After spending over eight years honing their artistry and earning high praise with the release of 2015’s “Hey Whiskey,” rising country duo Smithfield is back with a new EP, We Make Our Own.
The seven-song project, which dropped earlier this year via Deluge Records, is a standout collection of true duets with both the duo’s Jennifer Fielder and Trey Smith trading lead vocals on each track. Meanwhile, the EP’s title is particularly meaningful to the pair, as it symbolizes how they handle their career by paving their own way as independent artists.
Fielder and Smith aren’t related, nor are they romantically involved, but their on-stage chemistry and their harmonic blend are unmatched. Perhaps that’s a result of the many years they’ve known each other, having grown up together in Waxahachie, Texas. Fans hoping to see Smithfield live, can catch the pair on their We Make Our Own Tour in support of their EP. The trek is scheduled to run through the end of September.
Smithfield recently caught up with Country Now to talk all about their musical journey from past to present, their new EP, as well as what it’s like to be one of just a handful of male-female duos in the country genre. Check out our Q&A with Smithfield below.
Melinda Lorge: Why did you choose We Make Our Own as the title for the EP?
Trey Smith: I think our path has been very unconventional and we’ve had to talk about how to make things happen on our own. That’s not to say that we haven’t had people around us to help us along the way, but it has been very kind of DIY (Do It Yourself).
Jennifer Fielder: Yeah, We Make Our Own is more like our anthem, and about our career and our journey thus far, just being indie artists and having to do things our way and a little bit different from anybody else. It’s kind of more of a message to anyone with a dream, whether that’s in music or whatever your dream is, to just go for it, and do it your way and [don’t] worry about what anybody else thinks. Just make it your own.
Lorge: Before the EP, “Hey Whiskey” earned you several spots on ‘artist to watch’ lists. Did you feel any pressure to top that success?
Smith: I think you always feel the pressure a little bit when you do something that reacts with people, and then you’re coming up and doing something new. But, I think, being a musician and artist, you evolve, and music is supposed to tell stories and little insights into what you’re going through and what you’re doing, and that changes over time. So I don’t know if I necessarily feel the pressure of it as much as it is just getting a fresh look and a different glimpse into what you’re going through.
Fielder: Ooh, I feel the opposite! I still feel the pressure when we go into write to bring an idea that is as good as “Hey Whiskey,” because that is an idea we brought in that day that has definitely been our most reactive song. I think if you know who Smithfield is, you think of “Hey Whiskey.”
Lorge: “Our World” is an outside song on the [physical version of the] EP. Was it a challenge to sing someone else’s song?
Smith: I think the reason we cut it in the first place was that we liked it so much. I think that when you connect with something that much, it’s not that difficult to sing it when you believe it.
Fielder: We’ve always said, some artists want to write everything always. We’ve never been like that. But, we did feel like that when we had to do our very first write because nobody was writing Smithfield songs. Everybody was writing a Blake Shelton song every day because it’s Blake Shelton. So it’s not that we’ve been opposed to that; we’ve just never heard a song, like Trey was saying, that we connected with and felt like, ‘Oh, this is us.’ We did with that one, so it was easy to cut the song.
Lorge: What is the process like when you write your own songs?
Fielder: We always try to bring ideas to every write. Since we are a duo, we do it a lot by ourselves. At the end of the day, there are two opinions, two voices that have to work together to craft a song differently than most people. It is a very unique way to write, because there are things that you have to think about with the dynamic of not only being a duo, but also being a female-male duo. That is a very different dynamic as to, “Well I wouldn’t say that, but a guy would say that.” So, Trey’s getting great with melodies, and that’s really what I think he brings to the table – great lyrics and ideas too. I don’t play the guitar, but I can bring melodies, a lot of great ideas and lyrics. We’re a great team in that aspect and our inspiration sort of comes from real-life experiences.
Lorge: Tell me about your song “Still A Few”…
Smith: Adam Wood, he’s a writer on it. He used to play it at writer’s rounds all the time. We’d always listen to it, and Jen would even tear up sometimes when he’d play it. It’s so personal to us, and I think we always felt so connected to it. So when we got to do our second project, I think, we just knew that it was something we wanted to put on there. It’s such a glimpse into how we feel about those people that we look up to in our lives. That’s what comes to mind when we hear that song.
Fielder: Yeah, specifically we think about our families. I say this at our shows a lot too. I tell people that I think there’s just so much negative going on in the world and on social media – I don’t even watch the news anymore because it’s just super negative. But, I feel like music and that song has so much meaning [behind it] because it reminds people that there are still a lot of good people doing things, despite the stuff that’s going on. That’s why I get emotional when I hear it because I think about my parents and my grandparents. I think about our firefighters and policemen, and people who are out there laying their lives on the line for us. It’s just a great message. I think that’s why it personally spoke to us. I remember telling Adam when I first heard it I was like, ‘If we ever get to record it we have to do it.’
Lorge: You both sing lead on all of the tracks of the EP. Was that a decision heading into the project?
Fielder: You know what? That happened by accident. Organically. We didn’t mean to do that, but when we listened back to it we were like, ‘This is so unique.’ This entire project ended up being true duets, which we love. We’re good singers separately, and I don’t want to take away from that, but really, what makes us special is when we come together and hear the sound of our harmony, that’s the heart of Smithfield. So I think it’s cool that this project turned out to where you listen to it, you don’t question whether or not it’s a duo. I think that was the one thing about “Hey Whiskey,” especially with it being on the radio, if you don’t know us you would think it was probably just a solo female, but I love that about this EP because you listen to it and that’s Jen and Trey.
Lorge: As a duo, how do you juggle separate personal lives when it comes to your musical partnership?
Fielder: It’s very tough. We truly are like best friends, so we do hang out outside of music. I think for a while it was hard for our dating lives because it is a unique thing to understand. But, I think it just takes the right people. So we’ve come to a real healthy balance with that and we both have very understanding partners, who want us to be successful together, which is really cool.
Smith: It’s a challenge for sure but we both found the right person.
Lorge: What has been the toughest part of your journey so far?
Fielder: I think, in our genre where country is so based around radio, I would say the hardest part is being independent in our genre. When we got our first record deal, out of our control, the label sold it. Everybody sort of turned their back on us. We lost management, and people that were writing with us stopped writing with us. It was a really hard moment. You go from being able to make a living doing music back to working a part-time job. That was a pretty low, hard moment, but we made it out of that together and built something literally from nothing. We fight every single day to make something happen, and it’s funny, people think we have a major label behind us because we play these major festivals, or maybe our songs are on the radio or our Instagram looks great. Perception is everything, but it’s really dedication and a lot of hard work.
Lorge: Having been through the process of a label shut down, do you plan on finding another label home?
Smith: I think our ultimate goal at some point is to definitely partner with a label just because there are certain things that you really can’t do as an independent artist. That’s not to say you can’t have a really healthy successful career as an independent artist, but that’s in the cards at some point. I think for now we’re just kind of going our own way and defying the odds if you will, and figuring out how to do it and be successful without a label.
Lorge: What’s next for you?
Fielder: We’re actually working on new music. We had written that EP a couple of years ago. We just took so long to get it out. We want to work on new music and, like Trey was saying, partner with a label. We’re in the process of bringing on some new team members, and that’s exciting for us. We’ll be touring, but we won’t be touring quite as hard as we were. This new project, whatever that is, we want it to be “the one.” Not that we haven’t put out great music lately, we just always want to strive to be better and put out something even better than we did before.