Caitlyn Smith is a singer-songwriter based in Nashville. Smith has written for the likes of Meghan Trainor and John Legend (‘Like I’m Gonna Lose You’), Dolly Parton (‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’) and Lady Antebellum (‘427’). Most recently Smith co-wrote the song ‘Glasgow (No Place Like Home)’ for the film Wild Rose, which won Best Song at the Critics Choice Awards.
In 2018, Smith released Starfire, her first release with Monument Records. It was a cinematically rich and powerful record filled with yearnings and frustrations of love, heartbreak, and Smith’s career as a singer and songwriter. Starfire chronicled her journey from songwriter for others to singer and songwriter for herself.
On Friday 13th March, Smith will release Supernova, the follow up to Starfire, produced by Leggy Landon. They say it takes you your whole life to write you first record and then you hit the sophomore slump – what else do I have to say? In Smith’s case she just dug a little deeper.
“I had years to collect songs for the first album,” says Smith. “This time I was much more focused going in, I had a better idea of what I wanted to create. Being on the road and playing for a lot of different audiences, I gained a good sense of what works live, which contributed a lot to the songs and production choices.”
The only problem with catering to what live audiences want is that you can end up losing your convictions. Those tiny moments and little vignettes give way to overly anthemic songs with big choruses, where the production becomes the priority over the lyrics.
If Starfire was a painting of people, stories and moments in Smith’s life, Supernova is the colours, the brushstrokes, the light reflected off the canvas, set against the backdrop of folk-rooted pop with vast soundscapes stretching to the horizon. In Smith’s own words, “A lot of these songs are little vignettes, details of life,” she says. “We’re constantly bombarded by so much noise, and I wanted to create a record that held all those tiny moments—the ups and downs—that make life so beautiful.”
The opening song ‘Long Time Coming’ feels and sounds like the musical embodiment of “the dark night of the soul”, that place we all find ourselves at some point. The big distorted guitars and echoing production bring to mind sitting in a house in the dark as thunder rolls around you, hoping and praying that you will make it to the morning unscathed. It’s the emotions that are important in this song, the desperation and the loneliness but also the hope that is just within reach.
Sometimes, it feels like I’m dying/ Like it’s gone black and white, and I’m caught in a dream/ But I see the birds in the sky, they’re high flying/ But I’m stuck in this room with just you and me/ But the weather’s changing right before my eyes
‘All Over Again’ is another where the specificity of the emotion guides the song. The song explores that age-old question: if you knew how it ended, if you knew how much it would hurt, would you do it all over again?
Your heart would take me higher than the stars/ You’d sing so low I’d lose you there in the dark/ I knew how bad I had to let you go/ But what we had was so damn beautiful
‘Put Me Back Together’ might be the only song where the other character comes alive. The person that loves the stars, loves sitting on the car hood smoking cigarettes, the guy that doesn’t care if you’re broken and mean. It was the first song to be released from the album and it remains my favourite. It’s the call and response chorus, the moments Smith paints, the ugly bits people don’t really talk about, and the way each chorus climbs higher and higher into the stratosphere.
You don’t care that I’m broken/ You don’t care that I’m mean/ You just say that I’m golden/ Like a Jesus piece
The album is named after one of the songs, which sits perfectly at the midway point. ‘Supernova’ is about the overwhelming feeling that life is short and so very temporary. It is pinned together by a series of fleeting moments. Moments that we desperately try to hold onto but which can never be truly ours; children being children, parents staying parents, and people forever remaining in our lives just as we want them to.
“The song ‘Supernova’ is kind of a sad love song about how short life is, and it set the bar for the emotion of this record,” she says. “A supernova is a blast, the final and fullest expression of a star, and, to me, its most beautiful form. I made it the album title because I wanted the album to represent a whole range of emotions. I wanted each song to have that weight, to sit in its utmost emotion.”
Smith’s convictions of keeping the tiny moments at the centre of Supernova’s universe seems to get lost somewhere after the midway mark, giving way to songs like ‘Rare Bird’, ‘Midnight in New York City’ and ‘Fly Away’. But it isn’t too long before you are drawn back into those tiny moments.
The last two songs, the sensuous ‘Feel That Way’ and the ‘Lonely Together’, bring Supernova back to where it all started: the brushstrokes on life’s canvas.
‘Feel That Way’ lets you drift inside the bluesy production and Smith’s soft and longing vocals.
While I spin around in a dream dancing with you/ A string of white lights beneath the red velvet moon/ I don’t wanna wake up
The twelfth and final track, ‘Lonely Together’ brings Supernova to a gentle close. It is a sparse and delicate song, filled only with Smith’s vocals and her piano, giving you a chance to just sit and let those feelings wash over you in waves.
There is a closeness to the song, an intimacy of sharing something precious with someone. It has a bitter sweetness to it, “hold me, let’s be lonely together”.
‘Lonely Together’ ends how it began, with the same piano chords. The tiny moments, the ups and the downs, the bits that make life beautiful, all come together in this song.
You got a heart like mine/ I can name every colour
Supernova comes out on Friday 13th on Monument Records.