Far from the connotations his name brings, John Smith is one of a kind. His beautifully gravelly vocals have seen his previous four albums gain critical acclaim. Now on the cusp of releasing his latest record, Headlong, in June, it is sure to be yet another smash. As Ben Howard one remarked, “He’s a magician”, and the new album is certain to be glistening with the magical quality that all of his songs possess.
Currently resting after completing a huge UK and European tour, we caught up with the stunning singer to find out all about him.
Hey John, how are you?
Hello! Good thanks. I’ve four days at home between tours so I’m doing my laundry, fixing guitar leads, that kind of thing.
Going back to the beginning, what’s your first musical memory?
My parents, listening to records over dinner. Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, John Lee Hooker.
Did you listen to any terrible bands growing up that you still have a soft spot for now?
I still think Reef are a great band. I’ll stand by them!
When you first started playing music, you were in the folk scene opening for artists like John Martyn. How did that all come about?
I was playing a Nick Drake tribute in Liverpool. Big John’s agent was there and he asked me to go to Buxton that Friday and open a show. I said yes and it changed my life. After that I opened for Davy Graham, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy. I was very fortunate.
You’ve got four albums under your belt, and another on the way. How have you grown as an artist from 2006’s The Fox and The Monk up until now?
I used to make a lot of decisions based on fear; of what people thought, of failure, of what could go wrong. Nowadays, I feel confident enough to get on with it and ignore all that noise. There are some days I get scared, but I can talk myself out of it quickly enough.
You’re about to release your fifth studio album, Headlong. Can you tell us a bit about the behind the scenes process and inspiration that went into creating the album?
I made a lot of notes on tour across the US, and that big country shows up in several of the songs. When I got home I gathered myself and wrote very hard for a month, realising that these were small travelogues. All the songs felt to me like they had been written in motion. After touring as a session guitarist I felt like I wanted to play a lot of electric guitar on the record, but to keep my sound restrained and intimate as always. All these ideas coalesced fast in the studio. It was a really enjoyable session from the first track to the last.
You’re releasing the title track today. What’s the inspiration behind the track?
I was recently very broke and very stressed out. Writing “Headlong” got it off my chest. It’s a song for anyone who feels like they might be on the verge of a breakdown!
Once you’ve put the album out, how are you planning on celebrating and what comes next?
I’m going to play a bunch of festivals, which is always fun. After that, some heavy touring… and with a little good fortune, some more touring.