David Smith is not your typical college senior. The 24-year-old had a slew of other experiences and possible career paths before he decided to come to Belmont. After obtaining skills in construction work, plumbing, and pool table and dartboard installation, Smith found possibilities at Belmont during his downtime from selling television sets.
Belmont Vision: Tell me a little bit about where you’re from, Davenport, Iowa.
David Smith: It’s on the Mississippi River. It’s a small town. I worked a lot of jobs; construction, plumbing, sold TVs for a while. It’s a pretty plain place.
BV: So what inspired you to get out of that environment?
DS: Well, my mom toured when she was younger. She didn’t go to high school, and she toured in a Greyhound bus with a Southern gospel group called, Smith Family Singers. So singing has kind of been in the family for a long time. For me, I didn’t start singing until I was 20 years old. We would go to this little pub and play open mics. I started playing and people would tell me I was really good. So I just kept playing, kept learning songs, and then started writing, which is a big part of my life now. It was actually at the TV place where I worked that got me to come to Belmont. I was on the computer looking at schools, and my boss came by. I thought I was in trouble when he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking at music schools, and he asked me, ‘Have you checked out Belmont? I heard everybody goes there.’ So I told him I would check it out, and done. That was it. I was sold.
BV: You grew up around your mom’s gospel influences, so how would you describe your style?
DS: Everybody tries to find their voice for a while, so I kind of went through that phase. I listened to a lot of John Legend, a lot of Sam Cooke, tons of Amos Lee, so it’s all soulful stuff. It just really intrigues me. I love to put that kind of feeling into a song. I like this kind of raspy thing that John does. I love Amos’ writing style, I love his melodies. With Sam Cooke, I try to put that kind of emotion into my songs. Jason Mraz was the reason I first started writing kind of quirky songs with fast lyrics and little raps. When I was younger, I only listened to rap. That was it, until I started singing. So rap was a big influence. I could go on for lists and lists of rappers I used to listen to.
BV: Tell me about performing in the 2012 Urban/Pop Showcase.
DS: When you come here, performing in a showcase is kind of your goal as an artist. When I got here, I didn’t know what these showcases were. After a while, I realized they were a huge deal, so I really wanted to get involved. That became my goal. So my second year at Belmont, I submitted some songs, made callbacks, but didn’t get into the Urban/Pop Showcase, but I made it into the Rock Showcase as the host. It was pretty cool. That was my first showcase experience. This last year, I finally got in and for me, it was a time for me to figure out, OK, what’s next? It’s kind of funny. You have these goals, you achieve them, but then you can’t spend too much time soaking it in and celebrating it. You’ve gotta keep going onto the next thing.
BV: As you are getting ready to graduate in May, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned at Belmont?
DS: The biggest thing was, the difference I saw in myself and other people who go here. Other people here were very trained, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s like if you were wanting to go into a field, and you have spend so much time going to school and learning about that field, and then you have someone else who has maybe worked in that field before. They have experience and you just have knowledge. Sometimes the experience overcomes. Since I have played for a while before coming to Belmont, I felt that really benefited me here as a performer. That is what I want to encourage people to do; to go out and play, to perform. Go out to a bar and play. Just get out in front of people and play and you will get much better. Most of my biggest connections have come from singing out of a Starbucks window. It’s those things outside of school that you take chances with that really help your journey.
BV: You changed your major from commercial voice to a liberal studies degree, an adult degree program. What did you do in those few years between high school and starting at Belmont?
DS: After high school, I worked in construction, and that’s what I thought I was going to be. I thought I was going to be laying the hammer down for the rest of my life. In Iowa, that’s kind of your mentality. You get a job, you go to work every day, you pay bills, you build up a good credit, that kind of stuff. Then I worked in plumbing, and then I installed pool tables and dart boards. Then I finally sold televisions. When I started selling televisions, I was making a lot of money because it was all commission. I had people skills, who knew? So I really succeeded really well there. I was making enough money at that point to pay for school. So I took about two years of community college and then transferred to Belmont.
BV: What made you want to transfer to Belmont?
DS: I kept writing music while going to community college and I would try to make CDs in my room. I was really bad at it, I still am. I definitely need professional assistance when it comes to that. I was also playing live about three times a week. For a while, I didn’t even have a job. I just played music because I was able to make about $400 a night. Our band was becoming really successful and we were awarded band of the year. We were an acoustic, comical duo. We played some covers and I would even play some originals. We were getting a ton of support. I just fell in love with it. I used to love basketball, but then I started doing music. I decided it was a dream I had to pursue, and I had to do it while I was still young. I knew I wanted to come to Nashville because it is like this dream city. But I knew I didn’t want to move here without a plan. Although some people say you need to just go for it, I knew I needed a plan. Belmont was a great place for me to start introducing myself to the community and get to know people.
BV: Do you have any post-graduation plans or new goals you want to reach?
DS: As of right now, I’m working on writing. So I am working with a publishing company. I’m not signed yet, but fingers crossed. I’m writing with the CEO and it’s like a trial. You write with them to see how you blend with other writers in the company. If it goes well, it’s possible you could get signed. So that is one plan. In the meantime, I continue just to keep playing and keep writing. I write with Cameron Bedell a lot. We do a lot of stuff together. I just keep on playing. I hear it’s a three-year city, so you just have to give it three years out there, even outside of school.
BV: You were involved in the Pop/Rock ensemble, Phoenix?
DS: I was a part of it last year, but when I left the vocal program, I couldn’t be in it anymore. But it was awesome. I had never been in an ensemble before or anything like that. At first, I just heard everyone talking about how much they wanted to be a part of Phoenix. So I went and saw them perform, and they were really good. If I was going to be in an ensemble, that was the one I wanted to be in. So I went in there, auditioned, and I was soon able to be a part of this really tight nit group of people who are all really, really talented. I remember sitting in Phoenix, looking at the other seven members and thinking, I will someday see one of these people after they are super successful and can say, ‘I sang with them.’ You also become close friends since you are with this small group of people so much. You get to know each other really well.
BV: You’ve played a lot of different shows and venues. Is there one that sticks out to you as a favorite?
DS: I love the Roosters BBQ gigs. And obviously the Urban/Pop Showcase stands out the most, just because it was a big, sweet deal. But my favorite ones are the ones where I can really interact with the crowd. I really like shows where people relax a little. It’s very tense here.
BV: What can fans of your music expect in 2013?
DS: 2013 is kind of a revamp year for my style. It’s going to be very soulful music. I’m going back to straight, kind of old- school soul.