Sarah Smith An Original Southwestern Ontario Treasure

Sarah SmithSarah Smith has been making an impact on the London/South Western Ontario music scene for over twenty years both as lead singer for Popjoy/The Joys and for the last dozen or so years as a solo artist. With multiple awards, five studio albums, a live album and a Plugged/Unplugged DVD, Sarah’s contagious energy and smile infect everyone she meets and she has built a large following of loyal fans.

Hi Sarah, thanks for talking with me today. How have you been and how are you dealing with the new reality?
Well, it’s been for the most part amazing! It really has been amazing. I’ve been so blessed because I’ve been given a lot of online shows as well as playing some shows out of my van in people’s driveways or in front of care homes. I was hired for a lot of other projects. I did some video editing, I learned how to write and record jingles for businesses, I did some song writing, some community song writing projects where I involved a bunch of people online to write a song together which was really interesting. So for the most part I’ve been busy, and with being busy comes a feeling for me of being worthy enough to be happy and I don’t feel guilty when I want to do things like go for a run or a bike ride or enjoy the summer at a beach. The last week or so though I would say there’s been a shift in my thinking and I’m starting to feel I would say a little depressed about my career and where it’s landed. I was working so hard towards a certain goal in my mind which was playing as many places in the world as I could and gaining more and more fans along the way so that my music could touch bigger stages, you know, get out there on bigger platforms, and now there are no stages, there are no tours. All my tours have been cancelled.

You’re notorious for doing 300 shows a year, maybe not 300 but quite a few, and now you’ve had to shift to other projects and ways of keeping your music out there. You’ve done some virtual shows and some charity shows recently haven’t you?
I’ve done quite a few charity shows which for me have been great because I do get an honorarium usually so that means I do get a bit of a gift of money for my shows along with allowing my fans to see my shows for free and then they also are able to donate to the charities that I’m playing for and that usually is a win/win for everybody. For me it’s been a great way to keep practicing, keep my chops up. I was very very nervous the first few virtual shows I did, it felt like I was playing to the whole world. I just thought that there was a lot of pressure on me, but then I calmed down after a while and I got more used to that and less nervous and it became almost like routine.

I suppose there was a technical challenge too because it was new to you? I’ve noticed some artists have struggled a little with the technical aspect of producing a quality online experience. Either the sound or video suffers because they’re not used to the media and maybe don’t have the equipment and expertise.
Sound is so important, the live video portion is really important too. You have to have good data which I don’t have where I’m staying right now. So I’ve had to buy extra and stronger data for my cell service and there have been a lot of technical issues like the sound. I had to buy this thing called an iRig where I can mix studio quality sound into my iPhone and then it gets put out onto Facebook. But then that makes me look stupid in my mind because I’m sitting there in my home with a microphone and I just feel like it’s inauthentic you know, nobody sits in their living room with a microphone so I’m trying to figure out what sounds good with my just on my couch with no music gear in front of me. So it’s been a learning process for sure.

So you’re missing the human connection in this and you say you’ve felt a shift in your feelings the last couple weeks. Is that what it is, the lack of face to face human connection when you’re performing? Do you think it’s starting to take a toll?
I don’t know what it is honestly. I do love connecting with people, I’m not sure if that’s what I miss though? I think I’m grieving my dream. I had a dream in my mind of what I was working towards and I’m not allowed to do that anymore. That dream has been smashed, or put on hold, so I’m grieving that I guess.

You mentioned you did a community song writing project. That was another collaboration with Paulie O’Byrne who you wrote Anchors and Angels with and was also for charity right?
Yes, it was for The Addiction Services of Thames Valley and they have a campaign called “Possible”, that connects everybody. Usually they do this thing at various theatres around Ontario and they call it “Stage for Change”, and this year because they didn’t have that live element I suggested why don’t we do something that brings Paulie and I back together. Paulie and I wrote Angels and Anchors together and it’s one of my most popular songs based on fan voting. So they sponsored the event and we got a lot of people in the community involved, people who shared their feelings. A lot of people said they left that one hour session feeling better and it definitely made me feel better and I think the song we wrote is really cool!

It’s really upbeat, Angels and Anchors was a positive song but it was more deep and emotional where Aim is a lot more light and uplifting sounding to me.
Yeah! And so what I did was I created an online merch store and it’s coming out very soon and the one thing I’m doing is I’m giving in to the fact that maybe masks are an accessory that we’re going to need for the foreseeable future. We do have to move into a new reality with our health and we used to look at mask wearing in Asia as strange but that’s us now. It’s just because it was different for us but now it totally makes sense and it’s also respecting each other’s health and we don’t want to make other people sick. So I’ve made Aim masks and I’ll be donating all proceeds from those sales to addiction services. I decided that I don’t want to make a profit from this.

You also did a video with a bunch of London area artists called “Forest City Fights Back”
Yeah, that was a really high end production, it wasn’t an at-home production like a lot of videos we’ve been doing. They put a lot of sponsorship money into it and paid all the artists involved and in turn we were able to spread this message and raise money for the London Health Sciences Foundation and London Community Foundation. There’s still a few T Shirts left, you can buy them at https://forestcityfightsback.com and the money goes to help those causes. You can also find the video on the website and what a great idea it was to combine all these local musicians to get together to support this cause.

You recently had a Zoom release party for a documentary on the making of your video for Into the Light which was filmed in San Francisco.
Yeah, I made a music video a few years ago called Into the Light with director Stacy Poulos in San Francisco. She actually created a 39 minute documentary of the making of the video. It’s an awesome documentary made entirely with an iPhone and a selfie stick. It’ll be available on DVD soon and can be rented at https://gumroad.com/l/rentbehindthelight

You’ve recently posted some video clips on You Tube from your Plugged and Unplugged DVD and there have been comments from fans asking if you have plans to record some of the songs which have previously not been released on an album. You have two or three unreleased songs from that?
Yeah, yeah, Looking for Something, Never Say Never and Now You’re Free. There are a couple others from the Live DVD in that set as well, a cover of Tove’s (Nilsson) “Habits” and another one as well.

Can we possibly expect something on the next album? You’ve been writing lately as well right?
Yeah, I’ve written a dozen songs. I didn’t think I’d been writing and I went back to my book and I’ve got enough for an album already, but I want to write a lot more before I release another album, I want to live a lot. I feel like this is a gift right now and I have to look at it that way.

It’s a bit of a challenge right now to release an album, I’m sure, with no touring.
Well I just released an album last November (Unveiling). My friend Dennis Gauthier just released an album on Valentine Day and he’s like, now what? Do I re-release it?

I think that’s a possibility? You release it then if things get back close to normal you release it again? Give it another promotional run? I guess we’ll find out, this is all unknown territory.

Who did wake up and go, oh this is nothing? I mean at first I was a little bit in denial and I was just doing my thing, pedal to the metal, just keep going, and then I was “What the f**k just happened? This is big! I’m questioning my life, questioning my career, mostly my career because the rest of my life is put together well. I’m happy, and it’s all because I’ve been working on this inside stuff, but then, what am I working towards? That’s what I’m asking myself right now, what do I really want? That’s a big question!

If someone were to ask you right now, how do you define the success in your life, what would you say?
I would absolutely say that the success in my life means that I feel peaceful, happy; I have people in my life that I love and love me in return. I’m healthy, healthy is number one. I have nobody in my life that I hate, I have no enemies. And then music stuff comes in after that, you know? But then it’s like, I’ve created some great memories playing some amazing events with some amazing people and built some relationships along the way, and I have a lot of songs for it.

Do you still have a dream of playing big stages like say, Melissa Etheridge? Have your goals changed over time?
I still have dreams of playing big stages like that and being at that level but I don’t have a particular timeline. I’m ok to sit it out the rest of my life. I mostly just want to write a better song. Melissa’s songs are awesome, I really like her songs, I’m really getting into them. Sheryl Crow, Bryan Adams, I want to write those kind of songs. I want to turn on the radio and hear a song that is so f**king good, and it be written by me.

Speaking of Melissa, you made the final five in a contest to perform on a cruise with her, correct?
Yes, they had a contest that was open to submissions from all over the world and out of all those submissions I was in the top ten. The next voting round was voted by the fans and I got voted into the top five. The next round is being voted by the people going on the cruise and the top three go on the cruise. The next round is in September and I will be begging them all, I’m going to write them all messages and send them gifts (laughing). No, seriously, I want this, I really want this! This is one thing I’m excited about! Just to make it to the top five is f**king cool. In the world! Top five! I’m just like, Sarah Smith, I don’t have record label money behind me, I’ve got nothing, I’m just me. So that was amazing to me and if I make the top three I’m going on a cruise with Melissa Etheridge’s fans, which are my potential fans.

That would be amazing! Anything you want to say in closing?
Just that if anybody is feeling the struggle right now, I think I’m late to the game with feeling the struggle or the depression. I think a lot of people went through that in the beginning, if anybody else is feeling that, the number one thing I kept hearing today from my angels among me was just surrender, let go and know that every day will be ok. Just live one day at a time.

Sarah Smith

Photo: Dan Boshart
Photo: Dan Boshart
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