Today’s Feature, July 4th-5th: Darden Smith

January 18, 2008 at 6:27 pm (Today's Feature)

Once called “a Texas Van Morrison” and named after a rodeo cowboy, Darden Smith is a unique character. He started playing clubs back in the early 80s but his career began long before that, as a teenaged Smith started putting pen to paper, honing his skills on the guitar. His first gig he notes was at (oddly enough) a rodeo show, which had a not so pleasant ending for one of his band mates (I’ll let him explain). However, little did the erratic rodeo fans know but that kid in the announcer’s box strumming his guitar and blaring out his own music would some day grow into one of the most talented, versatile and respected musicians today. Smith’s fusion of folk, Americana, country, blues and rock-pop songs on his latest release Ojo, are a testament to the passion for music he found as a teenager. It is hard to think, that teenager could grasp the concept of building their life and professional career as a musician but Smith’s earlier days of the “less glamorous life” on the road has helped formulate his personality today. With Ojo, Smith’s first ever, live 15 track CD lets us in on how talented this University of Texas (Austin) alum, truly is. Smith’s past albums all had a unique sound that resonated his idea of modern music married with an old soul. Ojo’s live performances provide us a better example of the mind behind Smith as a performer. It’s a mind and talent that we are pleased to have shared with us. That kid at the rodeo has come quite a long way since then. Find out more by reading his XXQs.

XXQs: Darden Smith (PEV): How and when did you first get started in music?

Darden Smith (DS): Playing in Clubs around Austin in the early 80’s. Before that, I was writing songs all through high school in north Houston, playing in bad garage bands.

PEV: Did growing up in Austin have a large impact on your musical style?

DS: Didn’t grow up in Austin, but being in Texas in the 70’s definitely had an impact – lots of Townes Van Zant, Guy Clark, etc. Houston had a great radio station – KLOL that played everything; Dylan, allman Brothers, Marshal Tucker, Elvis Costello

PEV: Was there a certain time or event that made you decide music is going to be a profession?

DS: Saw Guy Clark on Austin City Limits; my dad told me that he was getting paid to play and I said, Ôthat’s for me.’

PEV: What was it like the first time you performed live and when was it?

DS: My first paid gig was at a rodeo in Wimberley, TX that my cousin booked us at. My brother and I played in the announcer’s booth up above the chutes while all these cowboys stood in the dirt of the arena and listened, and yelled at us. My brother got beat up that night by this badass bull rider guy. I knew the music biz was for me then. I had a song I’d written about these other cousins who were cowboys, the real deal. I stood behind the pens and played it for them and their friends. I was this 13 year old kid, and they all slapped me on the back, one gave me his hat. Then they gave me some beer and we proceeded to get really drunk. The mystery began.

PEV: Your career has spanned many genres of music, from folk, country and pop. Which do you find to be the best fit?

DS: It all works; it’s all music. I think I just get bored with one form and then move on. As well, who says you have to do the same thing all the time? Who would want to? If you don’t move, you’re dead. Every couple of years I get the itch to do something really out, like a dance/theater thing, or a symphony. Those projects people outside of Austin rarely hear about, but they’re key to me exploring music and what I can do in it. If you only think of yourself as one thing, you’re cheating yourself. Plus, music without lyrics for a songwriter is a pretty freeing thing. Then when you come back to regular songs, it’s even more delicious. But you can’t go back to where you were because you’ve changed.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a recording studio?

DS: Scary, but very cool, and I wanted more. North Houston. 17 years old. Buzz Smith was the engineer. Still have the tapes around somewhere. I recorded 20 of my own songs and my dad made me record 5 of his favorites – part of the deal as he was helping me pay for the session.

PEV: When you write music, what kind of element do you prefer to surround yourself in?

DS: I do it wherever I am, try not to get attached to any one place or setting. Any time you depend on setting or surroundings you cut yourself off from an accident. I love a hotel where it’s all anonymous or an airport lounge during a layover.

PEV: Is there one aspect to your music, be it the type of songs, acoustic/electric, range in vocals; you find yourself leaning towards more then others?

DS: No. I don’t think about it that much, and try not to repeat myself

PEV: What can we expect from your latest release, Ojo?

DS: Ojo is a solo disc, recorded in an adobe house on the grounds of the Ojo Caliente Hot Springs in New Mexico. There were a few people sitting around listening. It’s pretty loose.

PEV: How is music on Ojo different from earlier works (Circo, Sunflower, Deep Fantastic Blue, Extra, Extra, ‘Evidence’, Trouble No More, Little Victories or Field of Crows, to name a few)?

DS: This is the first live disc I’ve done, and the first one solo.

PEV: How is Ojo different from other albums out today?

DS: On it I make an atrocious mistake, and leave it in the song. Don’t see that everyday, I would guess.

PEV: In all your travels, which city has been your favorite to perform in? And which offers the best atmosphere for music appreciation?

DS: I love playing in Austin. Glasgow is always fantastic, as is Belfast. New York is great because dinner after the show is ripe with possibilities.

PEV: You collaborate with many people on Field of Crows, however, is there someone that you wish to collaborate in the future?

DS: Neko Case; T-Bone Burnett; Buddy Miller; Paul Tiernan, who’s an Irish singer I met in France. He’s fantastic. I’ve always wanted to do something with Branford Marsalis, just because it would be weird. The people from Massive Attack are pretty outrageous as well.

PEV: In your opinion, who is an artist to watch today?

DS: Brett Dennan is killer and he’s going to be around for a while. I also think that Beck is one of the people that will be making interesting music 20 years from now. My friend Michael Ramos has this thing called Charanga Cakewalk which is fantastic. Leila Downs is a great singer from Mexico.

PEV: What’s something we’d be surprised to hear about Darden Smith?

DS: When I was young, I had an egg business with 100 chickens, my dad sold vacuums door to door and my mom was a renegade tennis pro. I’m addicted to swimming, and have a fascination with buttons and cool fabric.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your success?

DS: Awe that someone hasn’t told me to grow up and get a real job.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Darden Smith show?

DS: Songs, stories, a good number of mistakes.

PEV: How has life on the road and touring been for you?

DS: As a kid, my family rarely left Texas. So, my job has shown me what it’s like out there in the big world. Playing music is the best way to get to know someplace because the people want to talk to you. I’ve grown to love a good hotel room, especially if you can be there for a couple of days. There’s nothing quite like writing in a hotel room for three days. It’s like being in a time capsule. You get really weird. Traveling around, I know a good place to eat almost anywhere.

PEV: Describe the feeling of hearing fans sing along with you when you perform?

DS: Umm, very cool. What do you think?

PEV: So, what is next for Darden Smith?

DS: Marathon, a new theater work I’m creating here in Austin. It’s a combination monologue written by this cool writer here in town, Jesse Sublett, and songs by yours truly. The story combines Greek myth and Texas images to tell the story of a guys search for his lost father – sort of a Theseus and the Minotaur. It’s killer. There’ll be a CD of it soon.


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