Rising star Jo Smith is about to be the next big thing in country music, with her single Old School Groove already getting a great response in the States.
She’s making her UK debut at the Nashville Meets London festival later this month, and I caught up with her recently to talk influences, working with Shane McAnally on her EP, new music and her dream collaboration.
You’re coming over to the UK to play Nashville Meets London later this month, is this your first time visiting?
It is – it’s not only my first time to play but also my first time to visit! [laughs]
So what can the UK crowd expect from your show?
I’m hoping that people can just expect a lot of fun! I’ve got my single Old School Groove that I’m so excited about, and a lot of new songs. I’ve been having fun trying to figure out what covers I want to mix in but it’s going to be a country Motown soul portion of the festival.
What has the fan reaction been like?
So far it’s been great – I think they’ve received the music very well over there. I’m so thrilled as I always wanted to have international appeal because I’m super into singing all over the world and travelling. I’ve always felt like people getting my music in other parts of the world must be extra-good!
You mentioned your set was going to be a country/soul part of the festival. Has that been a big influence on your music?
It has. I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music as my dad was just a music lover. My favourite was always the country music and the music from the 60s and 70s – James Taylor and Carole King and Aretha Franklin and Chicago. I love that music and I was just so happy when country music started opening up a little bit and doing more artistic stuff outside the box, because then I could do what is authentically me and be accepted for that, so I’ve been thrilled to be able to do that.
Is there anyone in that new group of artists coming through that you’ve found particularly interesting or would maybe like to work with in future?
Thomas Rhett and I are both produced by Jesse Frasure and I love what Thomas does. We actually toured together years ago and I loved what he was doing in his live shows. He’s become a huge star so I’m hoping he’ll remember little old me [laughs] and we can work together again soon.
You worked with Shane McAnally on your EP Introducing Jo Smith – what was that like?
I met Shane years and years ago and had this immediate affinity for him and the way he expresses himself and who he is as a person. Our paths crossed again and we started working together. He’s not just my producer on the record – he’s my co-writer, my publisher and has been my advice-giver all along the way. There’s nobody that interprets things in the same way and has the ability to inspire and encourage quite like Shane. He’s an energetic force and it’s been such a honour to work with him. He’s a really funny guy too so it’s always fun working with him.
I always see photos of you on Twitter and Instagram where you’re writing or in the studio. Will there be an album or a new EP soon?
I write most days – it’s what I have to do. I just have to express myself that way and I love it. Whether there’s a set project I’m working towards or not, I’m usually being creative – it’s just a passion of mine. That said I am working towards that goal. Shane and I were just in the studio a month ago and cut two new songs. I’m totally stoked about them and I’m gonna play them for you when I come over.
Who else have you been writing with? Is there anyone you’ve particularly enjoyed working with recently?
I write with so many different people and there’s so many that I love. I wrote a song with a fella named Neil Medley this week which was super-fun, and I always love to write with Jesse Frasure who produced my record and with Shane. My other publisher and favourite co-writer Josh Osborne is always an absolute blast. I love writing with Liz Rose; she and I always just jump right on something and finish it quickly, and it’s always a fun energy that’s in the room. There’s a guy that builds tracks and writes named AJ Croce that I love and this other guy named Brett Tyler who is awesome… I could just go on and on! My co-writers are my people – they’re my favourite part of what I do.
One last question: how would you sum up your music in a few words?
Jotown! [laughs] That’s actually what I’ve named my touring company, because it kind of embodies a lot of what Motown music was – not just in sound but I feel like Motown was an energy and a culture that was accepting of everybody that just wanted to be a part of it. It also always felt good and that’s my hope for my music, that it reaches out and says ‘hey, everybody’s welcome here, let’s just have a good time, let’s be real and let’s have a lot of soul while we do it!’
Jo’s EP Introducing Jo Smith is out now and you can catch her at Nashville Meets London in Canary Wharf on Saturday 22nd July. Watch the music video for her single Old School Groove below: