While Noah Smith has been playing music in and around Cincinnati for more than a decade, it is only recently that his talent as a singer and songwriter has gotten the attention it deserves. As a result of his reputation for putting on a great live show and the release of his self-titled EP last year, Smith has garnered three 2015 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominations, in the categories of Country, Singer/Songwriter and New Artist of the Year.
Smith grew up in nearby Brown County, a part of Southern Ohio that is both its own world and yet also an extension of the Greater Cincinnati area. Kind of like the planets in our solar system that exist past the orbit of Saturn — they don’t get much press yet still revolve around the sun.
Smith began playing music at age 12, and as he grew older he came to the city. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and, since then, he has performed with various bands, touring locally and regionally. Eventually, however, he decided to focus on his songwriting, honing his craft both in the Tristate and in Nashville, Tenn. While he is not averse to the idea of writing a hit song for another artist someday, when it comes to his own music, he avoids the Bro-Country tag while freely admitting that his work is both Country and Rock in nature.
In many ways, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards is taking notice of Smith at just the right time.
“I used to sneak into open mic nights and stuff when I was still in high school and underage,” Smith says. “I worked at it like crazy and fell in love with performing that way. I’ve always loved songwriting so I really enjoy going to open mic nights or writer’s nights down in Nashville, and still do. But about three years ago I kind of redirected my path. All of my songwriting definitely always had a story element to it and I always loved Country music so I started going to Nashville, beating my head against the wall until something made sense. Through that process, I made my first EP back in April.”
Once he’d raised enough funds for the project on Kickstarter, he tapped into some established Nashville talent to record the project.
“I met a guy named Rich Redmond who is Jason Aldean’s tour drummer, and when they were off tour, Rich and some other musicians and I went to the House of Blues and we made my first record down there,” Smith says. “It was cool because the songs I was writing kind of brought around the right people, so I made a kickass EP out of it. Once I did that, I built my band up, which are still the guys I’m playing with now. It is a six- and sometimes a seven-piece band. I made the record and then used that as a glorified business card to build up my band and, from there, to build up our fan base. This past year we played over 50 shows.”
Smith’s method of writing new songs varies, depending on where he finds his muse.
“A lot of my songwriting comes from conversations that I have,” he says. “I love hanging out after our shows and talking with people because you can get so many gems from what people are talking about. So I always say that I like writing about conversations that I have, which is what keeps the storytelling element alive in everything that I do. I do a lot of concept writing. In fact, my mandolin player is on his way here right now and we’re going to sit down and write songs for this new record. I’ll say, ‘I think I’ve got this idea. Let’s put it on top of the white board and write towards it.’ ”
“I’m a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association and I’ve learned a lot from mentors I’ve met through there,” Smith continues. “I try and surround myself with good songwriters. I always say that if I’m the best songwriter in the room, I’m in the wrong room.”
Smith can sing a song about drinking beer one minute and then play another that expounds on his faith a few tunes later.
“A lot of my songs are a mixture of faith and then we have some good-time party songs as well,” Smith says. “I was playing down South one time and a lady came up and said, ‘It kind of makes me uncomfortable that you guys talk about Jesus and then you’ll talk about drinking in the next song.’ Then she came up to this area for our record release and she said, ‘Now I know why you guys are the way you are. On every other corner there is a bar or a church.’
“I said, ‘I guess that is the Midwest for you. We know what we need on both sides of the coin.’ ”
For more on NOAH SMITH, visit noahsmithmusic.com.