Darden Smith faced a proverbial crossroads five years ago. He was going through a divorce, had suddenly found himself without a record deal for the first time in about 10 years and wondered if he had the energy to continue his career.
He turned to his constant salvation: music.
The result is an engaging new album, “Sunflower,” released April 23 on DualTone.
Co-produced by Smith and Stewart Lerman, “Sunflower” captures Smith at his reflective best, from “Perfect Moment” to the melodic “Satellite” (the first single).
Smith spoke recently about his career resurrection in an interview with Pause & Play:
P&P – When you came at this crossroads in your life, did you think of doing something else?
Smith – “Every now and then, I thought about it, but only to try to find something else in music. I did a symphony, scored some dance/theater stuff, did some commercials. The fact is that nothing is as satisfying as playing and writing music, then going out and doing it for a live audience. When it’s good, it’s the best drug there is.”
P&P – Who or what convinced you to carry on with your music?
Smith – “Listening to records is always the best tonic for me. It inspires the musician in me. Over the years, it’s been made plain to me over and over that if we do what we are supposed to do in this life, the stars will realign and help us make it through.”
P&P – This must be a satisfying spot you’re in right now, where you’re not caught in the big-label treadmill. What does DualTone bring to the table?
Smith – “First off, I didn’t have such a bad time at the big labels. It was good fun, I played music all over the place, learned how the biz works on that level, worked with so many fantastic musicians and writers, learned that I’m not the only person who has done what I do, and I let Sony spend a ton of cash on me, then walked away from the debt. Not so bad.
“DualTone is a different attitude altogether, and much more suited to where I am and where the biz is. What they bring to the table is that they are very smart, good at marketing and they come from the big label world, so they know when to spend money. Only this time, the way the deal is set up, it’s all our money, so costs are watched closely. Plus, it feels good to be on a roster with my buds. I’ve known Jim Lauderdale and Radney Foster since the early ’90s.”
P&P -“Perfect Moment” says it all. Tell us the genesis of that song.
Smith – “It’s too easy to always be looking forward to the next thing, as if that’s going to make us happy, or look back to how much better things were. Things are never as good or as bad as we make them in our minds. The practice of seeing every moment as pure perfection, without anything needing to be improved, is very handy. In thinking about this teaching, the idea for the song came to me.”
P&P – Had you chucked your career, how would you like to be remembered? What are you most proud of?
Smith – “For maybe writing a song that moved someone, that spoke the truth. If the time came to move on, I would hope that the people that really count would see me as someone who wasn’t afraid to change. In a hundred years, no one will remember any of this, or a thousand ….”
P&P – What’s your gut feeling on how the album’s going to do?
Smith – “I think this record will do whatever it’s meant to do. The fact that its on a label and on the radio is a miracle as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be pleased to make a living and do another one.”
P&P – What’s the first record you ever bought?
Smith – “My first record, on 8-track, was Leon Russell’s ‘Carney.’ I still listen to that on CD. ‘Harvest’ and ‘After the Gold Rush’ followed close. I had a cool guitar teacher.”
P&P – What’s the first concert you ever went to?
Smith – “My first big concert was Pablo Cruise, Santana, the Marshall Tucker Band and The Doobie Brothers at University of Houston stadium. I was in the ninth grade. We found a bag of joints and got really high; I slept through part of Marshall Tucker. It was supreme.”
P&P – What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Smith – “I was a janitor for a while in high school.”
ORDER “SUNFLOWER”: click here.
ON THE WEB: www.dardensmith.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Darden Smith album discography – “Native Soil” (Watermelon, 1986); “Darden Smith” (Epic, 1988); “Trouble No More” (Columbia, 1990); “Little Victories” (Chaos, 1993); “Deep Fantastic Blue” (Plump, 1996); “Extra, Extra” (Valley, 2000); “Sunflower” (DualTone, 2002).
Upcoming tour dates – June 9, Nashville, 3rd & Lindsay; June 13, Houston, Mucky Duck; June 14, Dallas, Poor David’s Pub; June 23, Amherst, Mass., A Taste of Amherst; June 28, Chicago, Schuba’s; June 29, Dayton, Ohio, Canal Street Tavern; July 11, Austin, Shady Grove, “Unplugged at the Grove”; Aug. 3, Tampa, Skippers, with Paul Thorn; Sept. 14, Indianapolis, Rehearsal Studios; Oct. 12, San Antonio, Urban Campfires; Oct. 17, Wimberley, Texas, Suzanna’s Kitchen; Oct. 19, Friendswood, Texas, Texas Summer Nights House Concert; Oct. 25-31, Big Bend, Texas, Private Retreat.