Twin Cities musician enjoys newfound popularity

Story by Annelise Tarnowski

If you took my advice from last week’s article, that means you made the trip over to Vaudeville Mews to see Twin Cities native Caroline Smith.

The band was previously named Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps, but dropped the latter half of the name once they decided to go a new direction with their sound on “Half About Being a Woman.” It’s the same band, but with a facelift.

I spoke with Caroline the day of her Des Moines show last week.

Annelise Tarnowski: I was looking at the schedule for this tour, it looks like you’re going all over the country. Very cool.

Caroline Smith: I know. Good thing I like the people in my band.

AT: What have you all been doing to prepare for this next part of the tour?

CS: So our label is out of Colorado, so we got to hang out with them for a few days and we all just kind of set up in the studio below their little independently run office, and we just really dove into these songs.

We really wanted to, like, give them new life. We wanted them to sound really good, so we just rehearsed our butts off for a few days.

And on our break home, we rehearsed even more. We really want to sound good. We really want the record to translate into our live show.

AT: Give me an example of a day in the life of Caroline Smith on tour.

CS: Oh my god, it’s so unhealthy, I’m ashamed to even talk about it. Yesterday was a good example.

So, we had to get here to do a radio thing for Iowa Public Radio, which is really cool, and we were in Studio One, and then we did a show, and we woke up at 9 a.m. I went and picked everybody up and then we had practice at 10:00. We drove all the way here, set up and played. We’re all exhausted, chugging coffee by the handle and then we went out and had the most disguising, awful hibachi dinner.

Which was so good, though. Tonight, we’re going to go to the show and probably drink too much beer and not eat dinner and then eat pizza at, like, 2 a.m. and then go to sleep.

AT: You guys sound like rockstars.

CS: I know. The ladies in the band. We all feel so bad about it after a week of it. I brought my running shoes, so we’re going to, like, really try to keep our stamina up, here.

AT: Since you’ve done a few days of this tour so far, how do you anticipate the rest of it going?

CS: You never know, really, because if you think the tour is going to go well, and you have high hopes, it doesn’t.

And if you think the tour’s gonna be really bad, it usually goes really well. I’m not a terribly superstitious person, but that always seems to ring true. I try to actively be like, “It’s going to be awful!” so that it will be good.

AT: Kind of like the old “break a leg” theatre adage.

CS: Yeah. Exactly. I seriously think that’s true. So how’s the tour going to go? We’re all going to break all our legs.

AT: Perfect. What is the transition right now like, going from Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps to just simply Caroline Smith?

CS: It’s so much more fun. My personality was really not congruent with the type of music we were doing before. I’m a loud, kind of boisterous woman.

I’m a little inappropriate at times, and I like to have fun, and I just wanted to make music that made other women feel — and men — confident and feel good about themselves.

The music I was making before. I was young, I was trying to find my place in the world, I was trying to find my own identity. I feel like that was reflected in some of those old records. The R&B-pop and pop music is what I listen to, so I really wanted to make a record that I would listen to.

When the boys and I went into the studio and made the record, they were ultimately the ones that were like, “We should drop the ‘Good Night Sleeps.’” And I was like, “I thought you guys liked the band name.” They said, “No, we hate the band name. We thought you wanted it.”

Yeah. Everything that happened was so natural and organic, and it just all fell into place, and it all felt really right for us. Things were feeling really wrong for us for a few years. We were finding our voice, and when this change came about, it felt very natural.

AT: How much effect do you think that has on how people receive you as a band now?

CS: I was really nervous. I am shocked every day that I have fans. I appreciate all the people that support me, more than I can express with words, and so that was a lot of pressure for me.

I didn’t want to let anybody down. But at the end of the day, ultimately if what I’m doing is genuine, it will translate, and they’ll like it. And the response is overwhelmingly positive.

AT: This seems like a pretty big tour. You’re going all around the country, now, and starting to make it big. What does it look like to you to “make it big?”

CS: You know what, I don’t think any artist ever looked around and was like, “I made it!” You know, we feel, like, very small-fry. I mean, I would love to pay my band more I would love a new van I would love to sell out shows and stuff like that, so that’s the kind of stuff you focus on when you want to keep growing. There’s always the carrot at the end of the string.

AT: When was the first time that you knew that this change was going to be a good change?

CS: What kind of started it, was that we covered this Aretha Franklin song — originally a Ray Charles song, but we did it in the style of Aretha Franklin — and it was called “Drown In My Own Tears,” and it was soul. It was very different than what we were playing. And I just wanted to sing on stage, you know, I just wanted to belt it out. Everybody’s reaction was like, “Whoa! There she is. There’s her voice.”

When the reaction was so strong to that, I kind of knew what I had to do. I loved singing that song and that kind of made me want to write a batch of songs that were as emotive as that song, and when I started going for it, the songs just started coming so easily.

I was so much happier. I think from that point on it kind of clicked, and we knew what we were doing.

AT: Since the songs come so easily, from where do you get your inspiration?

CS: I always struggled with what I wanted to write about, and I think that struggle was eminent in what the songs were sounding like, and I had to kind of tap into what I wanted to say. And the inspiration came from my girlfriends, and giving advice to my girlfriends, or just messing around with my girlfriends. You know, “You’re too good for him,” just empowering my girlfriends, and honestly most of the material for this record came from that.

AT: That’s exactly what this record sounds like. Well, I’ve been curious forever: What does “Bloodstyle” mean?

CS: Everybody asks me that. It’s just a term I kind of made up. Some songs just write themselves, and that was one of them that wrote itself, but I think it means someone that just kind of gets under your skin a little bit.

AT: Any other comments about the tour, the band, love?

CS: I would say that it always helps to send friends and family members out to our shows and to places where you know people. Take a look at our dates and help us spread the word.

Des Moines band Dustin Smith and the Sunday Silos opened for Caroline Smith with their soul-filled set that had an R&B undercurrent.

Caroline’s set drew in the large crowd, who closely followed her through the energetic tracks just as much the slow, soulful ones.

If you missed the show, check out her upcoming tour dates in another city and snag those tickets.