Since he released his album ‘Bronco’ back in 2015, Canaan Smith has been winning over fans with his twangy vocals and honest, heartfelt lyrics – including UK fans after making his debut here at C2C 2017 and returning to play at Country Music Week.
He released the follow-up record, ‘High Country Sound’, independently in 2021, with a more traditional sound, and has been putting out plenty of new music since. Now he’s back with his latest single, the heartfelt, emotional ‘Diamond on the Dresser’ featuring Emily Weisband.
I recently caught up with Canaan to catch about the song, working with Emily, his experience as an independent artist, how he feels his music has evolved, his plans for the rest of 2023 and more.
Your latest single is ‘Diamond on the Dresser’ – tell us a bit more about that…
Man, it’s, I gotta be honest with you, I feel like it’s like my favourite song in my tool belt right now. I love the classic approach to it, like a really sad country song. You know, sometimes in Nashville, it’s hard to to write those songs because not everybody wants to go there. Not everybody wants to write a song that feels slow and sad. And on this particular day, James McNair had the title, the idea called ‘Diamond on the Dresser’, and it just resonated with me. And I felt like we could really draw a story around that title in that picture with that. That felt really, really vivid to me. And I was just like, alright, let’s, let’s try it. And so we went there. It took us two Zoom writes to finish. So we took our time with it. And then, when it was done, I feel like it became quickly, I would say, if not my favourite song ever, it’s my number two next to ‘Bronco’.
Just because I think that it really showcases what I feel like has become a strength of mine over time, that I strive to be a strength of mine. And that’s just storytelling with pictures and making you feel something through the image. And so yeah, I’m really, really proud of it. I really am.
How have you found the fans’ reaction to the song?
People are really just blown away at what a great song it is, you know, like, the feedback I’ve been hearing and seeing is just ‘wow, what a song’. It’s cool to have that kind of reaction because people like songs for different reasons. Either they think they’re a bop or you know, whatever. I don’t know what category this falls in other than what a great story. What a great song. So it’s clear that feedback because I feel the same way about it.
You also worked with Emily Weisband on the song – tell us how that came about and what it was like to work with her…
Yeah, she’s the best. I mean, that voice is just such a gift, such a gift. And James McNair, my co-writer on the song had been writing with Emily quite a bit. When he and I got together and wrote ‘Diamond on the Dresser’, he was telling me, this is the kind of song that Emily would love. And so the three of us decided to write a few weeks later. And when we did, we played her the song, and she flipped out. She got chills. I remember her reaction being that she truly felt the song and verbally said, “wow, I’ve got chills”. And so then when I decided I wanted it to be a duet – that came later on, I’s recorded the whole song, and then decided this should be a duet. And she was the obvious choice at that point, not only for her talent, but just like her genuine reaction to loving the song I felt was more important than finding a perfect voice. But incidentally, she has a perfect voice too. So it ended up being a really cool marriage.
Do you have plans to work together again in the future – either writing together or singing?
Yeah, definitely going to keep writing together and who knows what the future holds as far as collabs go with her. I’m totally open to that. I love the way our voices work together. We had never sung together before. It was our very first try, we were going in blind. And the tones of our voices are like somehow like this perfect match. It’s really so I could see us doing more together for sure.
Is there anyone else that you’d still like to collaborate with at some point?
I’m open to anyone who appreciates the song. I mean, honestly, it’s, I don’t have a shortlist necessarily. I’ve got some, you know, favorites in the genre, like Eric Church that I feel like it would be just a dream come true. But as far as like collabs that I that I feel like I could reach out and make happen, I don’t really know, I kind of take it as it comes. I think the song presents itself with opportunity. So it depends on the song, you know, and what that what that song would require.
I did want to ask you a little bit about your writing and your approach to music – how do you feel that’s evolved over time?
You know, it’s circular. And it’s obviously evolved. The craft itself has become honed over time, just through repetition and years of experience, and years of being in the room with writers who are fantastic writers. But it’s full circle right now, because I’m more interested in storytelling. As far as my songs go, I’m really interested in the songs having more purpose than just sounding hitty. You know what I mean? So it gives me the freedom to go there more, as a writer and dig deep, and try to conjure up images and feelings. And I’m definitely in that phase right now, where that’s fun for me to do. It’s just, it’s a cool season right now, because I don’t have any pressure on me. I don’t have a record label to please or sign off on stuff. It’s all in house. And, you know, I just kind of go with my gut.
How have you been finding the experience of being an independent artist?
Well, it’s a trade off, you know. Like, with independence you get freedom from, like I was saying, having to run it up a flagpole and get other people to sign off on your ideas. And I love that because I enjoy the hands on thing so much, and I thrive in that environment, so much so that it’s an advantage to be independent. The disadvantage is that you don’t have that big, powerful hand pushing you through the noise and through the crowd. On the playlisting, and on the radio front, I don’t have a team that’s actively working my music, and so I feel that separation, for sure. But you know, most most of the time, I’ll take that trade off any day. Because ultimately, I feel happiest when I’m doing something that feels like something I love and I’m proud of, you know, not that you can’t do both at the same time. I’ve done that in my career too, had the team and music I’m proud of, but at this stage, I just really like not having to having to do it the traditional way.
You’ve also been branching out into the production side of things. How have you found that?
That’s so much fun for me. It’s more responsibility to shoulder so it can get exhausting. But I do enjoy it so much. You know, I’m still a fan of other producers coming into the circle and bringing out the best in me, but right now, it’s kind of fun to do it myself. Partly to prove that I can and and and you know, it’s cheaper. It’s just kind of like, you know, I’m just seeing this phase where I’m like, just wanting to do things more intentionally, for me and my family. Ask me again next year and see if I change my mind. But right now it feels good to just be kind of in charge of what’s going on.
Is there a particular song that you wish you could have written?
There’s a lot of them. You caught me off guard! [pause as Canaan thinks] I don’t really think about that often. So I mean, I don’t know. Yeah, I’ll- have to circle back.
We’ve touched on this a bit already but is there anything still on the bucket list for you?
I’d love to play the Ryman. And I’ve done it on someone else’s headlining ticket, or at a record label event or whatever. But I’d love to play the Ryman as my own show, and I think that would be a career goal accomplished.
What does the rest of this year look like for you?
Yeah, more music. Touring throughout the rest of this year. And some other some outside artists as well. And yeah, and you know, continuing to just try to play get songs recorded by other artists too, as a songwriter. I got a lot of irons in the fire. But it’s a good balance right now. Creating new music for myself, supporting that music on the road, writing for others, producing music for others. So I just plan on more of the same honestly, and pacing it in a way that’s manageable for me and my family and gives the fans more music regularly.
Do you find there’s any challenges or differences between writing for yourself compared to writing for others?
You know, I’ve done it so long that I kind of have two different modes that I can switch on and off. And a lot of times these days, I’m actually not going into a room to, quote, ‘write for me’, I’m just trying to go and write a great song. Because at the end, I pick what song’s next for me at a time anyhow, as far as what I’m going to record next. So I’ll let a season go by where I’ve written a bunch of songs with no intention behind them except to write a great song, and then I’ll pick from that batch, what matches with where I’m at as an artist and what feels right to put out next. So I’m just honestly just trying to get in the room, and be present and contribute as best as I can to whatever. If there is a purpose, like writing for another artist on a retreat or whatever, then I get in that zone in that mode and try to accomplish the goals that they have said. Otherwise, I just want to write a great song.
And lastly… have you got plans to come back over to the UK at any point?
I want to in my heart, dying to. Got no plans on the books but an absolute desire and goal for the near future? Yes.
Canaan Smith’s latest single, ‘Diamond on the Dresser’ featuring Emily Weisband, is out now.