Leaf Crown ‘Artlessness’
This is an intensely personal album for me. I wrote this record, ‘Artlessness,' after having lived in Australia for about five years. I’d formed a band, ‘The Atlas Mountains’, made a few records with them, and had been dating a girl for about 18 months when my work visa fell through and I had to return home to Chattanooga, Tennessee. At 28, I moved back in with my parents and got a job selling mattresses.
I wrote this album pretty much at work, in the mattress store. I was often in the shop by myself, and when there were no customers, I’d throw in a dip and take out my 3/4 size yamaha acoustic guitar from under the desk. And I’d write.
As dumb as it sounds, I don’t think I really planned to record and release this album, at least initially. I just had to keep myself busy. Songwriting has always been a form of therapy for me. If I write songs, exercise, and don’t spend too much time alone and/or drinking, I'm all good.
These songs were written over 12 months and serve as a kind of time capsule for that period of my life. From the moment I realised I would be leaving Australia, my band and the woman I loved; through the uncertainty of a long (long) distance relationship; through emails and Skype and sleepless nights; to having my bandmate/Jeweller friend, Scott, design and smuggle me an engagement ring; to meeting up halfway in Hawaii and asking Antonella to marry me.
When I listen back to these songs, I feel a sense of peace, on the other side of knowing. But I can also feel the loneliness embedded in so many of these words. And I think maybe there is a bit of a shift in this record. The highs and lows of loving someone you can’t see or hold. Of missing someone. Of questioning yourself. Of being forced to make adult decisions and be willing to deal with the consequences. Of having your heart being torn between two continents.
Antonella and I were separated about a year and a half. I saw her once in Hawaii when I asked her to marry me (my brother was stationed there at the time) and once in Malaysia, where I was a groomsmen in our friends’ wedding.
So basically, these songs are dedicated to my wife, Antonella. They were written and recorded for her while I was back in Chattanooga, gaining weight, being forced to shave and wear a tie everyday while ‘slingin’ springs’ (inside mattress sales lingo).
I was fortunate enough to assemble an incredible group of musicians including my very close friend and guitar slinger, Matt Lewis, along with Shaking Ray Levi Society founder and drum guru Bob Stagner, Ross Carlson, mad scientist engineer/owner of Red Crow Studios in Chattanooga, and also the incredibly kind and talented Marc ‘Buddy T’ Trovillian, of Lambchop fame.
We spent a good amount of time together in early 2012, hanging out, rehearsing, and making several road trips to Nashville to record with one of my studio heroes and Buddy T’s good friend, Mark Nevers (who has recorded everyone from George Jones to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy). When I told Mark I would like some steel guitar on a few of the tracks, he called up multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs, who was there within an hour, setting up his rig. He asked what key the first song was in and said, ‘roll the tape.’ Before I knew what was happening he was laying down some freakishly good lines on the lap steel, which impressed and depressed me at the same time.
I went to college in Nashville and have always loved it there. Especially in Springtime. Even with my allergies. And that’s what I think about and remember when I think about this album. Sitting outside Bongo Java eating breakfast. Throwing darts. Drinking beer. Buying enough records to make sure Grimey’s stayed in business. It was Spring 2012 in Tennessee, it was warming up and everything was blooming.
I knew I was going to return to Australia in a few short months and marry the love of my life. But I didn’t know that I would only see Buddy T a few more times. I received word of Buddy T’s passing last October, while I was in Berlin. I was crushed. We had spoken through email and I was looking forward to seeing him again in just a few short weeks.
This album was written for my wife, but it has taken on an even deeper, more precious meaning for me, as I look back on it and remember with great fondness the time spent with Buddy T and the others rehearsing at Red Crow, of sitting on Mark’s porch eating bbq and chess pie, laughing, and talking about music. Listening to Buddy T’s stories about life on the road and dreaming about a European tour together. Feeling hopeful and grateful to be alive and making music.
After he passed, I knew I had to release this music, as one of the last records he played on.
I’d like to dedicate this album to his memory. I’m very grateful that we became friends and I'm honoured to have known him in this life. Now, when I listen back to these tracks, I listen for the bass. And I think of Buddy T and springtime in Tennessee and having the time of my life and laughing my ass off with a wonderful group of musicians.
So yeah, this album is important and it’s a part of me. The title ‘Artlessness’ comes from a quote I read, attributed to Claude Debussy. Whether or not it’s accurate, I no longer care, but the words still resonate with me: ‘I want to sing my interior landscape with the simple artlessness of a child.’
That’s what I tried to do with this record. I tried to make something simple and from the gut. I tried my best to avoid pretension or use any dazzling arrangements. That seemed important to me at the time.
It’s my hope that you, dear reader/listener, will take this record (paid, copied, free) and listen to it all the way through just once. It’s less than 40 minutes.
That would make me so happy. I spent a couple hundred hours, a few thousand dollars, and a lot of time alone in a mattress store making this record. And I’m proud of it.
It means a lot to me and hopefully it’ll mean something to you.
Thanks so much for reading.
T.W. Smith (Leaf Crown)
released September 9, 2014
All songs written and performed by T.W. Smith.
Copyright 2012 Leaf Crown Music.
Adriatic Boast Records.
Mixed and recorded in Mar/April 2012 by Mark Nevers, Beech House Studios, Nashville, Tennessee.
Musicians: T.W. Smith-guitar/piano, Matt Lewis-guitars, Bob Stagner-drums/percussion, Ross Carlson-guitars, Mark 'Buddy T' Trovillian-bass/keys
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