Sarah Smith has been a favourite of the London/Southwestern Ontario music scene for years, first as a member of the band The Joys and then seven studio albums and several live releases as a solo artist. Now living on an island in coastal B.C. she finds herself creating a new life with her partner Lesley, while still maintaining a strong musical connection to Ontario and her friends and fans.
The last time I talked to you was a year and a half ago, just after the pandemic started, and you were very introspective about your career at that time. You really weren’t sure about what you were doing or where you were going. A lot has changed since then, hasn’t it?
All of us had to go inside and try to reflect about what we’re doing in this life, what our purpose is and what makes us happy.
For me, I had to really figure out if music is the thing that drives me anymore. All through the pandemic I just found myself being navigated to different areas of music and it was all music based, everything was just around music and I was trying to almost get away from it, but it just kept finding me.
I can tell you now that music is definitely what drives me and what motivates me in my life and it’s my passion and my love and I just I can’t see being taken away from it, even though I’ve tried. So here I am still making music and actually I found a newfound love for it.
You also made a big move.
Yes, I moved across the country, which was really scary, I left the market that had raised me up and supported me, Southwestern Ontario, and I moved to a new part of the world which is this little island off the coast of Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.
I really don’t know what brought us here but I definitely felt like we were guided here by a larger force. I found myself on a remote island with nobody that knew me and I had to just know myself. I had to find out who I was again and the sounds of nature helped me to find myself again.
You’ve been out west a few times on tours but usually brought somebody along with you. Did you make connections during those trips out west or did you have to pretty much start from scratch when you moved out there?
Actually I was very fearful that I would have to start all over again and play for little money and tips and that kind of thing, but the relationships I had built over the years out here were the ones that stepped forward and helped me rise up.
They’ve given me opening spots and theatres shows and playing with a Bruce Springsteen tribute act as well playing guitar which is really cool. They’re called Thunder Road and they’re playing all the theaters out here on Vancouver Island, and I get to open for them and play my solo stuff, which is amazing.
Brad Hawkes is another person I met. He had helped hook me up with some house concerts whenever I toured out here. He’s a drummer and he and I actually wrote a song together during the pandemic called Meet Me at the Crossroads. He’s been really great at welcoming me with open arms and supporting me and getting the gigs in the city, it’s been amazing.
I honestly did not have to start over. People respect me out here and it makes me feel like all those years of touring weren’t in vain.
How does the music scene out there compare with the one around here in Southwestern Ontario?
In B.C. they weren’t allowed to have any live music all summer, it could only be a small gathering of people outside.
In Ontario, you guys were further ahead because you were allowed to have some live music but B.C. was really behind on allowing that to happen.
There’s a lot of thriving artists out here. I think people run out here and escape so all the artists end up piling here. There’s a lot of artists out here, physical artists like painters as well as musicians and all kinds of art like pottery and everybody on my island has a little store at the end of their driveway that they sell their art from.
I think it’s more of a community. People just really uplift each other, it doesn’t seem to be that there’s any competition. They’re kind and loving and most people in the audience are musicians.
Yeah, that’s actually a little bit different from around here. Has it invigorated your creativity being out there? Has it changed the way you kind of look at things? Do you feel more motivated with your writing?
My writing is in a place right now where I’m taking a little break from the writing. That’s kind of what happens with me in my life. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, I write and then I don’t. I write and then I live.
Right now I’m in a living phase but during the pandemic I reached out to people and I asked people to send me their lyrics or their poems, or anything that they’ve ever heard a song in their head too.
I was a person that took their lyrics and their poems and I created songs for them. I gave them music to their words and I created 30 co-written songs with people during COVID. That creativity was really cool for me because the words didn’t have to come from my heart, the music did, and it was just easier to concentrate on the music.
It’s really hard to put into words how I feel right now. It’s hard to make any sense of what’s going on in my heart and my soul and I still have some really down days where I just don’t know what’s happening. I feel detached, empty. It’s hard to put those into words so I’m just trying to live one day at a time. Every day I do something musical.
I think we’re all struggling a little bit. Just when we think things are getting better, now we’ve got this new variant. I don’t want to dwell too much on the pandemic really because we’re all sick of it, but it’s a real up and down roller coaster for everybody. You did have something amazing happen in the last year. Last time I talked to you, you were in the top five for three spots on the Melissa Etheridge Cruise and you got one of them.
I did surprisingly, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Oh, I made it to the top five” and that was fine. But then when they told me, no, you’re going on the cruise, I was like what? So, on top of winning this amazing opportunity, I also had to somehow take care of all the travel plans to get on a cruise during a pandemic so it was really wild.
You were probably wondering whether or not this is actually going to happen.
I was totally wondering, right up till the moment that we actually got on the plane. I was even wondering the moment we were waiting for the cruise ship to leave port. You know, everything is so up in the air these days. I’m always expecting things to just be canceled.
What was that whole experience like? Did you get to meet Melissa on the cruise? Did you perform with her at all?
Okay, so those are the two main questions that everybody asks, and the answer is yes and yes.
It’s funny how it happened. I just really loved meeting the other musicians and all the other bands. We had an artist pass and we could hang out and eat lunch and chit chat and I loved going to the gym. I had just come off a road trip so for me going to the gym was a treat every day and in all the little ports I was able to relax and lay on the beach.
My main focus was to just relax after a big long tour in Europe and I wanted to connect with Melissa Etheridge and all the other musicians.
So the way I met Melissa was Lesley dragged me into the photos with Melissa’s lineup. I wasn’t supposed to get my photos taken but they looked at my artist badge and they’re like, okay, come to the front of the line and I was like, Oh my god! So I went to the front of the line, and they let me in and Melissa says, “Hey, you’re Sarah Smith. You are a beautiful soul. I love your music and I love what you do for people and I just want you to know, keep going, you’re doing an amazing job!” And then I was bawling and she’s like, “Okay, let’s take a picture” so that was really cool.
Yeah, that’s the biggest compliment ever. That’s going to stay with you forever, somebody that you idolize saying they think you’re great.
It was huge! Then the last night we were watching Melissa perform with all the other artists and because I won the contest, I wasn’t really at the same level as the other artists. I was a little bit below and so I wasn’t able to hang out with them all and party with them but that night Robin my drummer says, “We have these artists’ passes, why don’t we go hang out with all the other artists by the stage? So we go down and we’re hanging out by the stage and Melissa Etheridge is performing and it’s a 70s night. Everybody’s in their 70s theme dress and I’m wearing my Janis Joplin outfit and Melissa says, “If any of the artists want to come on stage for this song, come on up.” I was the first one on the stage and I was like, “Hello” and she just kind of looked at me like I don’t know who this is, she’s dressed like Janis but whatever, hi, and then we did YMCA.
I can’t imagine. I hope somebody recorded that.
It’s been recorded. I felt like I was there for an hour by myself but it was probably about one second and it was just me and Melissa and her band and I looked out at the crowd and I gave them a peace sign and they roared and then we did YMCA. It was funny.
How was the feeling on this cruise because of COVID and everything else? Did you feel comfortable? Did it feel like you were kind of separate from the world for a few days?
Actually, it just felt kind of normal. Everybody had been tested to get on to the planes and then everybody was tested to get onto the boat. It was put together very tightly like a rock and roll concert feel and it just felt like we’re actually normal. And there were almost 2000 women and about 50 guys on the ship. We were all grateful because of all the stuff we had to go through to get there travel wise. I think everybody was just so grateful to be on that ship.
You did a couple projects as well in the last year. You did an album called Lovers of London with Noel Francis and some other artists.
We had gotten a grant from the London Arts Council to do this co-writing album. She and I were to co-write six songs and choose six other artists to write with as well.
So we had six songs written by Noel and myself and then one other London artist. The first track was by Sarah MacDougall, she’s amazing. And then there was Richard Gracious, who is an incredible artist in London, Doug Varty, you know, a legend, and then there was Lost in Japan’s lead singer, Addison Johnson, a great pop writer. Then there’s Saidat who is a children’s entertainer and a motivational speaker and just a powerful woman, and she brought a lot to the table. The last track was by Jenn Marino and she’s a rock and roller from London.
There are six incredible artists on that album and we co-wrote everything over Zoom and we all recorded our parts in our own homes.
So every song had its own little identity and that’s part of your 30 song collection as well that you recently released, correct?
You also released demos and some of the songs that you wrote with the help of some fans that submitted lyrics in that collection, didn’t you?
Yep, exactly. Also there are four or five tracks on there of songs we did while in quarantine with my band. We had done Lean on Me with all the members of the band that I had played with and we had done On The Road Again with my trio, and we did Beautiful Disaster with my band and it was all again recorded in our homes.
I also did an all star female pandemic quarantine version of Dream On by Aerosmith and so that made it on there and most of the other tracks are all the COVID co-writes.
One other thing that you did this year is you went back to Europe again. You’ve gained a lot of fans in Europe over the last few years. What was it like going back there? When’s the last time you were there? Was it two years ago?
It was two years ago and I’ll tell you, my agent and I, until we got on the plane, we were still not sure if it’s going to happen. I just seem to sneak in these little times where things are kind of okay, and then I leave and the whole world blows up again.
When I got there, I was the first international touring band to go to all of these clubs since COVID happened. I was the first band to rent a vehicle from the musician vehicle rental place to go on tour since the pandemic had happened.
It was like we were paving the way, we were like lab rats really. Let’s see how well this vaccine works and everything went fantastic. The shows were great. None of the capacities were at full level, most of them were about 50% but we always sold out and the crowds were so appreciative. The venues were over the top, they treated us like gods there and we came home healthy. I was just so proud of all three of us, John and Kelly and I, for having the strength to do that.
It’s times like this, you just go for it and pray for the best. So what do we have to look forward to in the next few months?
I had plans in my mind to record an album here on Pender Island. I have about 50 songs that I’ve written that have not been recorded and a lot of them aren’t finished. I was going to put some time into going through them and finishing them and see what I’ve got and see if it’s worth putting out. I definitely have a lot of songs and some of them are really good.
Other than that I’ve got some shows coming up. I’m playing in Victoria in January, and I’m planning on doing a Vancouver Island Tour in February and I’m going to Maui on a vacation, a vacation!
Most of the time when you’ve gone to the Caribbean or somewhere like that it was because somebody hired you to play at a resort or something, right?
Well, as a musician, I’m going to be honest, I can’t really afford a $2,000 vacation ever in my life, so usually I go there and I play and I get some things for free. And that’s how it works for me. This one though, my friend won the lottery and she is buying. I truly won the lottery. She bought a trip for Lesley and I to meet them there and we’re going to be having time with another couple and it’s going to be really awesome.
I got to start giving people lottery tickets for gifts more often.
Exactly. Also in March, I’m doing a vacation getaway show in Honduras and playing with a couple of really amazing women Chuckee Zehr and Cheryl Lescom, two of my favorite woman musicians and David Gogo Band is going to be there as well. So you can go if you want to go.
It’s tempting, it would be beautiful down there.
I’m excited for that one. And I’m also coming back to Ontario in March for a couple small shows. One is the Aylmer Town Hall. That one was booked two and a half years ago so I’ve got to play it soon. And in the summer I’ve got a couple festivals that I’m playing in and around B.C. and also in Ontario. I’ll be sort of back and forth.
So always a lot on your plate then.
Yesterday I had a bit of a meltdown and I just said to Lesley, “Listen, I need to take a few days off. She said, “You can take as many days you want, it’s up to you though.”, because she knows me well.
I like to pack my days full. So tomorrow is going to be a day of wood chopping with my buddies and then other than that, Lesley and I are going to take a ferry to town and we’re going to do some shopping and we’re going to hang out and check out all the lights in town and just have a little bit of a holiday.
For more about Sarah Smith, visit www.SarahSmithMusic.com.