Singer-songwriter Darden Smith earned his stripes in the in the early days of Americana, building devoted audiences on the Austin circuit in the 80s. Since then, Smith’s songwriting has taken him on a circuitous journey as a performer, philanthropist, collaborator, teacher, and now inevitably back to songwriter as he releases his Compass Records debut Love Calling, Love Calling was recorded in Nashville and produced by Gary Paczosa and John Randall Stewart and features 11 news songs, including co-writes with Radney Foster, Gary Nicholson and the late Harley Allen. In a new “behind-the-song” video, Darden discusses his co-write with Allen and gives a very special performance of “Seven Wonders.” below:
Smith is known for pursuing new creative paths and pushing himself past his comfort zone, keeping his music fresh long after others have fallen into the recycling routine. One such path was forged in the mid-1990’s when Smith began collaborating on dance/theater productions in Austin. This led to an even bigger challenge when he accepted a commission by the Austin Symphony to compose “Grand Motion,” performed in 1999. Both of these projects, which could be called sidelines, informed Smith’s self-released Marathon (2010), a haunting song cycle named for a remote town in West Texas.
As Smith puts it, “Exploring this other work forced me to look at how I was pigeonholing and limiting myself. Am I just a songwriter? A singer-songwriter? A folksinger? A musician? This opened up how I defined myself, no longer as just one thing. I was about 40 then and the last decade or so has been the most creative time of my work life.”
Smith’s expansive vision for his music extends well beyond being a singer-songwriter. Love Calling developed organically as Smith immersed himself in projects that kept him out of the spotlight but profoundly influenced his music—and the life his music reflects. In 2003, he launched The Be An Artist Program, which uses songwriting to help students discover their own creativity. From there, Smith created “Songwriting With Soldiers”, a program that taps into the power of collaborative songwriting to awaken creativity and give people faith in their own voice. Participants have ranged from homeless youths at Covenant House in Newark, New Jersey, corporate clients seeking conflict resolution, and service members returning from combat. Fall 2013 marks Smith’s second year as Artist-In-Residence at Oklahoma State University’s Institute For Creativity and Innovation, where he explores creativity with students in the classroom and in mentoring sessions.
“With a lot of the work I’m doing now, these big projects, I kind of had to start operating beneath the radar. This allowed me the freedom and flexibility to look outside myself, says Smith. “I just opened up to these new possibilities, new ways of working. And the more I kept opening up and saying yes to new ideas, the more fun I had, the more creative things got. And the more songs I wrote.”
So, for Smith, Love Calling represents something of a culmination, a milestone, a circle completed. The album finds him pushing forward while looking back, bringing together projects that ultimately share the same creative energy.
As Darden maintains, “To me, it’s all the same, all music. Just music.”