Caitlyn Smith has made a name for herself both a a songwriter and as an artist. Her first big cut was Jason Aldean’s “It Ain’t Easy,” which she quickly followed up with Rascal Flatts’ “Let it Hurt,” Cassadee Pope’s “Wasting All These Tears” and Danielle Bradbery’s “Heart of Dixie,” as well as “Don’t Put Dirt on my Grave Just Yet” for ABC’s Nashville. As a solo artist, she’s opened for artists including Sheryl Crow, Eric Church, and Dierks Bentley. We talked to the artist about her hits, her live show, and writing female songs in a male-dominated radio climate.
Let’s talk about your first big cut.
Caitlyn: The very first was Aldean, and it was only about six months after I signed my publishing deal.
Was it an older song, or one you’d just written?
It was one that I’d written right as I’d signed, with a couple co-writer friends of mine. It was super surreal. It’s kinda crazy because I primarily write female songs, so to have my first two cuts be Aldean and Flatts – both guys – was interesting.
So was was “It Ain’t Easy” written from a female perspective?
No, I mean there were two other dudes in the room, so they were singing it actually, so it was a male demo totally. The Flatts one I sang, the Kenny Rogers one I sang.
Honestly, it’s very rare that I sit down and write a guy song, like maybe once a month, twice a month. Usually I just write girl songs, because I am trying to figure out what songs I want to do for my artist thing as well and there are a good handful of females, not as many as dudes, but I kind of just do my thing when I get into the writing room and usually, like I would say 95% of the time write female stuff.
How do you decide if it’s something you want to pitch or something you want to cut yourself?
If I’m not writing with an artist – ‘cuz if I’m writing with an artist I’ll write for them, with them in mind. But if I’m just going in I just wanna write whatever is in the room that day, and usually by then writing the chorus I can kind of gauge whether or not this is something that I wanna do [as an artist] or not. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in cuz some days I’m like yes I really need a song like this for my live shows so I’m gonna focus on in that and other days I’m just like I’m gonna write just to write ‘cuz it’s fun.
Some songs I do get really attached to, and I don’t want to give up. An example would be the Cassadee Pope song – I originally made a full length record and both “Wasting All These Tears” and “Heart of Dixie” were on that record, and I was playing them both out live with a band. But when Cassadee came along she wanted to record it and she really connected with the song, and it’s a really humbling awesome feeling when somebody else wants to record your song so with that I had to go okay, do I wanna let it go, so I chose to let her record the song because I always am constantly writing, so I’m just like I’ll just write more songs. And I’m constantly evolving and changing as an artist and a writer, and so I’d been playing “Heart of Dixie” out for a year, and I’d just started shifting my set.
The record I was working on is unreleased – I wasn’t able to release it – so I quick went into the studio and made this EP, recorded 7 songs in one day. The next day I sang all the vocals. So it was a really fast process. We’d all been playing those songs out for a while and knew exactly how I wanted them to sound, so it was pretty easy, and Nashville musicians are insane, so you show them a song once and they’re like shredding it and it’s crazy.
What’s the new EP sound like?
It’s always tricky describing yourself, but… the vibe we were going for, like what this EP is really, is like the set that we played over the summer, so what you’ll hear are a lot of tempos, it’s a little more rock, just ‘cuz people fall asleep when you play ballads at festivals. I love me a good ballad though. I think it’s a pretty well rounded EP as well, it shows more the singer-songwriter side, and then the more boisterous side. It’s kind of like a little bit Sheryl Crow meets Dixie Chicks, with a little Grace Potter sprinkled on top. If we’re going for comparison, that’s who I’d love to emulate. The reason why we’re doing this EP too is that I’ve just been dying to get new music out to fans, so we went in and recorded this in a day, and I’m dying to get it out there. My hope then is that we’ll release this this fall, and then I hope to make a full length record next year.
What were your main influences growing up?
The very first cassette tape that I got was Alison Krauss and I listened to it on my little walkman, I think it was even an instrumental, I don’t know, and then I got her Now That I Found You and I just remember laying in my bedroom like in front of my little boombox just like with the lyrics listening to that tape side to side. And so that record was really important but then other artists like Trisha Yearwood, and those 90’s females… I love the Dixie Chicks… but then I also had like kinda this classic influence of like I loved singing like songs from movies and I was a Disney kid – I don’t know, their melodies are ridiculous – so I grew up on all of that. Then as I got older I found like Patty Griffin and Bob Dylan and the Beatles and things like that.
What do you like doing outside of music?
I love hiking, going on walks and runs, I mean I just love yoga, being active, it feeds me. The biggest thing, when I start to feel a little dried out is I just go like buy a bunch of new music and just go chill out and listen and like spend some time with these new records. It sparks creativity. Then I love hanging out with my husband and my dog. I’m a big dog person, I love dogs. We’re getting a puppy next week too – we’re moving and getting a puppy in the same week. I can’t even tell you how excited I am. His name’s gonna be Walter.
I also like cooking. To me like coming home after a day of writing and just like unwinding in the kitchen and just being able to create without even saying anything. It’s my happy place – you get to create in a different way.
Who are some other artists and writers you’re excited about?
Oh, man. There’s so many. I just bought the new Lori McKenna record yesterday and I haven’t gotten through it all but I already know it’s amazeballs. She’s insane. I’m obsessed with Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Clark. I love listening to other females do their thing. Meghan Trainor? Freaking awesome. I’m so happy for her like she’s blowing up. It’s so great. She cut a song on her record that we wrote together and I can’t wait for people to hear it. She’s got that whole 50’s vibe going on, so it’s this 50’s ballad. I love it. People are gonna cry.
I’m constantly getting new music so… Shovels and Rope, I was into them for the last month, the melodies are really great. But then I also love like Katy Perry, and super pop stuff.