John Smith

John Smith

‘Songwriting is a muscle you have to exercise’ - folk singer, guitarist and Lianne La Havas musician John Smith gives us the skinny on his latest record, Headlong…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 25 May 2017
  • min read
Folk singer, guitarist and Lianne La Havas musician John Smith is back in 2017 with his fifth, and arguably most accomplished record yet, Headlong.

Produced by Sam Lakeman, Headlong comes dedicated to the memory of folk hero John Renbourn and takes much of its inspiration from the late artist as well as John's wife and newborn child.

This latest records doffs its cap to the folk greats who he played with during the early days of his career - Renbourn plus John Martyn and Davy Graham - but also pushes the sound further towards new musical horizons.

As the follow up to Great Lakes, John's 2013 release, the album also follows extensive touring from John. We caught up with him to learn more about this new record and what else the future has up its sleeves…

How did you get into music?

My dad had me listening to good records from an early age. I picked up the piano aged six, then the drums. I discovered the guitar when I was eleven years old and that was that.

Who/what inspired you to start writing your own songs?

It happened quite naturally because I was always listening to music as a kid. I wrote terrible songs all through my teenage years. Starting out as a performer, I was playing a lot of instrumental music … but I soon realised first-hand that songs have a very different way of connecting with people.

Headlong is your new record - what is the album about? How did you find the creative process behind it?

I wrote the bones of the album during long touring stints across the US - and then put it all together when I got home. The album is largely about traveling, reflecting, growing up. Living for the journey. It's full of love, there's a lot of romance in this one. I had a great time making the record.

What was the inspiration behind the album?

I've gone through a good bit in the last couple of years. Any record I've made has been some kind of attempt to make sense of my thoughts and also to show my current state as a guitarist. This record is no different, but in contrast to other albums I've made it's happy, upbeat and very mellow.

Where do you look for musical inspiration? 

To the guitar, every time. The guitar gives me five times what I put in. I just love it. But I listen to a lot of records. There's a real privilege in listening to other people's work. I take it for granted all the time, and then I hear something that cuts me in half and I remember how great music, and therefore life, really is.

Who would be your dream collaborator? 

I played with Danny Thompson in 2015. That was it.

What's your favourite venue to play?

London Union Chapel. That's a sacred venue. The reverb in there is utterly sublime. It's also one of the only places where you'll hear 1,000 Londoners sit in happy silence! I played Red Rocks in Colorado with David Gray, which was magnificent.

How have you evolved as a songwriter over the years? Do songs come easier the more you write?

It's a muscle that you have to exercise, yes. I'm getting a lot more committed as I get older and time becomes more precious. Recently my songs have been more personal and somehow more comfortable to inhabit. I haven't been leaning on myths or mystical ideas. The new songs are about day-to-day life.

Have you got any tips for overcoming writers' block?  

Write, write, write. It's the only way.

What does the future have in store?

Summer festivals and more touring. I would love to tour solidly for the next couple of years before making another album, but you can't guarantee anything in my line of work. I plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Have you any tips for new songwriters?

Don't compare yourself to everyone else. It will drive you mad.

Headlong is released on 30 June. Listen to Far Too Good from the record below.

Photo credit - Phil Fisk