story / Luci Turner
photos / Gemma Warren
It’s no secret: Millennials are the most nostalgic generation, and we’re proud of it. Whether it’s by way of fashion, pop culture, or music (or the nearest Urban Outfitters), we’re desperate to reclaim some of the youthful, carefree joie de vivre most of us seem to have left behind somewhere between 1999 and the series finale of Friends.
But while there’s no way to truly recapture the weightless, eternal feeling of late summertime in the mid-90s, Your Smith’s latest release, “The Spot” — a stripped back bop whose easygoing, swinging beat contrasts tantalizingly with the sharply delivered lyricism — might be the next best thing.
So sit back, relax, and crack open another Cerveza as The Artist Formerly Known As Caroline Smith welcomes you into a world of her own reminiscing, opening up on everything from moving away from her hometown, changing her name, her thoughts on pop music today, and being defiantly honest.
You’re a native of Minneapolis but relocated to Los Angeles two years ago; how did moving from the Midwest to the West Coast influence your sound, your style, and your entire mindset as you reconnected and reimagined yourself?
Los Angeles is loaded with an indescribable energy. I love Minneapolis; it will always be home, but there’s something about the way my creativity interacts with LA. There is so much creative history embedded in every neighborhood and everyone around you is pushing so hard to be seen and to be heard. It really pushes me to be better as much as it inspires me to keep creating. Also it never gets to fifty below zero, and that is definitely a plus.
Los Angeles’s music scene is not only incredibly varied — from surf rock to Laurel Canyon folk to the rap/R&B scene in the late 80s and 90s — but inarguably one of the most influential in history. How do you draw from those legendary acts while also maintaining and growing a sound that is distinctly your own?
Drawing from inspirations that bring me back to my childhood is so important to me; when in doubt, I recall a song that makes me feel warm and like I’m at home, or singing in the car next to my mom. Luckily for me, a lot of those artists lived and worked here in Los Angeles, and tapping into that energy is so wildly inspiring to me. Artists like Eagles, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Steely Dan. But it’s important to me that I hang on to the massive impression that “The Minneapolis Sound” has imprinted on me from the decade living in Minneapolis. Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Morris Day, Mint Condition…man, they sit in a very special part of my heart. Blending those two worlds and those two distinct parts of me that both feel like home is when I feel most myself.
What is your creative process like? Who or what inspires you to write and share your music with the world?
I have no specific creative process and I think that in itself is my creative process. As soon as I feel like I’ve figured out a surefire way to get good work out of me, it turns stale really really fast. So I think constantly exploring and changing up how I write is really important in me staying connected and on my toes. People can tell when you’re phoning it in. I want to make honest music that can serve any source of comfort to anyone out there that has felt the same way, good or bad. Connecting directly with the people listening to my music will forever inspire me.
“The Spot” is your debut single following a name change and a reconnection with your youthful, nostalgic side. What inspired you to write “The Spot”? Did you know from the beginning that it was the perfect way to introduce Your Smith?
At the time that I wrote “The Spot,” I only had one song that I knew for certain was going to be in the Smith cannon, and that was “Bad Habit.” I wrote “Bad Habit” thinking no one was going to like it because, at that point, I was so fed up trying to write the pop music I thought everyone wanted me to write. It just wasn’t landing. So when I turned “Bad Habit” into my publisher, it was a bit of a white flag. I was kind of thinking like, “Go ahead, drop me. I don’t care. Fuck it. This is the only me I know how to be.” But everyone on my team was so excited about it. They said it felt like me; the real me. As cheesy as it sounds, I was like “wait. You’re telling me I could have been doing this the whole time? Just being me? The part of me I thought no one was gonna think was cool? Damn.” So on the heels of that, I went back in with Nicky Davey and wrote “The Spot.” Man, I felt free! I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! And so deep from within me that song just came roaring out. That song to me feels like a walk in the sun after three years of clouds.
How was writing “The Spot” different from songs you’ve written before? Were there any unexpected challenges you faced as you introduced this new, more all-encompassing side of yourself?
“The Spot” and “Bad Habit” are some of the first songs I’ve released as a collaboration; historically, I wrote all of my music alone. Once I opened myself up to cowrites, and got comfortable being lyrically intimate with more-or-less strangers, a whole world opened up to me, and I fell in love with writing with other people. I think “The Spot” captures that: me feeling free and light and confident, rapping with my friends, making jokes about a failed relationship, and hitting record.
Honestly, things have only gotten easier after introducing Your Smith; she allows me to step outside of what it means to be Caroline and all of the hats she wears. Caroline is a sister, a daughter, a people-pleaser, and wildly terrified to offend. Smith doesn’t care- give her some loafers and a beat and she’ll let ya know how she really feels.
Your Smith blurs the lines: between genres, between masculine and feminine, between nostalgic grooves and sharp, modern lyricism. How have you grown as an artist and an individual in this seemingly gray area? Has it allowed you to climb out of the boxes and formulas that so many artists find themselves in? Do you ever feel any tension, whether from the inside or outside, in navigating the blur?’
I think that gray area, in between all that blurring, the masculine vs feminine, the dustiness vs the pop shine, humble vs ego, is where I’ve spent my whole life. It’s been a constant battle as an artist that I might always have to reckon with. More specifically, where do I fit? Now I’m choosing to embrace it instead of hide it. I’m leaning into the parts of me I felt I wasn’t allowed to emphasize: my masculinity, my disinterest in most pop music, my love for a really good new jack swing hi-hat, and most importantly: my unibrow.
What are your thoughts on equality in the music industry today, compared to the 90s? Do you think ease of access through social media has reinforced or strengthened constructed gender roles, both inside and outside of music, or allowed both artists and fans to step outside of those roles and be themselves more freely than ever?
I feel gender roles are more cemented than ever in Top 40 music. I worship the Courtney Barnetts and the Haims of the world, but sadly they aren’t Top 40. Where are all the Bechdel Test artists? Alanis, Traci Chapman, Gwen Stefani (90s Gwen doing sweaty pushups and high-kicks on stage). And maybe I’m glorifying a time when women felt they couldn’t be femme in order to be respected by men, which is also real, but I’d like to see both worlds now co-existing in harmony. Don’t get me wrong, I think Ariana Grande is one of the greatest pop stars of all time, but wouldn’t it be cool if we had a modern day Alanis somewhere in the mix too on Top 40? At least we have SZA. Go SZA go.
If you could go back to the beginning and give yourself any advice as an artist, what would it be?
I am one of those people that believes everything happens for a reason. So I guess I would just say “Yep, that seems about right.”
What do you hope listeners take away from “The Spot”?
When I wrote “The Spot” and “Bad Habit”, I had a defiant surge of honesty and freedom running through me. I hope in some way, shape, or form, that transfers to the listener.
What’s next for Your Smith?
The full EP is out now, with a full U.S. tour starting in September! So excited to be back out on the road and I can’t wait to keep rolling out the new songs. In the meantime, I’m in the studio most days with the usual cast of characters working on the next thing. Life’s not bad.
CONNECT WITH YOUR SMITH