To know yourself and where you’re from is very important, but being split between two cities can sometimes challenge your identity–not for Washington, DC’s/Georgia’s own singer/songwriter Alice Smith. The visual space and freedom of Georgia’s fields mixed with the hustle and bustle of the District has prepared Smith for her current residence in New York but has also balanced and made her aware of the necessity for room to breathe. When you hear the voice of the statuesque artist with her simple yet powerful character, they often look like they don’t fit. However, when you learn about the Fordham alumni and lover of French writers, it all makes sense. With the enormous amount of success Alice Smith has earned, the academic at heart still vies to keep her life her life, and whether that means going to Kawai to write and record or on a farm in Georgia, it has done nothing but help keep her life easy and her star rising.
Clutch: Describe the experience growing up between Washington, DC and Georgia. What are some things that you remember about those places which molded you into the individual you are today?
Alice Smith: [Laughs from exhaustion and the question] Hmmm… when I used to go to the farm, it was all of us; everybody’s children got shipped off to Grandma’s house [laughs]. That’s not really true, but we did all go there together and we played with each, and it was just free and there was a lot of space that we could just be unafraid in, and that’s different. At home it was just me, my mother and my father, and I had the same kind of freedom but it was a different scenario.
Clutch: How did you transition from studying History and English at Fordham, to becoming a singer/songwriter? Were you always a singer/songwriter?
Alice Smith: I wasn’t always a singer but I was always a writer. The history and English part came because I was a reader so there was just a lot of reading and writing [laughs]. I like stories but I like words. I guess, I was always writing in class but I liked school, I liked academia.
Clutch: Who were some of the people you’ve studied and continue to study musically?
Alice Smith: I study anything I like. Anyone’s voice I got into, I went out and bought the music. So I studied Mariah Carey in elementary school but when I was young it was Nina Simone, the biggest one. That was always my mother’s favorite. My mother says it’s amazing to her how long she’s been listening to Nina Simone and how often she finds new Nina Simone. I remembered I studied Lionel Richie and the Commodores for a while and Donny Hathaway I did for a while, standard stuff. Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, was a big one actually. But Pattie Labelle and Angela Winbush at the same time were my favorites! I used to play that Pattie Labelle cd over and over.
Clutch: Angela Winbush is an interesting one.
Alice Smith: Oh my God! Please, my first concert was Micki Howard and I cried [laughs] at Constitution Hall.
Clutch: You have a very simplistic persona, which sometimes transcends into your demeanor and mannerisms. I assume your life has become extremely hectic. How important is it for you that life be simple?
Alice Smith: That’s super important. I work real hard to keep it as easy as possible. Space is important for me and that’s going back to growing up with space. When I was at home in the city I always had space. I’m attached to having my space but I’m not narcotic about it or anything. I know now better about what I need to be able to do the best work that I can do. Space is important for me but visual space is important for me, and I just figured that out recently.
Clutch: How have you dealt with that, because of your career taking off at times I assume you feel slightly boxed in. Have you had to say no to a lot of things?
Alice Smith: Oh yeah, you have to learn how to say no and you have to learn to say no. The hard part is to do it but it’s hard to do because you pile all this stuff on top of the no when it should just be no. I had to kind of let it go where I wasn’t hurting anybody and they weren’t hurting me. Naturally, I’ve always been that way but you know, you get in a situation with all these different people that I don’t know, and I’m all taking about the things that I do in my quiet time, and I get all bothered with that type of stuff. And it doesn’t have to be like that.
Clutch: With the success of the first album do you feel any pressure from yourself when it comes to working on the next one?
Alice Smith: I’m working on the next one. This stuff [music] is so old that I do. I’m just kind of warming myself back up and getting myself back into the writing groove because I haven’t done it in a long time. I definitely wasn’t ready to start before but now I’m ready to go ahead and get started.
Clutch: Space is definitely needed for that part of the process?
Alice Smith: Yes, I started the recording and writing in Kawai, which is my favorite place on earth right now and I would love to continue in that direction. The ocean always gives me that visual space where there’s like space in front of you to see and that kind of clears a lot of things out very nicely.
(Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao)