It was a guy who first told me about Erin Smith. “You’ve gotta check her out!” he said. And I could tell by the dopey grin and the stars in his eyes that he meant business. Oh god, I thought, another chick singer. I expected some young Jewel clone, all acoustic cuteness and saccharine, gap-toothed vulnerability.
Then I got my ass kicked. Figuratively, of course.
It didn’t occur to me that Smith would rock so hard. Or that the sweetness could be dirty, too—doused with attitude, clever songwriting and powerhouse vocals that scorched and swooned. Smith did some covers—Fiona Apple, Tool, Sublime—but it was her funky, jazzy, eclectic pop originals that impressed. And she had charisma.
She was like the cool, multi-talented older sister you ran to crying about some jerk who broke your heart. She would tell you all the right things—mainly that he’s a jerk and you’re not—make you laugh, put some red eye-shadow on you, then tell you to beat it, she’s got a gig to play and paintings to sell.
Smith has released three albums in her homeland Canada, as frontwoman for the Erin Smith Band. She’s also played with Afro-funk band Mr. Something Something, as well as with a female vocal collective called the Ladybird Sideshow.
She’s toured Canada, Ireland and much of the U.S., which entailed much couch surfing, long-distance late-night driving and no sleep. She said it was great to meet everyone but the glamorous touring rockstar life took its toll.
“You have to be ‘on’ all the time,” said Smith. “It was fun but I got burnt.”
And when it comes to the music industry—the business side of selling records—Smith says it’s “bullshit” and would rather not deal with it. The shady contracts, the record-label “image” meetings, the dwindling profit percentage after paying your tour manager, booking agent, public relations people, blah, blah, blah—it’s better to be independent these days.
“A lot of schmoozing goes into being a musician on the next level,” she said. “And I don’t like to push people. I want it to be natural.”
Smith says she was ready for a change. So she left her band in Canada, and came to Maui nearly a year ago with her husband Ross. It didn’t take long before she started playing gigs regularly in Kihei.
“It feels like I’m touring here,” said Smith. “So many new people come and go, and I’m selling just as many CDs as I did [on the mainland].”
She’s been painting—her art can be found at One World Gallery, Art by Loyd and Nihiku Ti. And she’s been writing new songs—a lot actually, now that she has the time. She wants to make another record. But be a rock star? Not so much.
“When you’re 20-something and a singer,” said Smith, “there’s all this pressure. I always kinda wanted to be in a position to do art and music, and I’m kinda there now.
It took a few months to gather her band mates, Ian Hollingsworth on drums, Kimo Clark on bass, and Elan Rae on congas. The Maui band has only been playing together for a couple months, but say they feel like “we really rock now.”
And they’re right; the chemistry shows. Everyone looks like they’re having fun onstage. The guys say it’s partly because lots of girls come and “the front row is all cute chicks.” But also, they just really like Smith.
“Why?” asked Rae. “Because she’s so fucking nice. She’s really easy to work with. And there’s something redeeming about playing with a girl who sings about how guys are assholes.”
They say she’s unpretentious, that there’s nothing fake about her. She’s real, she’s sweet and she’s cute. But she’s no girly girl. She can definitely hang with the boys.
“She would be that way if she were onstage or crocheting skirts,” said Rae. “And she does, you know—crochet skirts. Have you seen her ‘Sewing’ section on her website?” MTW