The set-up sounds like a scene from the hit television show Nashville. Journalist meets up with a singer-songwriter at a trendy coffee shop in East Nashville. The two sip wholesome smoothies made of strawberries and soy milk — organic, of course — and sit quietly at a table nestled by the window.
But there’s nothing scripted about Mindy Smith. She’s a creative soul with an intriguing demeanor and a hearty laugh.
“The thing is, you just can’t go back and tell yourself stuff,” she said revealing her thick Long Island accent. “In fact, if I could, what would I say? ‘Hang in there’? Every day’s a ‘hang in there’ kind of thing.”
As Smith prepares for the 10-year anniversary show celebrating her debut album, One Moment More, at Nashville’s City Winery on Saturday (Oct. 25), she admits she’s excited while also anxious for the intimate evening. Revisiting the album, she spoke about the events that led to her emotionally-charged lyrics and the sentiments behind her poignant first project.
“It seemed like such a long time coming,” she recounted. “Now, it’s such a long time gone. When you’re younger — which I wasn’t very young, I was in my early ‘30s when that record came out — you think you can handle everything. But no one can prepare you for what it takes to be a full-time artist. I struggled with the balancing of that. But since then, I’m thankful to be able to maintain a steady flow of music that I believe in. I guess, to me, that’s the dream gig.”
Named after the heart-rending ode to her mother who passed away after battling cancer, One Moment More proved a career-defining project for the singer-songwriter. Showcasing her undeniable writing abilities and fresh talent, Smith secured the Americana Music Association’s first-ever emerging artist of the year award in 2004.
Since that time, she’s gained a following and released four other studio projects and collaborated with artists like Amy Grant, Buddy Miller and Matthew Perryman Jones. Her music has been featured on the big screen as well as Grey’s Anatomy and HBO’s Six Feet Under. Her latest work can be found on Songs for Shelter Me, a compilation album promoting the PBS pet adoption series.
But perhaps one of her biggest feats came right before the release of her first album when well-known producer Steve Buckingham called Smith to invite her to sing on a Dolly Parton tribute album, Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton. Stunned and flattered, Smith worked up her own version of “Jolene,” a song that would also become the bonus track on Smith’s own debut.
“She disarmed me quickly,” Smith said of the Country Music Hall of Famer. “She made me feel relaxed and that’s a gift. She’s sweet. I’m a girl from Long Island singing with one of the queens of country! It still kind of baffles me.”
In the liner notes of One Moment More, Smith refers to the album as a “diary of songs,” quite fitting for a collection written over the span of several years. Sentiments of pain, regret, loss and loneliness find warm homes next to tunes whispering encouragement and determination. The album opener, “Come to Jesus,” begins as a haunting melody followed by a promising message of brighter days ahead.
“Things were hard when I wrote that song,” she said, revealing a few unfortunate events that led to the tune’s inspiration, including being mugged in front of her apartment. “Really hard. It was awful. All this stuff happened, and it was constant, and I was like, ‘Oh, why me? Why is life so bad and horrible?’”
Despite her gloomy circumstances, Smith constructed a piece built with faith and promise: “Child, when life don’t seem worth livin’/Come to Jesus and let him hold you in his arms.”
Growing up, Smith’s parents were heavily involved with the church, her father a minister and mother a musical director. Inevitably, Smith was influenced by the sounds of Christian music like the Imperials and the Gaithers. In fact, years later, the Gaither Vocal Band would cover the tune and earn a nod for bluegrass song of the year at the 2012 Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards.
“That, to me, is the epitome of a full circle,” she said with a smile. “I believe God breathed it through me, and I was able to put it to paper. Honestly, sometimes when I’m writing certain songs that seem to really touch people, I do feel like there is a different presence around me when that’s happening.”
Her spirituality can be heard sprinkled throughout the album with tracks like “Come to Jesus,” “Angel Doves” and “Hard to Know.” But perhaps her most stirring and heartbreaking tune is the album’s namesake, “One Moment More,” the cry of an aching young woman mourning the loss of her mother.
“I was lost when I first came to Nashville,” she said. “I just started writing this song, and I’m crying. That was a spewing of how to start that healing process. It was just a realization that, ‘Wow, Mom’s gone. And that sucks. It still sucks, but it is what it is. You’ve got to carry on with your life, Min.’ It helps to have other people that can relate.”
While taking the final sips of her drink and pondering the last decade in Music City — a place she now feels grateful to call home — Smith also zeroed in on the present and looks ahead to the future.
“My whole dream is to maintain that I can go out and play shows, support myself and the people around me that work with me. Make good music,” she said.
“I’m not saying I’ll be any smarter,” referring to herself in 10 years, “but I might be more experienced.”