Sassy, frank, warm, bold and real are just a few of the descriptions that come to mind when I think about singer-songwriter Jo Smith.
“I’m pretty fearless,” the Georgia-native told me with a full-belly laugh as we chatted one sunny afternoon on Music Row about her new single and video and, most importantly, the journey that brought her to this moment in her career.
It’s an evolution quite a few years in the making — and one heck of a story the “Old School Groove” singer is ready to tell.
Smith is as country as they come and very proud of her heritage, too. Raised in the unincorporated town of Crestview, Georgia, Smith had the upbringing and the honey-like Southern drawl guaranteed to prevent anyone from questioning her roots.
But she had lot more teeming beneath the surface. This country girl also had soul, but she didn’t exactly find the outlet to let that part shine as she found opportunity in Music City.
She signed to a major record label in 2010 and released a handful of singles to country radio.
“When I first moved to Nashville, I moved from South Georgia, where I grew up on a farm,” Smith told CMT.com. “You jump into the creative circles here and you want to be an artist, and people immediately just look at the surface.”
It taught Smith so much and forced quite possibly the most important realization and moment of self-discovery for the singer/songwriter.
“To be honest and fair, at the time I wasn’t sure of who I was,” she admitted. “I thought I was, and, of course, it seemed so natural to be singing songs about Georgia and farms and then to be very country, not countrypolitan,
“But when I lost my record deal and lost everything, and it was just me sitting alone in my house, I discovered that I was leaving out massive pieces of myself because either people didn’t look hard enough or I didn’t trust my own instincts enough to raise my hand and say, ‘I want to do this.'”
With the loss came personal, spiritual and creative freedom and the opportunity to peel back those layers and dig deeper into herself and her artist. That’s when she realized it was a pop, soul and Motown-inspired vibe that she was missing from her sound.
“I grew up listening to my all dad’s vinyl,” Smith revealed, “and just as much as I listened Keith Whitley and KT Oslin and the Judds and Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline, I listened to James Taylor, Steely Dan, Chicago, Aretha Franklin and all of Motown.”
And she grew up singing all that, as well. Smith was an extremely successful pageant competitor and a favorite entertainer on the Miss America Organization circuit in Georgia as a teen (she was crowned the first-ever Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen in 2001.)
In the pageant world, you have to cover all your musical bases and be comfortable with an audience that may be filled with your competition and not necessarily on their feet for you. That’s another experience Smith told me she’s truly grateful for because molded her into the performer she is today.
Smith’s journey is filled with gratitude for her past experiences and the lessons learned along the way. The last few years of her journey have brought even more wisdom and the gift of discernment as she continues to navigate her career path.
“That’s the whole thing of learning to listen to your inner voice,” she said. “I know that sounds super corny. It took me my first decade in Nashville to know that that little thing inside was what I should listen to.”
So she did. And made her way back as part of the SMACKsongs family, with Grammy-winner Shane McAnally and Jesse Frasure at the helm of her new project, Introducing Jo Smith, the culmination of years of soul-searching and owning the many colors of her musical tapestry.
The debut single “Old School Groove” is the truest representation of Jo, as a person and as an artist. Motown magic meets classic countrypolitan with this laid-back, romantic tune, and the video brings it to life in the perfect way.
Filmed at the American Legion Post 82 in East Nashville, the staple dancehall is one of the few places you can go in town and see people dancing and mingling in the tradition of days gone by. It welcomes everyone, from our distinguished veterans to the hip youngsters who revere the culture and all things throwback. For Smith, the venue brought her vision to life.
And that adorable older couple you seeing dancing in the spotlight?
“Those are not actors,” Smith revealed. “I just didn’t want a lot of acting. What was filmed there was really what was going on a normal Tuesday night!”
“The older people that were there–they’re what is so great about America,” Smith said. “They were Veterans, and they were so accepting of this young, hipster crowd. They weren’t annoyed that the young people were there, it was great.”
There was nothing but old school love in the room that day, which for me begged the question: what is old school love to Jo?
“It’s harder these days,” she admitted. “I’m a traditionalist like the song says–a very forward thinking traditionalist. When you’re a traditional girl like me, I still want a traditional guy. And I know not all women are like me, but I think that that traditional heart and soul is what everybody wants in a relationship, whether it’s outwardly manifested in a traditional way.”
Throwback love for the modern era–that’s the aim of the tune, and there’s no question Smith hits the mark perfectly.
Introducing Jo Smith is now available on iTunes.