”
For all my sins, I live through the pain of being a Dallas Cowboys supporter which I have endured since I saw Michael Irvin playing on the tv when I was maybe ten or eleven. When I really started to get into it properly, about ten to fifteen years ago I started paying attention to college too and Auburn have become my adopted team mainly because my first year of watching college, I loved seeing Cam Newton play. I also met some Alabama fans that were on vacation over here who were really obnoxious and I took a dislike to rather quickly with the constant cries of “Roll Tide” which motivated me more to get behind their biggest rivals. College is starting to grow in how much attention people pay here as it’s now shown by our biggest sports broadcaster who show College Football Gameday too plus the whole college season for 2024 starts in Ireland with Florida State playing one of the Georgia schools in Dublin. The NFL continues to be the fastest growing audience for any professional sport here year on year but as that gets a bigger audience, college football grows with it. Have you managed to make it to any of the London games that they have done with the NFL?”
Yeah, we had three this year and I went to both of them at Tottenham. The Jaguars have an agreement to play every year at Wembley which is our national soccer stadium then there were two more games at one of our other soccer stadiums where I saw Jacksonville play the Bills and then the Titans against Baltimore. The atmosphere is always great and the games have a real playoff type feel. “That’s awesome and I’d been thinking that when I get over there that maybe I need to change the words to the song to hate Manchester, hate Chelsea or something like that for you guys.”
I am totally down with you telling us that you hate Arsenal or you hate Chelsea, that would be music to my ears dude ha ha “I’ll need to look into it and know specifically which one to say for each because I can’t mess that up.”
I know you didn’t go to UT yourself, so where did your own connection to the University of Tennessee come from? “Both of my parents went there so it kind of runs deep and there’s stories of when my mom was nine months pregnant and my dad flying out to Arizona to see the Vols in the National Championship or when they cut their honeymoon short because my dad wanted to go to a Tennessee basketball game. That’s where it starts and from there I grew up with season tickets, you know we live about 3 hours away from Knoxville so we drive there on a Saturday for a few games a year. I never went to college but after high school, all of my best friends went to Knoxville and it’s family tradition so it’s been really fun to be adopted by the fanbase. It doesn’t matter where we go and play a show, there’s always going to be at least 10 to 20 Tennessee jerseys out in the crowd which is fun to see.” As a kid you were a stud of a baseball player, that was your sport. When did music fully take over and that kind of move over to the side? “They always kind of ran together a little bit, when I grew up I gravitated towards music and baseball around the same time which was when I was around 6 years old. It was always a really big part of my life and my world, I say that I got the love for baseball through my dad and the love of music through my mom who was a big country music fan. We grew up with The Judds, Montgomery Gentry or Kenny Chesney playing through the house all the time. They went together, it’s kind of a beautiful marriage between the 2, I play center field in baseball and write songs through my head, then when I was 16, I signed a publishing deal so about the time that life decisions are being made, I realised that ths was going to be what I gave my life to do and I was happy to do that.”
I suppose we probably should talk about the record as that’s the main thing for you right now. So, “Smoky Mountains” is this twelve track project which is your debut album and your first real chance be able to stand up and say I’m Conner Smith, this is who I am and this is my message. What are you hoping that people hearing it are going to take away about who you are and what your message is? “That’s a good way to put it and really how I see it as well to be the first moment that I get to paint this picture fully. I tried to really create a record that would stand and not just be the 12 least hated songs sort of thing so, I wanted every song to matter and I wanted this project to really feel like a piece of art that tells the story of the last 3 years. It was 3 years of growing up and growing up fast, becoming a man and trying to figure out on the fly who I am as an artist and writer when put to the fire of the business. I really wanted this record to paint that picture of growing up, early on we had a lot of success with songs like “I Hate Alabama” or “Orange And White” and “College Town” or “Tennessee” that were really centred to where I was at in life. I was 21, all of my friends were in college and at weekends I was bringing my band to go and play college towns so, I wrote towards that. Over the last few years, as I’ve grown up, got engaged and stepped into this next chapter with songs like “Creek Will Rise” and “Smoky Mountains” I wanted the music to evolve with it and for the fans to be able to grow up with me. I wanted every song to matter, I wanted every song to say something and I really wanted to tell the story of the last few years of my life then let fans in to where I’m at right now as a writer, as an artist and as a person.” Just to wrap up, with the twelve tracks on this project , I just want to ask about structurally putting the album together. Did you have the twelve songs written, decided they were the fit for the overall theme and went into the studio and cut them or was it a complete work in progress where you thought you had it all figured out until something else came along that you thought matched the flow of the whole project better? “It was a little bit of both. I think it is definitely like putting a puzzle together and there some songs like ”I Hate Alabama” and “Take It Slow” that are really old in comparison but we felt like they still told part of the story that we wanted to bring into the debut album. Then there were other songs that were older and recorded a while back but had never been put out but I felt like they still held up then others came in towards the end and towards the completion of the record. “Smoky Mountains” is written as really an intro track so, from there we just pieced together what the track listing would be. I always look at track listing as like a baseball line-up where the lead off hitter is a solid guy, your 3 hole needs to be one of your best hitters and then balance it out to where the story makes sense. Track 12 is obviously the period on the end of a sentence of what “God Moments” is to say at the end of the last three years this is what I’ve leant more than anything and that’s kind of why I wrote that song.”
That’s awesome Conner, I really appreciate your time this morning, it’s been great fun and I look forward to you coming over and hope we get the chance to say hey in person to talk some more in-depth SEC football.
SMOKY MOUNTAINS Track List 1. “Smoky Mountains” (Conner Smith, Zach Crowell) 2. “Creek Will Rise” (Smith, Chris LaCorte, Chase McGill, Parker Welling) 3. “Roulette On The Heart (Featuring Hailey Whitters)” (Smith, McGill, Jessi Alexander, Mark Trussell) 4. “Heatin’ Up” (Smith, McGill, Daniel Ross) 5. “Baby, I” (Smith, Trussell, Welling, Devin Dawson) 6. “Meanwhile In Carolina” (Smith, Blake Pendergrass) 7. “Boots In The Bleachers” (Smith, Ben Hayslip, Jordan Walker) 8. “Take It Slow” (Smith, Trussell, Ryan Hurd) 9. “Trouble” (Smith, McGill, Trussell, Zach Crowell, Jerry Flowers) 10. “I Hate Alabama” (Nick Columbia, Drew Green, Hunter Phelps, Lee Starr) 11. “Regret In The Morning” (Smith, Ross, Phelps) 12. “God Moments” (Smith, Crowell, Dawson, Pendergrass)
Conner Smith will head to Europe for the first time in March where he will be part of the CMA presented Introducing Nashville along with Lauren Watkins and Karley Scott Collins at C2C: Country to Country in Berlin, London, Glasgow and Belfast. Full UK festival details and ticket information is available on the WEBSITE or socials (INSTAGRAM / TWITTER / FACEBOOK) then you can find more information on the Berlin event HERE.
The debut album “Smoky Mountains” from Conner Smith is out now via The Valory Music Co. and available to stream or purchase HERE whilst you can keep up to date with Conner socially by checking him out on INSTAGRAMTIKTOK & FACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks