Meaghan Smith's Modern Vintage Sound The Canadian singer grew up watching old movies and musicals in London, Ontario. She took those influences and turned them into an album that sounds both old-fashioned and timeless. Its title is The Cricket's Orchestra.
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Meaghan Smith's Modern Vintage Sound

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Meaghan Smith's Modern Vintage Sound

Meaghan Smith's Modern Vintage Sound

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(Soundbite of song, "I Know")

GUY RAZ, host:

What you're hearing could be a remastered jazz standard from the 1940s, but it's brand new. It's a song called "I Know," by Canadian singer Meaghan Smith.

(Soundbite of song, "I Know")

Ms. MEAGHAN SMITH (Musician): (Singing) It's in our hello, and the way her smile glows. And it's in our goodbye and it's here in your eye...

RAZ: Meaghan Smith grew up watching old movies and musicals in London, Ontario, and she took those influences and turned them into an album that's both vintage-like and timeless. The record is called "The Cricket's Orchestra," And Meaghan Smith joins me from Halifax, Canada. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SMITH: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

RAZ: Meaghan, that song we're hearing, "I Know," it has a whistling solo. Can you tell us who that whistler is?

Ms. SMITH: Yes, Guy, we had such a special guest appearance. That is my dad whistling.

(Soundbite of song, "I Know")

(Soundbite of whistling)

Ms. SMITH: There he goes. Oh, man, he is one of the best whistlers that I know of, and so when I was recording the song, and I felt like it needed a little instrumental break, but I wanted something that really fit the vibe of the track. And I just thought, you know, somebody whistling, and who better to do it than my own dad?

RAZ: And your dad, I should mention, and your mom, are both musicians, I mean, not professionals, right?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, I grew up in a super-musical family. There was always music in every single room of every in our house all the time, so...

RAZ: I even read that your three sisters are brilliant pianists.

Ms. SMITH: They are.

RAZ: And you don't even know how to read music, and yet you became the professional musician in the family.

Ms. SMITH: I just, I had a really hard time reading music, and I also am very lazy. So I tended to cheat and just learn songs by ear, and I didn't I had never studied music, and you know, it kind of came naturally to me just to play by ear, which led to writing songs for myself.

(Soundbite of song, "I Know")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) You leave with this, a hug and a kiss. And that little phrase, those three words you can't say. But please don't be blue 'cause I always knew, and I know, I know, I know, and I love you, too.

RAZ: Meaghan Smith, many of the songs on this record take elements from old-style jazz but even modern pop, and I'm thinking about the song "Heartbroken."

(Soundbite of song, "Heartbroken")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) This stupid heart, this foolish thing failed me from the start, keeps malfunctioning. Always dropping beats and falling fast until it leaves me dry at least. Tell me your king's horses and all your king's men, puts the use in fixing what will only break again. Heartbroken...

RAZ: That's just such a great pop song, which also could be sort of like an old, as I say, an old jazz standard. I read on your Web site something you wrote. You said you wanted to make a record that would be a musical experience, you know, as if you're leaving one world and entering another. What do you mean?

Ms. SMITH: Well, for me, you know, the music that I really connect to, and albums that I love, it's music and full albums that I can get lost in. I turn them on and I can just forget everything, forget even what I'm doing sometimes, and I get completely lost, and it's a fantastic way to escape from your life. If you just need a break, you know, and you just want to get away, music does that for me, and I wanted to make a record that did the same thing for other people. It's I like to call it modern vintage.

RAZ: I should point out that Canadian newspaper called this a record as if Bjork worked with K.D. Lang and Doris Day, which I thought was about as cool a compliment you could get.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SMITH: That's great. I'll take it, yeah.

RAZ: Now, anyone who hears this record will of course hear the 1920s and the '30s and the '40s, and the influence is so pronounced, I almost expected at certain moments to hear kind of the scratchiness of an old record playing. What is it about the music from that era that you don't hear today?

Ms. SMITH: You can hear everything. You can hear the room that the musicians are playing in. You can hear their feet on the floor. You can hear their fingers on their instruments. And you hear mistakes, too, and I love - I love how real that is. I love that it hasn't been polished. They haven't scrubbed away the humanness of the music. And, I mean, I just love everything about it.

But I didn't go into this thinking I could recreate something that has already been done so perfectly by the likes of other musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, and I mean, I'm a huge fan of Benny Goodman, and I just wanted to take influences and turn it into something new.

RAZ: I'm speaking with singer-songwriter Meaghan Smith. Her new record is called The Cricket's Orchestra. Even though you come from a musical family, this wasn't your destiny. I mean, you studied to be an animator, and that's what you were going to do, right?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, I went to college for animation. I had really, really bad stage fright when I was younger, and I loved singing, and I could sing at home in front of my family, but you know, I just, I couldn't do it in front of anyone else.

RAZ: How did you overcome it? Did you literally just have to go and do it and just work through the butterflies and the terror and the shaking and all those things?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, that was part of it, Guy. Like, I started going to open mics around my town. I went every week. I sucked. Like, I was terrible. I was shaking and nervous and making mistakes.

But, you know, the amazing thing was that everybody else in that room at that open mic was doing the same thing I was, and we clapped for each other. They clapped for me, and I clapped for them. And it took me four years of playing open mics like that, but I can now say that playing in front of a crowd is my favorite part of the day. There's nothing I love doing more.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) I know that I should know better than just sit here by the phone, waiting like a fool.

RAZ: The producer of this record is called Les Cooper(ph), and I read that when you first met him, you played him one of your songs. It's a song called "If You Asked Me."

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Well, it's a strange concept with all the tears I've wept that I would still accept if you asked me.

RAZ: Tell me what this song is about.

Ms. SMITH: Well, like so many of my songs, it's about a failed relationship. I was dating somebody that was a total jerk, but he was the best dancer in the world, and I couldn't say no to him. I just, I should have so many times, and I knew I should've.

And so when I went to record this song, you know, I really wanted something that was blaring. I wanted something that would match those feelings of, like, frustration and anger but total passion, and I played the song for Les on my guitar. And I didn't mention what I was hearing in my head. I just wanted to see what he would think, and he said: I hear a really big horn section on that song. And I knew it. You know, that was the moment, and I just said, you're hired. Let's go. Let's do this.

RAZ: And that was it?

Ms. SMITH: That was it.

(Soundbite of song, "If You Asked Me")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) And boy I would say yes, if you asked me.

RAZ: Your story is so unusual these days because you were basically an unknown singer-songwriter just a year ago, two years ago, and you were picked up by a major label, Warner-Sire, to release this record. You actually made it three years ago, right? But it took some time for all the business side of it to get worked out.

Ms. SMITH: That's true. When I first finished the record, I didn't even have a manager. So I went to a film festival here in Halifax, and I just happened to meet somebody from Los Angeles, and I gave them a copy of the record, and they started passing it around. And I started hearing from multiple major labels and still did not have a manager.

RAZ: You probably didn't even know how to deal with that.

Ms. SMITH: I had no idea what to say. I mean, I was getting phone calls from crazy people. I heard from Sarah McLaughlin, and I heard from Coldplay's manager, and I started hearing from different people who managed huge bands. And I just had to say, you know, just everybody, please hold on a minute. I'll put you on hold while I just find a manager for myself.

So I kind of, I had to scramble a little bit, and I feel like I needed those three years to develop myself. And actually, I'm looking forward to making a new record this summer already.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: So now that you have this amazing record, have any of your family members been inspired to, you know, try to get into the music business or maybe even go on tour with you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SMITH: That's so funny. My dad, I don't think would come on the road...

RAZ: Just to whistle?

Ms. SMITH: He'd miss my mom too much. But they're very proud of me, very happy for me and shocked, I think, too, a little bit. I think they're just glad that I have a job at all, so...

RAZ: That's Meaghan Smith. Her new record is called "The Cricket's Orchestra." She joined me from the CBC in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Meaghan Smith, thanks so much, and good luck.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you so much for having me.

RAZ: And you can hear full tracks from the album at our Web site,

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) You and I were thick as thieves, the best of friends that could ever be, but time flies by, and it's in the breeze, (unintelligible) memories. And it breaks my heart, oh, how we drifted apart. And I'll never forget your kind, brown eyes or the fingerprints you left all over my life. So it breaks my heart, oh, how we've drifted apart.

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