American songwriter, singer, and playwright, Kirk Smith rejoins the conversation with a series of evocative Americana singles, expanding his body of work which includes the well-received indie rock album, Suddenly Bright Out, and a dozen forward looking plays and theatre pieces like, Despair’s Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio.
I sat down with Kirk to talk; he’d asked me to help him write this bio.
“I grew up in the 80s’, a small town kid with a single mom,” he said. “We had MTV and not much else. Played every sport, rode BMX, failed English in the 7th grade. Finding my way, figuring things out. By 1990 I’d made it to Austin. I was going to school, singing in a band, trying to write songs and plays, making big plans.”
The big plans, the ones that came to fruition at least, included a long string of productions at the Vortex, a theatre in Austin. Other plays made their way to places as far ranging as Ashville, NC. Lake Charles, LA, and NYC. What happened next?
“Y2K rolled around, I was married with a son, and a daughter on the way. I was in New York performing in a show that I’d written - and I was just bedeviled, really tormented by this crazy, complicated relationship between my ambition and my insecurity. There were good things on the horizon and that’s where they stayed, year after year, just a little farther away than I was willing to go to get them.”
Meanwhile back in Austin the wheels were still turning at the theatre. Kirk wrote The Deluge, an intimate two-person musical and then adapted Moby Dick for the stage. Both productions were successful by most measures. But a larger audience, and a living as a working artist, still hadn’t materialized.
“I decided it would be simpler, and more lucrative, to make a rock record – Suddenly Bright Out - and then to go on tour by myself, with only an acoustic guitar. By 2006 or so I realized it wasn’t. Well, it was simpler.”
He started working construction. Aside from the money he says he needed the physical labor to distract him from what he thought had been a real life failure. And at the end of the day he liked having something practical to show for his efforts. He and his wife owned a house by then, and they bought another, and so on.
“I really just needed to do something else for awhile. I needed to spend that time looking after my family - being a husband and a father, working, coaching little league, teaching my kids how to do stuff. I also took some time to ride motorcycles, learned how to surf, travel, and a whole lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”
So why this? Why now?
“It seemed like I wanted to do it, like I couldn’t not do it. I was learning all these other songs to play with friends on surf trips and whatnot, and then one night I thought I’d just rather be playing my own. So I wrote some things that I thought would sound OK next to Townes Van Zandt or Tom Petty or Neil Finn. Not saying they’re in that league. Just saying, songs that didn’t sound ridiculous by comparison.”
I asked him if he ever worried that the time away might have hurt his chances of having a meaningful music career, or if that was even a goal anymore.
“I think maybe I’m always late to the party; I feel like I am, at least. I was late to punk rock, late to Leonard Cohen. I try not to worry about it. It’s not like I’ve been sitting at home. I’ve been at a different party.”