By Brian M. Howle
Have you ever wandered into a club, bar, dive or stadium to hear some music, not really knowing the artists or their genre of music, and then felt you had discovered something no one else in the entire world has ever heard? Well, if you have, then you already know. If you haven’t, this might be your chance to come on over. The skinny on the street is that the next big thing out there goes by the name of Corey Smith, and he’ll be bringing in the new year – again – along the South Carolina coast with opening act American Aquarium, performing at House of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Thursday, December 31, 2009.
This is an artist who can truly call himself the people’s choice, because the entire basis of his popularity is, well, his popularity. Just like the old skool network of college dorms across the land spreading the word about the cutting edge music of the day, Corey Smith has benefited from the advent of the Internet. His fan base is simply staggering in numbers, and it continues to grow exponentially with each passing day.
Here’s a little background, courtesy of his website:
“I think it’s a little of everything,’ says Smith in describing his innovative style. ‘We don’t live in cultural bubbles anymore. We’re all exposed to many different types of music through TV, radio, and now especially the internet. I like to think my songs reflect the variety of musical styles that have impacted my life in Georgia. Gospel, country, blues, rock, hip-hop – strands of all these are there.” That diversity is especially evident on his newest project, Hard-Headed Fool.
Smith grew up in Jefferson, Georgia, soaking up an array of music from George Jones to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Nirvana to Tupac. “I graduated from high school with about 50 or 60 people. It was a fairly small community, but the kids came from a lot of different backgrounds,” says Smith, who currently lives about a quarter mile from his childhood home. “One of the cool things about Jefferson is that its so close to Athens. We’d hang out there on the weekends. Its a very eclectic college town, almost like taking a little cross-section of a major city and just putting it right there in the middle of rural Georgia. People from all over the world come to school there. Sure we lived out in the country, but when we partied on the weekends, we went to this place that was almost cosmopolitan. That really had a big impact on me.”
The lure of the ‘classic city’ proved too much for Smith to resist, and after a few years bouncing around smaller colleges, he headed back to Athens to attend the University of Georgia.
While working towards a degree in Social Studies Education, Smith spent much of his spare time improving his songwriting skills and testing out new tunes for friends at the all-too-frequent keg parties taking place at their apartments. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2001, Smith took a job teaching Social Studies at North Gwinnett High School in the northern suburbs of Atlanta and soon thereafter, married his college sweetheart Shannon. With a demanding teaching career and domestic responsibilities, Smith found it harder to find time for writing.
On impulse, he entered a songwriting competition and won the chance to record his first album, Undertones.
Undertones birthed the college anthem “Twenty-One” – a nostalgic tune which tells the story of a young man’s desire first to know, and then to sustain, the carefree lifestyle associated with young adulthood. One of the most requested tracks online and at live shows, “Twenty-One” evokes full-blown sing-a-longs accompanied by fans waving in time with the acoustic melody. “I’m Not Gonna’ Cry”, originally written as a gift for graduates of Dawson County High School in Dawsonville, Georgia, has struck a soft-spot with high school students across the country. The song has garnered immense popularity through the internet. In 2007, over 200 schools chose the single as their graduation anthem, many even reciting the lyrics as they turned their tassels to signify the milestone.
Encouraged by the reception he was getting, Smith wrote and recorded his sophomore set, In the Mood, in 2004. The birth of his first son, Aden Ryan, marked a turning point in Smith’s personal and professional life that is clearly evident in his 2005 release, The Good Life. Although popular tracks such as “If I Could Do It Again” and “Carolina” contain the nostalgic, booze-laden imagery characteristic of much of Smith’s writing, the album as a whole resonates with a familial pride and sense of fulfillment that is refreshingly new.
“I have such a personal, intimate relationship with the songs,” he says of his music. ‘As I’ve matured, the songs have matured. People ask me Mat my favorite song is and every time my answer is, ‘The most recent song I’ve written.’ I feel like with every song I’m a little bit closer to explaining who I am!
The songs on his album, Hard-Headed Fool, showcase a confident young artist in full command of his gift. The title track is about a man coming to terms with his choices in life. “It’s about learning from my mistakes, growing up, and becoming an adult,” says the man who has led many a rowdy crowd partying in the bars of North Georgia, but has struggled to tame his own wild streak. And in the process, he has become a rising star.
Yep, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of discovering a great artist, and now it’s your time to get that feeling – hey, it’s become an annual event around here, kids – at House of Blues at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, SC, as Corey Smith and opening act American Aquarium treat folks to a special night of music this New Year’s Eve, on Thursday, December 31, 2009. Doors open 8:30 p.m. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit http://www.hob.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com.
This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine, Dec. 17, 2009 – January 14, 2010.