The former indie-folk ingénue made a name for herself when she debuted as Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps in 2008. That group sold out First Avenue’s Mainroom, toured nationally, and opened for acts like Dawes, DeVotchKa, and the Jayhawks.
After dropping two EPs and three albums with the Goodnight Sleeps over four years, Smith made a drastic turn toward neo-soul empowerment pop in 2013 with her first solo full-length Half About Being a Woman. “Let ‘Em Say,” the 2014 duet with Lizzo that blew up music blogs and landed in an episode of Broad City, galvanized Smith’s rising star status. In 2015, Smith left Minnesota behind and moved to California.
We spoke to the curly-haired songwriter ahead of Saturday’s appearance at SurlyFest, where she’ll share her ever-evolving sound with beer enthusiasts.
City Pages: Why did you move to California?
Caroline Smith: I was flying out here a lot for work. I started working with this really amazing publishing company that really embraced me and made me feel like part of the team. Somebody was just like, “You know, you should just move out here,” and I was like, “No, I don’t ever want to move to L.A. L.A.’s not my scene.” But after I flew out a couple times and it wasn’t cold, I was like, “Sure, why not? Let’s give it a shot.” I still work with the publishing company and they keep me really busy. I miss Minneapolis a lot. I miss the people. I miss the city a lot, the vibrancy of it, but I do get to do what I love every day here and it’s always exciting.
CP: This summer you tweeted a picture of yourself in a recording session. When can we expect a new album?
CS: I’ve been out here working a lot and I am going to be starting to release stuff very soon. Sometimes when you’re an artist, you’re tempted to release stuff that maybe you aren’t sure how you feel about it or maybe you don’t totally love it because you feel like you need to release something. I have a really hard time with that. I battle with that a lot. I have finally come up with songs that I love and I’m really excited to share. I’m hoping to release the songs in October or November.
CP: It’s been a few years since you released an album. Did taking your time affect the quality of the songs?
CS: I think there’s two schools of thought. They say “a released song is better than a perfect song,” but I don’t know. I went through a bit of a writer’s block the first couple of years. I was spending too much time focusing on touring, focusing on the managerial side of stuff, and I really stopped writing, which I think is super easy for songwriters to do. And then getting back in the swing of the things arguably took me a year, so that really ate up the last three years of my life. I think the last year is when I really started to write stuff that I love. I can’t really look back and wish that I would have done it a different way, because it just wasn’t a possibility. I just was writing stuff that I really wasn’t proud of, that I didn’t really like. So I’m glad that I waited. I don’t just want to put out music to put out music. I really want to be careful that music just doesn’t become about money for me. Understandably, a lot of people on my team are like, “We gotta keep the train moving.” I get that, I get that, but I don’t want to let my fans down and put out trash.
CP: Will we hear some new songs when you play SurlyFest?
CS: Yeah, totally. I’m very excited about it. It’s been very fun playing these shows back in Minneapolis while writing the songs. It’s a great litmus test for if a song is a good song: Can I play it in front of my hometown and the people that support me and feel proud of it, feel good about it? Do they respond well? It’s really fun to trial-run songs in front of a Minneapolis audience.
CP: Since SurlyFest is beer-themed, I have to ask: Are you a beer drinker?
CS: Yeah, I’m totally a beer drinker. But I’m kind of like a pussy-ass beer drinker. I like light beers, the Pilsners.
CP: I noticed a picture of you online smoking a cigar. Is that a new habit, too?
CS: No. There’s this really wonderful Cuban bar here and they sell amazing Cuban cigars. One time I was just hanging out and smoking a cigar. It really does make you feel like a boss, you know? [Laughs.]
CP: You seem to be a fan of selfie-taking. Is that just a side effect of being young and beautiful or is there something more going on there?
CS: Let’s see… selfie-taking… hmm… I really try to keep it real on my social media. I try to not just post photos of me on my best days but try to post things that show people that I’m a real person. Everybody’s a real person, but you know, social media is curated. I’ve always tried to keep a sense of humor about it and try to give people some realness.
CP: The last time I interviewed you, in 2012, you were in a happy relationship and we talked about how that could make songwriting more difficult. Where are you at now in terms of a relationship?
CS: That’s a really good question. I’m single. I was one of those people that was always in a relationship. My last partner is a really wonderful person and we dated for six years. You know, people grow apart and people change. He and I are still very, very close, and I will always love him deeply as a friend. But one day I looked around and I was edging towards my late 20s, and I realized that I had never been single. And in the midst of a writer’s block, it was kind of alarming, wondering if I really knew myself if I never spent any time alone. Easier said than done, being alone when you don’t know how to be alone. So I started going to a lot of therapy. I always recommend therapy. Literally anybody on this planet can benefit from therapy. Now I can proudly say that I’ve been single for two years and I’m very happy.
When: 7:45 p.m. Sat. Sept. 23
Tickets: Free until it reaches capacity, then admittance for pre-purchased SurlyFest package holders only; more info here