MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Who is Alice Smith? No, she's not your neighbor from around the way. She is a new talent with a common name and an uncommon voice. Her debut album "For Lovers, Dreamers & Me" was released a year ago in an indie label without much recognition. Not satisfied with the response, she re-released the album this October, and now she is getting some real attention, including from us.
Critics everywhere are impressed by the singer comparing her to everybody, from Fiona Apple to Nina Simone. What do you think? Take a listen. She's here with us at NPR Studio 4A along with guitarist Thom Loubet.
Alice Smith, welcome.
Ms. ALICE SMITH (Singer): Thank you.
MARTIN: Want to start us off with a song?
Ms. SMITH: Sure.
MARTIN: What are you going to play?
Ms. SMITH: "Gary Song."
MARTIN: "Gary Song." Okay.
(Soundbite of song "Gary Song")
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Went all down the street tonight. (Unintelligible) lay the star from sigh. They say hey baby what you doing tonight? Why don't you get by in my car and ride? We can go to the movies, so we can do anything you want, anything but don't you pass me by, maybe don't stop maybe it's worth the try.
But if would be start to bother would lay, well, let's stop to keep going 'till I know where, I'm go inside, I said, ain't another ain't it quite like me. Why won't you try, why don't you taste and see? Well, I ain't got to tell another soul, maybe it's better if nobody knows. Like them boys and no undercover, we can be 'till the secret lover, keep the secret between you and I, maybe don't stop maybe it's worth the try, but if would start to bother would lay, well, it's got to keep going 'til I don't know where. If would he, start I'm going roll in, well, it's got to keep going 'til I don't know where.
MARTIN: Okay. So four active range and you would have to be, you know, tall and gorgeous, too.
Ms. SMITH: Right.
MARTIN: Damn it.
Ms. SMITH: Right.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, we'll try not to hold that against you. Okay. Well. Who's Gary by the way?
Ms. SMITH: Gary is just a guy who wrote a track. He had given me this little tape.
Ms. SMITH: He was kind of just the inspiration for the song.
MARTIN: This guy just roll up and give you tapes, huh?
Ms. SMITH: Yeah, he just gave me…
MARTIN: Well, I could understand that. You know what, it seems inevitable when a new singer comes out they are compared to others. You know, I mentioned a couple of names and some other names have been thrown out like Billie Holiday and Alicia Keys. How do you feel about those comparisons? Flattering, okay, feel boxed in?
Ms. SMITH: No. I'm fine with it.
MARTIN: Who do you listen to?
Ms. SMITH: Well, now, I'm listening to Feist, still. I've been listening to a lot of Eartha Kitt, and I'm listening to a lot of (unintelligible). I've listen to a lot of vocalists. I like people, I like voices.
MARTIN: Did you grow up wanting to be a singer or was it just something to do?
Ms. SMITH: No. I just always sing. I never really thought about it. I didn't think, oh, I want to be a singer, but no, that's not going to happen. It's just never really crossed my mind that way.
MARTIN: What did you want to be growing up?
Ms. SMITH: I want to be a pediatrician and I want to be a princess.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I want to be a…
Ms. SMITH: I do want to be a pediatrician for a long time. And a princess. And…
MARTIN: Well, you might be on your way to a princess. When did you realize you have that big range?
Ms. SMITH: I guess I always had the same kind of range. It's got a little bit bigger, but I didn't realize whether it was until I started going to class. And I started going to a coach in New York in probably three or four years ago maybe. But like the first year, I didn't really go, and the second year, I kind of was like, okay, and then I started to see what it really meant.
MARTIN: You're from D.C. You're from Washington, D.C., but you also spent a lot of time, as I understand it, at your grandmother's farm in Augusta, Georgia, and then as you've mentioned you went to college in New York. How do you think those experiences influenced your music?
Ms. SMITH: You know, I think, Georgia gave me a lot of space and freedom.
MARTIN: I tell you one thought that occurred to me is the variety of experiences that's sort of reflected in the range…
Ms. SMITH: Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: …of the music that you seemed to do and that seems to kind of find its way into the music. Like, for example, the choices of songs in this album kind of covers a lot of territory. There's the sensual like you wrote "Love Endeavor." And then you also put it some social commentary, I'm thinking of one of the songs I really like called "Fake is the New Real," which I really like.
Ms. SMITH: Yeah.
MARTIN: I also like "Woodstock" because it's funny, and there is - sometimes there's not a lot of humor…
Ms. SMITH: Right.
MARTIN: …in music today, for some reason.
Ms. SMITH: Not particularly humorous. Those two songs are by a very funny woman.
Ms. SMITH: (unintelligible).
MARTIN: It's nice. But I'm just want to know how you want listeners to experience the album. What do you think you want people to hear when they hear it?
Ms. SMITH: I just don't know. I guess, I mean, you know, I just want to make -hear something that they can connect to in an emotional way, you know. I'm an emotional person. I just would like to, you know, first of all, feel something. I just wanted to, you know, feel something. That's really, that's really it. I don't want anybody to feel sad, but, I mean, if that's what it makes them feel, that's cool too, you know.
MARTIN: Want to do something else for us?
Ms. SMITH: Yeah. What do you want to do?
MARTIN: How about "Dream"?
Ms. SMITH: Yeah, "Dream,"
Ms. SMITH: That will be good, a great idea.
(Soundbite of song, "Dream")
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) When I wake up in the morning time, I like to see you sleeping by my side. I think about the nights we had before. Want to give you this and more. Let you know I truly adore you.
Being with you, loving you this way is so sweet. The way you kiss me, you're making my knees go weak. We could be forever happy, through rain or whatever. Never going to take the fantasy away from you.
I need to be everything you see in your dreams. It seems to me you'll never find another lover good as I, to give you all that you need. And I'll be there to love you each and every night and all through the, I'll be there to love you each and every night and all through the, I'll be there to love you each and every night and all through the, I'll be there to love you each and every night and all through the day. I'll be there to love you each and every night and all through the day.
MARTIN: That was "Dream." And if you're just joining us, we're listening to an in-studio performance with singer Alice Smith. Her new re-released album is called "For Lovers, Dreamers & Me."
Alice, you kind of freshened that song. I have to call your Momma.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I need to call her.
Ms. SMITH: That is some of the fresh girl, I love…
MARTIN: Who we talking about, Alice?
Ms. SMITH: It was about a dream.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Oh, okay. And you've grown so.
(Soundbite of noise)
MARTIN: You've grown, but I don't know. I'm going to call Mrs. Smith and talk to her. You know, we were talking about the fact that you spent time in New York. You went to Fordham, and you were involved in something called the Black Rock Coalition. What was that about?
Ms. SMITH: It was a group of black musicians that essentially that play rock music.
MARTIN: Do you like it? Do you like rock?
Ms. SMITH: Do I like rock music? Yes.
MARTIN: Any genres you've particularly…
Ms. SMITH: Don't like?
MARTIN: Yeah, you don't like, yeah.
Ms. SMITH: No.
MARTIN: No. I'm just wondering, you know, because there are white singers out there like Josh Stone or Fiona Apple and they have that soulful sound, which some people call a black sound. And people think that's just great and I just wondered if it works the same way for an African-American woman singer if she's interested in genres that aren't always associated with black music.
Ms. SMITH: Is it the same…
MARTIN: Yeah, and you get the same love.
Ms. SMITH: Oh, I think so, yeah. I probably get a few more questions about it than they would, but, yeah, people love it, you know.
MARTIN: Do you like rock? Like country?
Ms. SMITH: A love country.
Ms. SMITH: I love …
MARTIN: Do you think that the boundaries are breaking because it just seems as though that - people have kind of - you know, you got to figure out where in the store your CD is going to be? It's going to be an R&B. It's going to be in soul or neo-soul or - and whatever. Do you think there's room…
Ms. SMITH: For everybody?
MARTIN: Yes, well, I mean, I don't mean artistically…
Ms. SMITH: I hope so.
MARTIN: I mean commercially that you can kind of do your thing…
Ms. SMITH: I hope so.
MARTIN: And to find your audience?
Ms. SMITH: I hope so. Somehow, somehow, they - Davien(ph). I don't know whoever is in charge of letting people hear music, is kind of like they treat... My position has been always that they treat audiences like it's, you know, just groups of stupid people who can't decide what they like, you know. And it's really frustrating because you should just put it out there and then, you know, they'll like it or they won't like it. I don't…
Ms. SMITH: I don't see why, you know, Alice, you really, you know. I had this one guy tell me, you're really going to want to decide what direction you want to go in because nobody's going to get it. Nobody's going to understand, la-di-da di-da(ph). What is the unifying thing in this album? This particular album, I was like, me? You know, what do you want me to do? I think it's outrageous to think that people, anybody will - listens to only one thing.
MARTIN: You just signed with your first big label, with Epic Records. Has that been - what's that been like? Do you feel like you made it?
Ms. SMITH: It's been a very interesting situation. Does it feel like I made it?
MARTIN: Yeah. I just want to know what it's like? Is it different?
Ms. SMITH: No, I feel like I'm at work, you know. It's a job. And I feel like that's unfortunate. Part of that is my own fault. You know, you had to do your thing the way you do it, but I think it's - I think it's hard to sell music, you know. If you're not going to - like I was talking earlier about having an emotional response to it, if you're going to be working on trying to sell something, you should be able - you got to get in it. You got to feel something for it. You know, you got to get it. You have to understand it. And there's a disconnect if you, you know, in terms of trying to understand something if all you're thinking about is how much money you can make out off of it.
You know, like me saying that it feels like work is more, you know, dealing with trying to help people to understand that it's all right. You know, we can just kind of get in it. Let's just have a good time. It doesn't have to be a big deal. We could just play the music, you could sell it, and we can all be happy.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, speaking of, how about give us one more song to go out on? Something - I don't know - something that shows what you can do.
Ms. SMITH: You like "Know That I," don't you?
MARTIN: I do.
Ms. SMITH: That's what I'm going to do.
MARTIN: "Know That I." Okay.
(Soundbite of song, "Know That I")
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Know that I feel love, more than I give love every single day of my own design. How do I try to? Harder to get through, every single day of my own design, of my own design just to make you mine, love in the end. So lost in a city is it something my heart gives? every single day just to make you mine, and to keep you mine, and I know I'll find love in the end, love in the end, love in the end, love in the end, in the end.
MARTIN: That was Alice Smith performing "Know That I" from her album "For Lovers, Dreamers & Me." She was accompanied by Thom Loubet. To learn ore about the album, to see a video of her performance at NPR, check out our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore.
Alice Smith, thank you so much for being here.
Ms. SMITH: Thank you so much. That was fun.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) I need to be…
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Let's talk more tomorrow and Happy New Year.