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Artist Blog: Aaron Smith on the Road to AMAUK

A formidable songwriter and storyteller from Northwest Arkansas, we were very pleased to have Aaron Smith join us at our first Songwriter Summit of 2020; traveling with us from Bentonville, AR to New Orleans to London! We're happy to share his experiences here:

I've been remiss in describing the amazing journey of the past weeks. (I've also been recovering. I've been coughing so hard that I sound like a barking seal.) I've also been to Bentonville, New Orleans and London. Here's my story. The long version. And some pictures.

My time at The House of Songs in Bentonville was amazing. I think each of my fellow co-writers shared my trepidation at the prospect of writing at the pace that was on the schedule. We enjoyed dinner together the first night and then shared a song before heading to bed. The next morning was our first co-write and from 10am to 1pm we worked in pairs. Then we gathered to share the results. from about 2:30pm to 6pm we did another round and shared the songs before taking dinner together.

I’ve never wanted to schedule and structure songwriting this way. It just hasn’t seemed like the way I want to get a song. Not the kind of songs that I want to write, anyway.

I was nervous. I set my intention. I was sure that with a partner we'd be able to make “something.” Something workable. Enough to avoid embarrassment.

In spite of my low expectations, we produced songs that I love. Things I could not have written alone. After a couple of anxious sessions I began to show up excited for what might take place. A couple of sessions took less than half of the allotted time. I felt like I was learning that approaching writing this way didn’t necessarily nullify the magic of the creative process. That’s an old lesson to many, but not to me. I was also learning that when I get a new song, I have been taking a ‘victory lap’ sometimes weeks or months long before attempting to write again. I will be sharing some of these songs soon and I can’t wait for you to hear them. I’m going to be sharing some of my house-mates work as well. They’re such wonderful musicians and I hope you’ll take time to enjoy their music.

These lessons and the friendships formed at The House of Songs are so important to me that is hard to know how to begin to talk about them. It's mind-boggling to consider how much wonderful music, tours, collaborations and friendships have resulted from the work that Troy Campbell, Graham Weber, Jamie Lou Connolly, Samantha Carey and others have done. I am so grateful and honored to have been included.

We played a couple of shows in NWA debuting the new songs. A private engagement in Bentonville and a public one in Springdale. We also got to share a song of our own at each show. Oscar Mukherjee, my room-mate for our stay at the house wrote a rock tune with me and we played it on KNWA. All of us shared a sessions with KUAF's Ozarks at Large program. It was split into two broadcasts. I'll put links in the comments.

Next, we headed to the airport and flew to New Orleans. We attended Folk Alliance International’s annual conference as a delegation, representing the House of Songs, which was a privilege. The House also made so many arrangements to make our stay amazing, easy and beneficial for networking. I played five showcases, sharing one with my dear friend, and fellow New Folk 2019 winner Liv Greene. Her premier album will be coming out this year, and trust me, you want to hear her! Jane Ellen Bryant and Kaïa Kater also graciously joined me and sang the songs we wrote together at the house. I shared another showcase with Justin Farren (my homeboy and co-producer for my upcoming album “The Legend of Sam Davis” more news on that soon!) I played a showcase at “The Nordic Room” —and even though I had no idea why I was there, I had a great time playing a couple songs before Skye Consort began their beautiful set. I also played set in the House of Songs room, mostly of material from my upcoming album, but opening with a rock song that I wrote with my tHOS roommate, Oscar Mukherjee . My last showcase was a ‘songwriters in the round’ situation at Anderson Fair’s room, hosted by Ken Gaines and shared with my dear friend, Nichole Wagner (whose EP of cover songs is featured in Billboard TODAY and is dropping SOON) along with another fine songwriter, Joe Matzzie. It was a fine way to cap it all off. An old friend, a new friend, and Mr. Ken Gaines--who gave me a compliment I’ll always remember (after I played “Hypochondriacs”) —he said, “You are one twisted son of a bitch, and I LOVE IT!” I asked permission to quote him and he gave it. Time to re-write the bio.

Of course, playing showcases is just a part of what happens at Folk Alliance. I heard some great music and I’m going to omit a ton of wonderful things that I saw in my sleep deprived state, but I really must mention Gina Forsyth. I’d heard her at Kerrville sitting in circles together, and I admired what I heard, but I underestimated her genius. She’s a songwriter’s songwriter. She showed me something to shoot for. I also really enjoyed hearing Del Barber for the first time, and Rhiannon Giddens keynote was one of the most inspirational talks I've ever heard about the role of songwriters. I hope they post video of the talk. I will be glad to share it.

This is starting to sound like I behaved overly well and I want to assure you all that wasn't the case. I donned a little glitter makeup, laughed loud and late into the night with dear friends, and swapped songs until the dawn a few times. I also didn’t neglect the fine restaurants in the French Quarter. Couldn't manage to find a dud. After three, or four… five? blissful, sleep deprived days, we hurriedly packed our stuff and boarded the a plane to Atlanta then a connecting flight to London and Americanafest UK.

And this has gotten ridiculously long. I’m going to resume my ramble in volume II, to be posted in the next few days. Thanks for reading, friends.

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