INTERVIEW: John Smith

johnsmithCurrently in the middle of another UK tour, John Smith is a relentless force when it comes to gigging as he tours extensively.

Having spent the best part of 2014 supporting David Gray in North America the singer songwriter has built up an impressive legion of fans all over the world. His most recent album ‘Great Lakes’ which was released over a year ago has received rave reviews even some fans going as far as having lyrics tattooed to their leg.

Looking forward to returning to Northern Ireland, Smith will be joined by esteemed local acts PORTS and Prima Quartet as part of the Open House Festival tour. Gigging NI’s Aine Cronin-McCartney managed to catch up with him just before he graces Northern Ireland with his honest and true lyrics and guitar style.

Who were the people, artists or musicians that got you interested in music originally?

“My Dad handed me the map when I was very young. Led Zeppelin, Bert Jansch, Ry Cooder, Paul Simon. Later on my brother showed me Nick Drake and Terry Callier.”

For those who are not already familiar with your music what can they expect?

“I sing songs and play the guitar. I know a lot of chords.”

How have you developed as artist from your first album right through to your most recent?

“My first album took twenty-four years to make. After that I started to write faster. The main thing is touring. It has such an influence on how I live and write. A lot of my songs these days are about travelling.”

You spent twelve weeks on the road supporting David Gray on his American Tour how did you enjoy your experience and what was your highlight?

“It was great! Dave’s a lovely man and he looks after his band and crew. I opened up at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, where Hank Williams played his first show. Johnny Cash, George Jones, Lefty Frizell…their sweat is in those floorboards. It was something else.”

You collaborated with Lisa Hannigan on the soundtrack for the film ‘Fury’ starring Brad Pitt how much do you enjoy work alongside other singer-songwriters and what was your favourite part of this project?

“Lisa is my big sister. She really takes care of me when we’re out on the road together. She sang on Gravity and the composer Steven Price (who won an Oscar for that film) asked her if she knew anyone with a rougher voice, so she called me up. Steve has a very particular talent. Watching him come up with string parts on the fly was very inspiring.”

Your tour extensively, what’s your favourite thing about tour life and do you think you will ever stop?

“I will more than likely die at some point, but hopefully I won’t be too far from the next gig. Food is king on the road so the best thing before a gig is a delicious meal. It’s a rare thing and you can’t beat it. Needless to say I enjoy meeting musicians I admire, but really it’s the people who buy tickets to my shows. I would be stuck without them.”


Your most recent album ‘Great Lakes’ was released over a year ago how has the reception been?

“People have enjoyed it. One girl got a tattoo of my lyrics on her thigh. Who am I to argue with that?”

You suffered from writers block for over two years before you wrote ‘Great Lakes’ how did you overcome this?

“I read an interview with Tom Waits. He described writing as his day job and said there’s no such thing as writer’s block. So I tried harder and wrote some songs. I co-wrote with other people too. That really helped to move things along.”

It has been a while since you have been in Northern Ireland are you excited to come back and what are you looking forward to the most? 

“The audiences. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad gig in Northern Ireland.”

For your fans here in NI what can they expect from your upcoming live shows?

“I’m going to play loads of Great Lakes, because I haven’t toured it there yet. I’ll do a couple of oldies too, and maybe something new.”

Do you have a personal highlight from the last year?

“Playing with Danny Thompson was a dream come true. He’s the greatest bass player in the world. I spent a few days recording for Tom Jones as well. What a gentleman.”

What is your plan for 2015?

“I’m heading back to Australia, this time with David Gray. Then maybe over to North America for a while. Somewhere between all that I hope to sit down and make a new record. But who knows? If someone asks me out on the road I will struggle to say no.”

John Smith plays the Open House Festival tour kicking off at Portrush Town Hall on the 28th February. Click here for the full list of tour dates.