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Meaghan Smith talks her latest album

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Juno award winning musician Meaghan Smith recently released her new studio album Have a Heart

Music fans just might be the most simultaneously loyal and vicious bunch in the world. Release a dynamite record, and they’ll push it on their friends, their mom, and their dog. Stray from that framework, and you chance upping your stock, or losing their love completely (worse yet, you could be labeled a ‘sell-out’ by keyboard crusaders the world over; the horror…). So, it’s understandably discomforting, in a way, for a musician to mix it up; fortune doesn’t always favour the bold. But you’ll never know until you try. Or as Meaghan Smith puts it, “You’ll only feel the beat if you have a heart.”

The London, Ontario-born singer-songwriter has been quiet since her 2011 Juno win for Best New Artist, which celebrated her retro-flavoured The Cricket’s Orchestra. But Smith is back with a brand new LP, and a brand new sound. Have A Heart hits shelves yesterday, and with it, a gutsy new side of Meaghan Smith. Working with her husband Jason Mingo, and Warner Music Canada’s A&R head Ron Lopata, Smith took a step or 20 outside her comfort zone, crafting what for her was a giant leap: a pop record.

“I was like, ‘I can’t make the same record again.’ I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to be that kind of artist that gets stuck working with the same people,” Meaghan says, huddling tight to a tiny Starbucks table. “I was like, ‘What could I do that would really shock me personally, how could I surprise myself, what’s the opposite of this last record?’ And to me, it was like getting a song on the Top 40 radio.”

The irony here is that most would probably assume shooting for ‘Top 40’ airplay is the easy approach. A listen through Smith’s gorgeously authentic songwriting reveals nothing easy or contrived, but rather intimate, rosy wordplay and lush, imaginative orchestration on all fronts. It’s still a bold pop attack, but Smith’s vintage magnetism and knack for an original melody colour it a shade deeper and richer than what the wide (mis)conception of pop music is. And then the eternal question for the pop-hating millenials: what’s so bad about a song being popular?


“There’s this idea, if the masses like it, it must not be great. But well, if its connecting and resonating with millions of people, there’s a reason for that. You should just like something for what it is or isn’t. Don’t concern yourself with what other people are thinking.”

Smith, Mingo and Lopata holed up in Toronto to write and record the album after trips to New York, Los Angeles, and even Amsterdam to court potential producers; Smith had a list of producers she was interested in working with, and after cutting four tracks with Ash Howes in London, England, she was out of ideas until she saw Mingo and Lopata with fresh eyes.

“I was like, ‘Guys, this seems to be working. Why don’t we just try and do this?” I flew all the way around the world and I ended up working with these two together,” Smith explains. “I had this criteria, like I wanted to work with someone who had reached this level of success, or worked with this artist. I was totally in it for their name or what I thought they would be like.”

“It was just there with Jason and Ron, and its funny cause it has to be the three of us,” she adds. “I think maybe because there’s a tie breaker… And I feel like all three of our brains bring something the other ones are lacking, so collectively it just worked really well.”

The trip to Amsterdam didn’t find Smith in the studio with a producer, but offered some marked personal revelations.

“While we were [in Amsterdam], we went to visit the Anne Frank museum and the Van Gogh museum too, I remember learning that he only sold one painting in his lifetime, his whole life. And you know who bought that one painting? His brother. So he’s probably like, ‘I’m a failure.’ He committed suicide and he’s the best painter I can think of. Sometimes I’m not sure about what I’m doing, but I’m like, ‘If Van Gogh can be an artist, I can be a musician.’”

Smith continues, “And then at the Anne Frank museum, she wanted to be a writer so she’s like pouring out her heart into this diary… And I just was overwhelmed. She’s so amazing. Even though she wasn’t published at the time, she went on to be this amazing published author. So that Amsterdam trip was really… figuring out what success is to me.”

meaghan-smithAlong with the sojourn overseas, Smith had a collection of watershed moments that all led her to Have a Heart.

“I think the biggest thing was I decided I wasn’t going to quit music. I’m not the kind of artist that’s always really confident and knows exactly what they’re doing, I doubt myself a lot” she remarks. “There were moments before the Juno where I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this.’ The Juno kind of made it real for me that I am a musician, people recognize me as a musician now.”

Smith also relates how she and Mingo were at Toronto’s Eaton Centre during the shooting in June of 2012: “We were just above the food court when the shooting happened. We could see the whole thing, and at that moment I was like, ‘Okay, literally this could end at any moment.’ And I’ve heard that before, but I don’t think I’ve ever really felt that, but I really felt that at that moment. And then I wrote the lyrics to ‘Have a Heart.’”

She pauses, and finishes: “You’re only going to experience life if you go for it, so that’s when I really, finally overcame any sort of inhibitions I had about trying to go for this new sound.”

The power and passion of Smith’s voice gives full body to the sort of unbridled and personal writing on Have a Heart. Despite being considerably more commercial, Smith’s ability to retain integrity in the monumental shift is respectable, and one she thanks husband Mingo for helping her feel comfortable enough to maintain.

“You have to be comfortable looking like an idiot,” she sighs with a smile. “A lot of my ideas are really stupid but I’ve got to feel like I can just throw it out there. If you have this censorship going on in your own head, which happened to me a lot before… It’s just this horrible censorship that shuts everything down.”

“Before I’d even get an idea out, I’d be like, ‘No that’s dumb, don’t say that out loud,’ so it’s great when I feel like I can be an idiot around Jason and he’ll still care about me,” she added.

0010Smith’s progression is like pitching her ‘40s-style crooning into a time machine, the results are enthralling, if a touch ‘uneven.’ And while the risk is not without its rewards, she’s seeing the ease with which music listeners can tear down something they don’t dig. But even that, Smith can turn into sunshine.

“I got mostly really supportive feedback about the new sound and new direction, but there were some people who were really mean, and I’m not used to [that]. But then I was like, ‘That’s awesome,’ ‘cause I’m sort of doing something a bit controversial,” she grins playfully. “I feel like I’m my own ‘punk’ in a way, where I’m rebelling against what everybody thinks I should be doing.”

“I think I’m doing something right… There’s this fine line of like wanting to change completely, but accepting what you do as well.”

Readying for her latest work to be in the public eye, Smith finds herself in an understandably different state of mind than the same time five years ago.

“Everything’s different. This album, we’re getting mainstream radio, which is totally new… The way we created it, the way I wrote the songs, the reaction I’m getting from people, where I hope it goes… It’s like I’m starting over, like I’m a new artist.”

“I don’t feel stale. I feel really good about the fact that I’m constantly outside my comfort zone. When I’m in my comfort zone, I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m getting stagnant,’ so being outside my comfort zone actually makes me more comfortable,” she laughs.

Smith plans on having a quiet summer before touring later in 2014. Have a Heart was released yesterday on Warner Music Canada.


Luke Ottenhof

Photos taken from the internet


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