ARTIST NAME: Todd Michael Smith
SONG TITLE: Silence
RELEASE DATE: 10/1/2018
Todd Michael Smith is a visually-impaired singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer who creates blues-infused classic rock ‘n’ roll.
He has played guitar, bass, and keys for various Boston area bands, including Starr Faithfull, Rolling Nectar, and The Peacheaters, and has degrees from the University of Miami and the Berklee College of Music.
Discuss your music career.
It’s been a long and winding road, as they say. While I taught myself to play guitar playing along with blues-rock greats like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, I also loved music from virtually all genres and was especially intrigued – at a very young age – with the guitar work on Al Stewart’s albums and have always had a soft spot for English folk-rock like Al and Fairport Convention. This led to a rather meandering career playing and writing all sorts of music from alternative rock in the late 80s, to Jeff Buckley-ish prog rock in the 90s, to sensitive songwriter stuffs in the early 2000s, with a diversion into Irish and World music along the way.
After graduating from Berklee, I was the musical director for a 10-piece rock ‘n soul review, then the guitarist and musical director for folk-rock artist Grace Morrison, and later joined acclaimed Boston hard rock outfit, Starr Faithfull, on guitar and keys. That led to meeting the fellas in the Allmans Tribute, The Peacheaters, and doing some sub work on guitar for them.
Next came singing in a Led Zeppelin tribute for a few years before switching to bass when I realized I couldn’t sing like Robert Plant anymore. That switch to bass led to being drafted into Rolling Nectar, an original, classic rock-style outfit. I was with Rolling Nectar for about 3 years, and that finally led me back to writing the kind of music I should have been writing all along – straight-forward, bluesy, hooky rock ‘n roll.
I’m also playing guitar and doing some singing in a classic rhythm and blues/soul band I put together, playing black music from the 60s and 70s.
Brief us on how to impress fans during a live performance.
A guy walked up to me not long ago after I sat in with a local blues/funk group and said, “I can tell you always put 110% into it every time you play.” That’s it. I always go for broke every time. Sometimes you miss, but when you hit, there’s nothing like it.
Explain what has motivated you so far in your music career.
I’ve always known I have something that most people don’t have and that I probably had a decent chance of “making it” if I stuck to it. The problem was that I didn’t make very shrewd decisions along the way. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, and my skills continue to improve, it just drives me, even more, to try to make up for the lost time and my confidence continues to grow.
Discuss your experience as an artist.
It’s a mixed bag. I feel like artists are most harshly criticized and demeaned in the U.S. unless they’ve reached a certain amount of success.
You’re stupid to try to make a career in music – unless you’ve made a career in music. I’ve been to Ireland a few times, and it’s night and day. The minute someone finds out you’re a musician, their eyes light up, they buy you a Guinness, and you’re their best friend.
I didn’t have any mentors to guide me when I was younger, and my family was not thrilled about my musical endeavors, so it was tough early on. My uncle gave me his guitars when he went into the military, and that’s what got me started. But he wasn’t around much with all the travel involved.
Tell us the biggest mistake you have ever made in your music career.
When I wrote music in my 20s and 30s, I was always striving to write something “original.” I succeeded at that. But I also succeeded at writing pretty mediocre songs. I should have realized my strengths and exploited them, instead of trying to be Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake rolled into one.
Discuss the story behind the song.
“Silence” is based on one of a handful of riffs I offered to Rolling Nectar while I was part of that band, and, thankfully, they passed on all of them. I’ve developed those riffs into what I think are pretty great songs, certainly the strongest I’ve written.
I wanted to develop it into a big, bluesy number, and the lyrics came pretty fast as soon as I fell on the word “silence” for the chorus. Robin Trower’s singer in the 70’s – James Dewar – has been a big influence on the singing style I’ve developed in recent years, so you can certainly hear that influence.
Tell us how to fund a music project.
I’m not a fan of the fundraiser culture that has arisen. I’m not gonna go beg my friends and family to fund my musical endeavors – that’s a cop-out and admittance of failure. The people who are good enough and write great songs make it regardless of their financial situation.
I pay my own way by working and gigging. And if my songs aren’t good enough to pay their own way, then they’re just not good enough. Period.
Tell us the greatest piece of advice someone has given you as an artist.
No one really ever did – but I came up with my own – exploit your strengths. Find out what you do really well, and do that. Be authentic, but be a pragmatist. Do you want to remain playing in a room somewhere, or do you want to be on a big stage somewhere? Write a good song.
Tell us what you will improve or change in your music.
Songwriting is a never-ending learning experience. I can only hope that I get better at it.
Discuss vocal training and how you protect your vocal.
I’ve learned to manipulate what is a fairly powerful set of vocal cords. But I’m still learning at that as well. I’m a bad example. I love drinking beer when I play and sing. I do avoid smoking, though.
Share your press release and reviews with us.
“Silence” consistently has a Pop Score in the mid-80s to high-90s on Jango Radio. It was also #1 Local, #1 Regional, and made the Top 10 National and #11 Global on ReverbNation.
Discuss your best mood during a performance.
Elation – if you’re lucky enough to hit that auto-pilot zone. That’s always the hope.
List your best artists with reasons.
Pete Townshend / The Who – greatest rock songwriter ever, one of the greatest and most influential guitarists. A brilliant man. The Who are unequivocally inimitable, and that’s what makes them the greatest rock band ever. No one will ever come close. You can imitate Zeppelin, the Stones, and the Beatles – not the Who. Unless you just happen to have Moon, Entwistle, and Daltrey clones living in your neighborhood – and you don’t.
Joni Mitchell – A brilliant woman. One of the most talented musicians and gifted songwriters of the 20th century.
Fairport Convention – Great band in the Sandy Denny / Richard Thompson era – that’s magical stuff I can listen to over and over again.
Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page is a huge influence, of course, on songwriting, production, and guitar. What can you say? It’s Zeppelin!
Discuss your existence as an artist.
I’m an actor as well. These are the things I was made to do. I do them well, and although I work hard at my art, a lot of it does come naturally and easily to me. I have a particular intuition for it.
Tell us the greatest problem you think is facing society and the solution.
Global Warming – The Green New Deal.
Discuss your songwriting and recording.
I generally come up with a riff or chord changes first, and then melodies and lyrics tend to spring into place as I jam on it or it runs through my head throughout the day.
I’m not very good at sitting down to write a song. I record most tracks in a little room at home and go to the amazing pro studio just down the road for heavy lifting.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
Todd Michael Smith – that’s my name! Todd Smith is kind of boring and is also the name of a few other recording artists – like LL Cool J!
State the title of the song and the meaning.
Silence – the pre-chorus and chorus sum it up:
It’s not the words you’re saying
It’s not the way you’re mean
It’s the silence that cuts me to the bone.