Caitlyn Smith Reflects on No. 1 Success

New Music From Starfire Lands Friday (July 8)

When Caitlyn Smith hears Meghan Trainor sing “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” with John Legend on the radio, her world stops. The duet is the first No. 1 for Smith, who releases five songs from her upcoming Starfire album on Friday (July 8).

“I’m kind of a dork,” she admits over the phone from Tacoma, Washington. “I hear you’re supposed to act like you’ve done it before, but I can’t sometimes. I remember I was driving in the car when Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ came on. I was jamming out really loud with the windows down and then ‘Like I’m Gonna Lose You’ came on. I literally screamed out of my car, ‘I wrote this song!’ It was followed by Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It.’ It was a really special moment. Every time, it’s crazy.”

By now, Smith should be used to hearing world famous voices sing her songs. She co-wrote the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” plus songs recorded by Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Kip Moore, Rascal Flatts and James Bay.

Garth Brooks is also a fan. He recorded “Tacoma,” a song Smith co-wrote with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Bob DiPiero, for his latest album Man Against Machine.

And another life change is on the way. The expectant mom from Minnesota is due to welcome a baby boy at the end of the month with her husband Rollie Gaalswyk. It’s the couple’s first child.

For our Q&A, Smith is calling from the final destination of a three-day Amtrak tour to promote her new music. We caught up with her to chat about her creative process, the biggest moments of her career so far and becoming a working mom in music. Talk about this collection of songs and how it became the story of your life right now.
Smith: I’ve been a writer in Nashville for almost seven years. But I grew up singing and playing in bands. I released a bunch of indie records before I was 20. When I started coming down to Nashville to write, I put the artist thing on hold for a second and just focused on writing. I just wanted to hone in the craft and figure out what I wanted to say. So, I spent about three years just writing and within six months, I got a cut with Jason Aldean’s “It Ain’t Easy” [on My Kinda Party]. And then shortly after that, cuts started happening, and the writing career started taking off, which was nutty. I eventually did this shift, “OK, I think I’m ready to write for myself,” and started to figure out what it is that I wanted to do and what I want to say. This record has been a very long process for the last couple years, but it just feels right. It feels really good, and I’m proud of the songs. I’m proud of the production and excited to get it out.

How did Garth Brooks cut, “Tacoma?” What does it mean to you that your music can be popular in every genre and not just country?

It’s been crazy. I don’t even know what’s happening. The fact that somebody would want to sing my songs is the highest compliment. The Garth thing was extra special because he’s a hero of mine. I don’t know if you have heard how he was looking for songs. He set up a Gmail account and he gave it to all the publishers in town. He wanted a direct connection with all the publishers and he listens to them all. It’s kind of crazy because all of my publisher friends were freaking out on Facebook like, “Oh, my God! I just got an email from Garth Brooks. Is this real life?” The whole town was freaking out because a lot of times when you pitch songs to an artist, you’re pitching to their label, or you’re pitching to their management. Especially an artist of that caliber. You really don’t get direct connection. He was making everybody’s dreams come true. I remember I was sitting in a writing appointment and I got an email from him directly asking about another song on the record. Then he told me how much he loves “Tacoma.” He said he really wanted to record it but if I needed it for my project, he would go ahead and not record it. And I was like, “Um, OK. You can go ahead and record it.” It was really nutty.

Did a Google Maps moment really inspire the song?

I wrote the song with Bob DiPiero a few years ago and the title came up on my way to write with him. I typed in his address into my phone, and instead of taking me to Music Row, Google Maps took me to Tacoma, Washington, which gave me the title. So I showed up and this song literally fell out of the sky. It was magic. It was a special day. It’s crazy. You write three to five songs a week in Nashville as a staff writer, and what’s crazy to me is one song can really change the course of your life. This song specifically changed everything for me. We did this Tacoma trip and it ended up making one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life because of that one day we wrote that song.

Take me back to the day of writing “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” with Meghan Trainor and Justin Weaver. Was she already a success?

No. We wrote that song a few years ago — before she signed her record deal. We just got together and wrote the best song we could that day and had so much fun. We tried to pitch the song to a few different people and it never landed. But then all of a sudden, Meghan gets a big ole record deal and she still loved that song. I remember hearing a story of her uncle hearing the demo. He brought it up to her saying, “You need to record this song.” I think I owe her uncle a thank you, maybe a bottle of champagne.

What was it like hearing one of your songs on the radio for the first time?

It’s the most surreal feeling. And it still to this day catches me off guard. My husband and I, our first Top 10 together was Cassadee Pope’s “Wasting All These Tears.” I remember the first time we heard it, and it was just crazy because it was kind of a hard time in life. We were up in Minnesota and I remember he was in the garage. He busted into the house and he said, “Come listen! We’re on the radio!” I ran out in the garage and we just danced around the garage listening to our song on this shitty radio. It was just this most magical feeling of “Dreams do come true!” It’s still surreal.

Congratulations on becoming a new mom. What does being a working mother in music look like to you when the baby comes?

That is a good question. I feel like I’m not really going to know until it happens. But people have been having babies since the beginning of babies. I’m excited for the life change that’s going to happen. Everybody that I talk to says it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them. I can’t wait for that. I can’t wait to bring the little buddy on the road and show him the world, too. It’s a little bit scary but I think all parents feel that feeling. It’s such a balancing act because family is most important, but then you’ve got your career that you love to do. So, just making sure you keep a good balance of all those things is my hope and goal.

As we grow up, we change, but what are some things about you that you hope remain the same?

That’s a great question. Man, I feel like I’m a very optimistic human, and I just hope I remain optimistic and don’t get too jaded. I think sometimes it gets hard to not get like that in a city like Nashville where it really is so many lows mixed in with the highs. I hope I keep that optimistic spirit.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.