Whether you've heard Canaan Smith on the radio with his hit "Love You Like That" or his infectious new single "Hole In a Bottle," or whether you've seen him on Dierks Bentley's Sounds of Summer tour, you already know Smith is taking country music by storm. One listen to his impressive debut album Bronco is all it takes to understand why.
There is an honesty and a vulnerability to his storytelling that is not often found in music of any genre. Whether he's cranking up the energy with songs like "American Muscle" or pouring out his heart on title track, "Bronco," the emotions are real. Having had the opportunity to sit down with the talented Smith to discuss the album, I realized pretty quickly that Bronco truly is an extension of Smith himself. Open, honest, and unafraid to discuss life and all the ups and downs that come with it, Bronco is an album everyone can relate to, and so is the man himself.
The Reel Spin: You've been touring with Dierks Bentley. What has it been like to share the stage with him?
Canaan Smith: It's amazing. We're sort of cut from the same cloth. I feel like musically... different... we have our own thing. But work hard, play hard is our mentality, and the whole bill from me to Maddie & Tae to Kip [Moore] and Dierks... I feel like we're all bustin' ass right now, and that's sort of how we always will do it. Birds of a feather flock together, and that's the kind of tour it's turned out to be... really hard working. Everybody gets along. It's a dream come true for me really. When Dierks first came out, he was a big musical influence of mine... big hero of mine musically. I thought he was the s--t when he came out. He still is. He's still amazing. He's always going to be that guy for me. It's definitely a surreal thing. He called me and left me a voicemail on my phone to invite me on the tour last winter, and I still have it. I'll always keep it . . . It's such a moment in my life that I always dreamed of, and now that it's here, it's just hard to believe.
TRS: Like you said, it's surreal, but in a really, really good way.
Smith: In an amazing way. The crowds are showing up. The show itself is on point right now. We've been working really hard to make the biggest splash, the biggest impact that I can in my twenty minute set. His voicemail says, "I want you to come out and get the f--kin' party started" is what he said so that was my charging orders, my commanding orders, and that's what I'm doing.
TRS: Talking about performing with other artists... I actually got to catch your set at CMA Fest on the Close Up Stage with Kristian Bush and Michael Ray.
Smith: Oh sweet...
TRS: That was one of my favorite performances of the whole festival.
Smith: Awesome... Thank you.
TRS: Is it special to you to be able to perform with other artists... especially those acoustic style settings?
Smith: I love it. The only time I get to do those shows usually are at radio stations, so when it's actually in front of a different crowd, and it's not just work related, and it's in front of fans, and it's acoustic strip down, it's a really special thing. I've always enjoyed it. I'm always a rocker, that'll be my go to... like what I want to do 90% of the time is full band, rock 'n' roll show, but it's nice every now and then just to kind of strip it back down to the basics of holding a guitar and communicating that way, and that's pretty cool.
TRS: Yeah, definitiely. By the way, congratulations on all of the success. Particularly for "Love You Like That." One of the things that I think is really special is that first when the song went gold and then when it went to number one, each time you took to Instagram to thank your fans.
Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
TRS: How much does the support of your fans mean to you?
Smith: Everything. Without my fans, I'm nothing as an artist. Well, I'll always be who I am creatively as an artist, but my fans drive me to be the best version of myself I can be, because they've stood by me through thick and thin through the downtime of "We Got Us." There was a transition after "We Got Us" to "Love You Like That"... it was 3 1/2 years and I took to the street... took to the road, and just pounded the pavement just me and my acoustic guitar at club shows... playing for whoever would listen. And those fans that rallied behind me at that point and time, that's a special thing that I will never forget... never take for granted, and I'll always remember that. It kept me going. It drove me through the downtime, and it gave me hope, it gave me sort of a map to know what was working and what wasn't, and they were sort of a sounding board for me on a cool level. We got to grow up together. It feels like me and my fans have grown up together, me as an artist and just life experiences in general, you know? They've been there through it with me, so it's sort of like a family.
TRS: That's awesome. Also, you co-wrote most of Bronco. Did having the opportunity to tell your story make this album even more special to you?
Smith: The title track, "Bronco," is the most important song to me on the record. The story of my life, it's taken so many twists and turns, and it took a really sharp turn when I was eleven, when I lost my brother in a car accident, and that was just impossibly hard to go through, to experience, to make sense of at a young age, and to deal with. And so being able to kind of voice that in a song through a tribute was something I'd always wanted to do for my brother, but hadn't really had the nerve to sit down and try. It was too much of an emotional commitment, and you've got to be vulnerable with somebody else in the room if you're doing a co-write, and one afternoon the title "Bronco" came to me, because my brother drove a Ford Bronco, and I've always wanted to write a song for him, but didn't know how to make it relatable to everybody else without it being too personal. If it was just about my brother, I'm not sure that it would have hit home for a lot of people, but taking it and kind of embodying that loss in a vehicle, and how that vehicle's been stuck in my memory all this time, because of that... that struck a chord in my heart that it would resonate with people. So, I sat down with Scooter Carusoe at my house, and he's such a great poetic lyricist, and I could trust him with my vulnerable feelings on this song, and what was crazy about it was normally when you're trying to write a song you have to conjure up lines, and you have to try to think of scenarios and be creative in that sense and put it all together that way, but for "Bronco," I was literally just writing down memories... things I remembered plain as day that happened, and so it was the most natural song I've ever written... the most healing, cathartic song I've ever written, and now each night I get to play it, it's my favorite song that I've ever written, just because it connects on a level that no other songs at this point do. I can't help but think he's really excited up there each night I play it.
TRS: Definitely... You mentioned the word "vulnerable" a lot, and that is what came to mind the first time that I heard it and every time that I hear it.
TRS: One thing I like is that there's not a lot of over-instrumentation. You guys really let the vocals and the lyrics tell the story.
Smith: Yeah, thanks. You know, we tried the other way. I had been playing it in front of audiences for about four months leading up to cutting it for the record, and the only way I had ever done it in front of an audience was just me and my guitar, and when we went into the studio, we thought well what if it's going to be a single, we might need to dress it up a little bit, and so we tried that approach, and it was beautiful, but it didn't feel right. It just felt too done, and it didn't feel vulnerable enough like you said. It didn't feel edgy and raw and painful, so we went back and sat down and just one guitar and a vocal and called it a day, and that's a special thing too. It just brings it to life. I'm excited about it.
TRS: It really translated. Do you find that listeners really gravitate toward songs that are more open and honest?
Smith: I think obviously yeah. They don't even have to be sad songs or songs of hurt or pain, you can be honest about being pissed off and that people relate to. Yeah, I think it's my goal... I don't know if I would say if it's a responsibility, it could be. For me, I look at it like the only way I'm going to be real and believable and content with who I am as an artist is to just tell the truth. Each song I picked for this record is pieces of my life... ups and downs and everything in between that I have experienced firsthand or been through with somebody else. The highs and the lows, the good and the bad, all of it. Just be honest. I think as long as we're being honest as songwriters and storytellers, then those kind of songs have a chance of standing the test of time.
TRS: Now that you've been performing a lot of the songs off the album, have their been any songs in particular that maybe you've been surprised by that fans have really latched onto?
Smith: Not yet... there hasn't been a surprise one yet for me, and I don't know if one will have some big surge of popularity as the tour goes on, but the good thing is that they are all equal level excitable songs that the fans get pumped about and invest in, so I think that's even better than just one standout. One that does stand out on a show level is called "One of Those." It's a song that people can relate to, because it's a song about a dude who is a regular average Joe. Blue jeans, ball cap, T-shirt kind of dude who is sort of unapologetic about how basic he is. If you love him, great, if you don't... I guess I'm not your type. I think that is a vulnerable, honest approach to a song and a message that people can relate to.
TRS: Do you view music as a voice for people?
Smith: I'm sure it is, yeah. Music has been a voice for me before... through all stages of life. It's been a love song, it's been a hate song, it's been a healing song. It's been all kinds of things, so yeah, I think it could be that to somebody.
TRS: How does it feel to have the fans singing the lyrics back to you now for songs that aren't even singles yet?
Smith: It's crazy. It's insane. That's crazy. Yeah, it's bizarre. It's happening with "Hole In a Bottle," that's the [new] single. It's happening with almost every song on the album right now... I'm seeing people singing along. I don't know... it's just bizarre. It's what I've been waiting for.
TRS: Speaking of "Hole In a Bottle," it's definitely a high on the album, and I feel like the album is a lot like life, like you mentioned before... it has highs and lows and ups and downs. It has something that everyone can really relate to. Was that intentional when you went in to record the album?
Smith: Yeah, 100%. I wanted each song to be relatable. I wanted each song to speak to people. I didn't want them to have to skip on my album, because they didn't like a certain song or couldn't relate to it or didn't dig it, and that's going to happen. You can't be every flavor to everybody and it works, but at the same time, I trusted my instincts and picked songs that I could see myself being a fan of if somebody else was singing them and stay true to who I was.
TRS: "American Muscle" is another one that I have had on repeat.
Smith: Sweet... I love that song.
TRS: It's so much fun. You can't help but sort of like dance to it.
Smith: It's almost got like a Rolling Stones kind of country vibe to it, it's just crazy... it's so high energy. We crank up the show with it every night. Right away people know what's going down.
TRS: Absolutely, it's kind of like that party song.
Smith: And you're proud... I mean America's given the world some pretty awesome s--t... muscle cars, rock 'n' roll, and other things... that's just a few to speak of. I think that's pretty awesome.
TRS: Another thing about "American Muscle" is that like I was saying it is this dance-worthy type song...
Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
TRS: Speaking of dancing and your Instagram account, you recently posted a video of you sort of breaking it down to a drum beat.
Smith: [Laughs and starts re-enacting a bit his amazing Instagram dance] Did you like that?
TRS: [Laughs] Yes, I love that! So, I was wondering with the new craze of the Silento song, "Watch Me"... You know the song, right?
Smith: Watch me whip? Watch me nae nae...
TRS: Yes! [Laughs] So I'm hoping... is it possible we could see a video of you doing the dance at some point in the future?
Smith: [Laughs] That would be cool... I think so. Me and my band guys started in public saying to people, "Excuse me ma'am" and she'll come up to me and then "Can you watch me whip real quick?" and then she'll be like [Smith demonstrates a confused expression] "and now watch me nae nae? Alright thanks, carry on." [Laughs]
TRS: That's awesome. I'm hoping for that. So now that we know that you can dance, do you have any other hidden talents that your fans might like to know about?
Smith: That I'm allowed to speak of? I'm pretty f--king awesome at cornhole... really amazingly good at it [laughs]. I'm hard to beat. I'm undefeated on the tour so far.
TRS: Wow... that's impressive.
Smith: I love cornhole... I love it. I like to work with my hands. I've built some furniture at the house, that kind of stuff. I'm a horse guy. Snowboarding. Skateboarding. I love all that.
TRS: A man of many talents...
Smith: Hobbies more than talents I guess. I enjoy life. I enjoy finding stuff to entertain myself. When you're on the road, you have learn how to do that. That's probably why I got good at cornhole fast.
For more on Canaan Smith:
Interview by Pamela Thomas