When April Smith needed money to record a new album, she turned to the fans. Not in a folkie pass-the-hat way or by employing public broadcasting-style pleading from the concert stage. The singer hooked up with Kickstarter.com, a fan-funding site that helps artists and creators reach their predetermined financial goals for specific projects.
Thanks to more than 200 backers, Smith not only reached her dollar goal in a two-month period, she surpassed it.
Doing things independently and without a record label – that’s been Smith’s MO the last few years, during which she toured nationally as the opening act for singer/songwriter JD Souther and played the Lollapalooza festival.
She also scored those high-profile gigs without having a new album to promote. Thanks to her Kickstarter.com experience, the Toms River, N.J.-raised, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Smith now has the 11-track Songs for a Sinking Ship in the can and ready for release on Feb. 23.
Smith — who’s currently touring with her band, the Great Picture Show — recently talked about her throwback sound, her experiences with Kickstarter.com and Souther as well as the Brooklyn and Jersey Shore music scenes.
Medleyville.us: A lot of the tracks on Songs for a Sinking Ship sound like they belong in a stage musical. Where does your showtune/cabaret influence come from, and did you have a serious interest in a theater career growing up?
April Smith: “I was into theater in high school and actually started out started out as a musical theater major in college, so I think it definitely creeps into my writing. I liken my songs to little movies sometimes. I’ve always loved the overly dramatic feel of old Hollywood films, and that’s a big influence in my music. I guess having a big, fun live show helps me scratch that musical theater itch and I get the best of both worlds.”
Talk about your experience with Kickstarter.com — how you heard about it, any doubts you may have had at first and if it’s something you’d consider using again.
Smith: “Kickstarter was absolutely incredible! In my opinion, it’s the best way for an independent artist to fund a project. It definitely brought me closer to my fans and really helped me see how dedicated they are to supporting my music.
“I found out about it when my bassist sent me a link to Allison Weiss‘ EP project. She inspired me to start my own project with Kickstarter. My managers and I figured out what a reasonable goal would be and then we sent it out to the fans. I hoped that we would make the goal of $10,000, but I was really blown away when we raised a total of over $13,000!
“I would absolutely use Kickstarter again, and I recommend it to artists all of the time. The people who developed and run the site just know what they are doing and really nurture the projects they host. I’m really grateful that I got to work with them.”
How much did you interact with JD Souther when you toured together, and did you learn anything valuable from him either through conversation or observation?
Smith: “JD and I were very close on tour. We hung out a lot, and he really took good care of me. JD is an incredible storyteller and a magnificent performer. He sang the same songs every night, but they sounded completely new each time. I took a lot of cues from him, and it’s definitely helped me grow as a writer and performer.
“I think he taught me how to really connect with the audience. I’ve been spoiled with the best tour mates, honestly. First JD, [then] Langhorne Slim — and it’s cool because I see similar qualities in JD and Sean, a.k.a. Langhorne. Sean has got this unstoppable charisma, and there hasn’t been a night where he hasn’t had the audience eating out of his hand. His band is ridiculously tight and they all complement each other so well. I hope we get along with Fanfarlo as well as we have with these guys.”
Compare and contrast the music community in Brooklyn to the one at the Jersey Shore. Is one more united than the other? And would you say one is more diverse than the other in terms of style, genres and sounds?
Smith: “I think the Brooklyn and Asbury Park music communities are actually very similar. I think Brooklyn’s scene is just bigger. Asbury musicians are really supportive of each other, and so are artists from Brooklyn. I think that when you have an area as big as Brooklyn, there are just smaller communities of one or several genres within that vast musical community. I think it’s a little harder to get noticed in NYC and Brooklyn, just because it’s a big sea here. I’ll always favor the Asbury scene though — it’s where I came from.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
April Smith and the Great Picture Show on tour (schedule subject to change:
* Feb. 22: Great American Music Hall – San Francisco (with Fanfarlo)
* Feb. 23: Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, Ore. (with Fanfarlo)
* Feb. 24: Crocodile Café – Seattle (with Fanfarlo)
* Feb. 25: Knitting Factory Concert House – Spokane, Wash. (with Fanfarlo)
* Feb. 26: The Record Exchange (in-store) – Boise, Idaho
* Feb. 27: Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City (with Fanfarlo)
* Feb. 28: Larimer Lounge – Denver (with Fanfarlo)
* March 10: Mercury Lounge – New York
* March 13: Rock & Roll Hotel – Washington, D.C.
* March 15: The Earl – Atlanta