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Interview: Canaan Smith discusses his second chance, new single Colder Than You and his new music

The Country singer-songwriter gets candid as he sends his first song to radio in three years.

Canaan Smith
Credit: Kurt Ozan

Country singer-songwriter Canaan Smith shot to the top of the charts in 2015 with his Platinum single Love You Like That.

The track was the lead single from Canaan’s debut album Bronco and was followed up by a handful of releases, the last being This Night Back in 2017. Since then Canaan has moved to Florida Georgia Line’s Round Here Records and he’s spent the last few months dropping new tracks.

As he concentrates on sending new single Colder Than You to Country radio, I spoke to Canaan about the changes he’s made in his career, his new music and how he feels he’s been given a second chance after his vision was clouded…

It’s been three years since we last spoke and so much has changed for you since then. Let’s start with the move to Round Here Records. How did that come about?

I was at a point in my career where I already felt I needed some perspective. I needed to step back a little bit. I wanted to take back a little bit of control. My vision had been a little clouded, I think, over time Nashville and commercial radio music has a way of doing that, kind of chipping away at your roots. Sometimes you can get a little clouded if there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. I just honestly felt like I needed to make a change and clear house. I let go of my manager, I asked off the label. My publishing deal was up so I was about to be free in that regard too, and it just felt like a good time to make a change so I did it all at once. I had been working out almost daily with Tyler Hubbard over at his garage and we’ve known each other since college so we always talk honest with each other. He was basically telling me they were planning on maybe signing a writer and artist, and that they were thinking about starting this label and all that stuff. Like I said, we went to college together and we’ve known each other since then and been creative together for a long time so it felt like a really good fit to try to work together and I loved the idea. They’ve always believed in me, as much as anybody in town ever has, and so for me I felt like that was the team I needed to sign up with. It was pretty cut and dry. You want to be where you feel like the love is and where the support is, and I felt that was the right move to make. It was a super cool leap of faith that has paid dividends beyond description, honestly on the level of songwriting and artistry, It’s grounded me and brought me back to that place where I started, the place where I fell in love with country music long ago. I’m back in that perspective, that headspace that really values the traditional side of country music and the finding yourself in other people’s stories. The simplistic approach and ultimately just the authenticity. I think I’ve been given a second shot here at showing people what I’m all about so nothing but exciting times ahead.

It’s interesting that you mentioned you felt your vision had been clouded as I felt like the songs we heard from you in 2017 – Like You That Way and This Night Back – weren’t really you. The material we’ve been hearing since you signed to Round Here Records, particularly the new single Colder Than You, is so much stronger and more representative of what you can do as an artist…

Totally. I agree 100% man. I’m not surprised to hear that because I felt the same way myself. My sister got married one time. Her first marriage was one of those scenarios where the day of her wedding, she’s divorced now, she told us she just this real gut insight instinct that it wasn’t supposed to be, but she was in too deep so she went through that. I definitely feel that way about a couple of songs. Be it management pushing for it, or other factors that lead you to this point where you feel like you’re in too deep so you just go through with it. A couple of hard lessons learned, but at the same time necessary for the growth. I think there’s always got to be some trials and tribulations to produce any kind of growth and for me, it’s been cool to have the opportunity to grow from it. And I have. I’ve grown across the board, as a human being, as a songwriter and as an artist. I’ve got a lot in my life right now that’s giving me perspective.

Canaan Smith

Credit: Delaney Royer

In the new material you’ve been releasing you sound some much more engaged and in a way revived. I think back to seeing you at Bush Hall in 2017 when you played an acoustic show and that was you at your best. Colder Than You embraces that tradition that’s always underpinned your music. The song isn’t what people will be expecting from you though…

Yeah, and that’s exactly right. If they knew me 16 years ago before I moved to town, that would be exactly what they would expect from me because that’s what I was recording and writing way back then, was that style of country music. I moved to town to do that style of country music so this is a cool starting point. It’s a late in the game starting point but it’s a true starting point to open that side of me as an artist to people and share that with them. It came from a place where I’s dated a girl one time, who was just not my mom’s favourite at all. My friends didn’t like her. She was just kind of cold. She was just not who any of them could see with me. I was just listening to the wrong to head (laughs) but you know, that happens and ultimately, this song came from a place of just wanting to say what I never did say to her, and she deserved to hear, but doing it in a way that was relatable. The bottom line takeaway of this song is we’ve all been through a breakup. We’ve all been in situations and in relationships that we know we don’t belong in, but they’re hard to get out of sometimes. This is a playful jab. It’s got sort of a rally cry for anyone that that knows what that feels like. It’s sort of like, ‘hell yeah. Been there. Bottoms up. Cheers, man!’ but at the same time, it’s pretty honest and dark lyrically, too. It’s this marriage between a very, very real experience that’s cathartic and dark but also sounds like something you want to turn on and have a good time to. It’s an interesting song, for that reason, because I don’t think there’s a lot of those songs. I think if you only had the lyrics to the song, you would never assume that the music sounded the way it does to the song, and that’s a cool thing. I’m proud of that.

This is your first radio single in three years. Why did you choose this song to go to radio?

The songs before this, I call them the ‘along the way songs’. Pour Decisions, Country Boy Things, Beer Drinking Weather and Life Ain’t Fair – those four served their purpose for me in that it helped introduce the new relationship with Round Here Records. I was already signed up to do the FGL tour last summer and I felt like I needed a batch of songs that would really help with the live show for that particular crowd. I think they’ve served their purpose and now those songs can step aside and I can go forward with an entire project starting with Colder Than You that’s very honed in on what I want to say, how I want to say it and ultimately (has) the impact I want it to make. This is where it feels like it needs to start.

Is the plan to work up to a full-length record?

I don’t have a plan. I wish I could tell you that a full-length album is the plan. I think it probably will be a full-length album of 10 songs or so because I’ve got a lot of songs right now ready to go or ready to be recorded. Some are already recorded but others are already written and just need to be (recorded). I’ve got a big chunk of it pretty much done as it relates to an album but at the same time, I don’t know. I try not to make too many plans because things change all the time. We had a different add date originally for Colder Than You and then Coronavirus and lockdowns (happened). Things change and I’m just trying to stay proactive by writing as much as I can, and I do that all the time. My week is full of watching my baby girl, she’s sleeping right now, and writing songs and balancing the dad life with the career and that’s cool man. We’ll see what it all adds up to. The more steam we pick up with Colder Than You, the faster we’re gonna have to be getting the rest of it together. I think we’ll release a support track here in a few weeks probably just as another something for people to digest. I think we’re on the five-week track or something like that. Outside of that man (I’m) just trying to stay productive and pulling for Colder Than You to make it all away.

Canaan Smith

Credit: Thomas Heney

What is it like releasing music during this time? What impact has it had on your and your writing?

I set up shop here in my garage at the house. I went and got my studio gear and I brought it back here so I could stay productive and all of that. There was a learning curve. The first co-write that I did on Zoom was not a blast, because it’s hard to learn it at first. There’s a delay, there’s a latency between the time I sing it and you hear it. Getting on the same page with multiple writers at the same time, it is a learning curve. As soon as I got over that curve, it changed everything. I love this version of songwriting. I love being here in the comfort of my own home. It kind of takes down the walls a little bit, and allows me to be more confident with my ideas and take more chances. Be a little more fearless than maybe I would be in the room. I think that’s just human nature maybe, which is super cool man. It’s refreshing. To me, it’s been nothing but a really great season of songwriting.

Not being able to get out and play live must be really frustrating as that’s what you live for as an artist…

Yeah and I miss. I miss it, for sure but I know it’ll come back so I’m not pining away for it. I’m enjoying this season. I’m able to be here every day with my daughter, which is such a gift because had I been touring this whole time I would have missed so much and felt so torn. I’m really taking this as a gift and enjoying it. The touring will come back. It’s buying me time. It’s given me time to have this song work at radio so that when we do go tour, the shows will be that much better.

We’ve really missed you here in the UK so I hope you’ll be back over at some point in 2021…

Thanks Pip. I miss y’all too. I still have people commenting all the time on socials from over there about how I need to come back. It’s really, really great to feel that love man and I’m going to do it, I promise.

You were over here for a while in 2017 with C2C, the Bush Hall show…

I did the whole tour with The Shires. I was there for almost 40 days. I saw every part of your beautiful country, it was awesome. That went so well and those fans were so responsive to my music that I got to turn it into a run of my own over there. It was so cool. Even though I do miss it and we’ll be back, again same principle – this is allowing me to build a little bit in this downtime and when we come back over, it’ll be that much stronger. I promise!

Canaan Smith’s single Colder Than You is available to stream and download now. Listen to the track below:

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