Labor of love
Kathleen Smith grew up in Reno, writing poetry and singing in choir. At age 19, while studying theater at the University of Southern California, a friend suggested that she put one of her poems to music. She did, and that sent her down a whole new path toward a career as a singer-songwriter.
“It was just this moment of ’Oh my gosh, this is my thing,’” she said in a recent interview. “I found my thing and just started trying to be a musician, even though I had no idea what that meant.”
Smith stayed in Los Angeles for a few more years, had a day job in MTV’s legal and licensing department, and lived in New York for a while. She made some EPs, appeared on the Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Workshop on NBC and played at the Living Room, an acoustic venue in Manhattan that was once Norah Jones’ launchpad.
She wanted to dedicate even more time to writing songs and making a full-length album.
“I decided I owed myself a chance to make music 100 percent of the time,” Smith said. “I had been marinating in this record I wanted to write, Love Superstar.”
Inspired by Bon Iver, whose debut album was made in solitude in a cabin in Wisconsin, Smith and her husband moved to a remote spot in New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains. In a barn with a wood stove, she wrote songs and beefed up her sound-engineering skills. In 2014, she recorded Love Superstar, a full-length album of jaunty, upbeat tunes with titles like “Giddy” and “Believe,” lots of warm acoustic guitar and piano, and a voice made of sunshine.
Smith said that love plays a big role in her life and her work, and not just romantic love.
“Love Superstar really is all about love and following your dreams and following your heart,” she said. “I bow down at the altar of love. And I don’t mean little-L, like the Hallmark stuff, I mean in the core of my being, the way I’m wired as a person and an artist, I believe all of this is love, in different forms, that love is so much bigger than maybe we have been raised or shown to realize. … That we can tap into love is one of the most magical things in the universe.”
To that effect, Smith said the connection and sense of community she finds with her audiences is a critical part of her performances.
“Overall, I love playing rooms that are listening rooms,” she said. “I love getting to really be in a space with the audience, where the space is set so people can connect on a heart level.” She especially likes playing house concerts because, she said, “I love chatting with people. I love getting to know people, having some snacks and bubbly water for like an hour, then we play a set. Then we hang out some more.”
At the moment, Smith is planning to move to a bigger pond, Santa Fe, and she’s working on a new album that has a title—Medicine—but not a release date.
First though, she’ll finish up a three-week tour with two Nevada dates, both, of course, in intimate, friendly venues.