Christopher Smedley debut album was release earlier this summer. On my first encounter listening to the music there was little to no accompanying information about Christopher, and that was exactly the point. This is music performed by a musician for music lover. No hype needed, simple listen and enjoy.
CS talks with me about his experience, expectations and the joy of creating music for the "Soundcolor Sessions".
I always enjoyed music and singing but didn’t really explore it or get involved with it until college. Something happened where it became almost like an itch that I had to scratch. I bought a guitar and began to teach myself to play so that I had something to sing with as an outlet. Eventually, after about 4 or 5 years of playing, I became interested in songwriting. I simply created the album because I wanted to and because I felt like I had something to say musically. I honestly didn’t care if I sold a single album, I just wanted to create something I could be proud of and share with the people that I know.
When you create a song for the first time and you are in the swell of ideas and emotions, there is a high you experience. It’s a rush and it’s when all of your best work happens. I’ve found that writing comes best when you are in a high or a low moment in life. So for me the best moments were when it was simply me and the guitar, alone, creating, and finding something that was worth exploring and sharing.
There were many obstacles along the way. First, I had no clue what I was doing so I had to learn how to play and write. It took some time to find my style and voice and along the way it just sort of happened. I’m a bit linear and sequential in my thinking so trying to do two things at once (i.e. play guitar and sing) was a bit of a challenge. I was sort of stumbling through the writing process and really had a hard time assessing if and when a song was done. Luckily, when I was deep into the writing process I went to SoundColor Productions to record the idea for the song “Unwind.” There I met Jay Weaver the owner and accomplished guitarist and that is when it all truly started. Jay and I collaborated from there on out and he helped me finish the songs. From then until the end, I would continue to bring ideas and melodies to Jay at the studio and together we would shape and refine the songs until they were ready to perform and ultimately record.
The self-funded album took about 5 years to write, record, and finish. If you think about it from beginning to end I changed jobs 3 times, started and finished graduate school, got engaged, married, had my first child, and moved all before the album was even finished. So time and resources were always limited but somehow through perseverance and a bit of stubbornness we got done. Jay and I tended to be perfectionists as well, so we would record and re-record parts until we got it right. But in our minds, it wasn’t done until we could live with it, and when I say it, I mean all of it.
2. For newcomers to your music, what can first time listeners expect to experience?
For me the songs are very unique and different, but they all hang together. It’s something you can put on and play through to the end. It keeps your interest and attention and at the same time is chill enough that it isn’t in your face. I envision people opening a bottle of wine, cooking some dinner, and enjoying the music. For me the album is about life, love, and living.
3. Tell me the story behind the album cover concept. The image simply draws me right in. I am yearning to hold this in a physical vinyl album. The art work is a perfect fit for the music.
The album art was created by a talented friend and artist Zach Beresh. We talked through the concept of the design while having dinner in Napa with our wives and drew the first concept of the album design on the back of a napkin. To me I wanted the cover to represent that fact that the album was recorded to feel like a live jam session and not something that was oversimplified. In other words, each musician had the opportunity to put some of their own style on the parts of the album much like you would in a live performance. So instead of playing everything straight ahead and in an oversimplified way, we let the performers put themselves into the music.
I also knew that I wanted to title it the “SoundColor” sessions because so much of the album was developed in the studio in Pittsburgh. The combination of the words sound and color to me just painted a picture of a stage with all of the musicians playing under the colored lights. We took actual pictures from live performances of the individuals in the band and created the silhouettes to capture their feeling and emotion.
4. You are pretty much invisible on the internet. You are what I would call a web-ghost. That tells me that you are more interested in creating music than marketing. It is truly refreshing to see somebody put something out into the world first before creating a following. Your approach to creating music is truly missed in this digital age. But now that the project is completed and you are searchable on iTunes how do you plan on sharing this music with world?
I’ll keep playing a handful of shows each year in Pittsburgh and Raleigh and sharing it with family and friends and anyone else that is willing to listen. It isn’t a recipe for success in terms of how most people would define it but for me it is. I love the feeling of playing in front of a crowd by myself with my guitar or with the band and perform for three or four hours. At times the room is loud and you can hardly hear yourself, but sometimes you can hear a pin drop. You can’t put a price on that experience. I feel blessed to know what it feels like to be able to connect with music, give it everything you have, and move an audience.
Ultimately, I created the album because I wanted to do it for me. If I don’t sell another copy of the album tomorrow or the day after I am ok with that because that was never my source of motivation. I created it because in doing so I am living and if I wasn’t doing it I wouldn’t feel like I was breathing . Perhaps if someone listens to this album and they like it they’ll pass it along to a friend, and they’ll pass it on to another. While I say that, I am pleasantly surprised by the support it has received. It does feel good to know that people are listening to it.
5. I heard a rumor that you may possibly be playing a show at Club Cafe right here in Pittsburgh. Can you let me know if the dates has been confirmed? And if so I know a great photographer right here in Pittsburgh who also moonlights as a djembe drummer that would love to sit in.
We have a tentative date in November for a release in Pittsburgh. Club Café has always been a place I wanted to come back to and play. Hopefully we will get the date firmed up in the upcoming weeks. We need more djembe so count on it!
6. Let’s get tech-geeky: can you tell me about your band and your approach to writing and recording this album?
There are so many ways that songs are written but for me what worked was an interactive approach. I would spend a lot of time playing my acoustic guitar, coming up with riffs that I liked. Once I found a riff or two that were of interest, I would play them over and over and experiment by singing different melodies. In many ways it was really unconscious and not intentional during the early stages. Once the song started to take shape, I would try to focus on the emotion or vibe of the song and put the right words to it. Jay and I would then work on different parts of the song, phrasing, and overall structure to make it sit right. It isn’t the most efficient process but for me it is the only one that worked where I found both inspiration and creativity.
7. Who are your top 5 influences?
1. My wife Nicole. She provided the inspiration for nearly all of the songs. So much of the album is about our experiences together. I’m so thankful for her and for her support. Without her it would not be what it is today.
2. Stevie Wonder
3. Jeff Buckley
4. Ray Charles
5. Bob Marley
You can preview and purchase Christopher's music (HERE)