C&I talks with actor and singer-songwriter Riley Smith about the debut of his new self-titled solo EP.
Riley Smith has developed a name for himself in films like New York Minute and TV shows like CMT’s Nashville and most recently the CW’s Frequency, but lately, the Iowa native has stepped off the stage and into the studio to record his debut self-titled solo EP.
For his new EP, Smith draws on his Midwestern roots to create modern country songs filled with energy and fun. From the love-lost hits “Mad Love” and “I Can’t Keep Missing You” to the melodic “I’m on Fire” and beat-filled “Change of Seasons,” every song signals a promising start to a fine full album.
C&I talked with Smith about the new record, what drew him to country, and some surprising hidden talents.
Cowboys & Indians: You’re mostly known to fans as an actor. What drew you to the music scene and country music?
Riley Smith: I have been playing music most of my life. I grew up on a quarter horse ranch in Iowa, so country music and the Western lifestyle were in my blood.
C&I: You had a role on Nashville as Markus Keen. How did that experience influence your music?
Smith: Markus was a rock star turned crossover country singer on Rayna James’ [Connie Britton] record label, Highway 65. It gave me the opportunity to submerse myself in the city and the music. I was singing on every episode, so I was cutting songs each week for the show, on top of acting. It was a grind, but I grew a lot as a musician and writer during that time. The show opened up doors to meet and write with some really great and seasoned writers. By the time my run on the show ended seven months later, I had 14 demos that I knew I wanted to turn into my first solo record.
C&I: You recently released your new single, “I Can’t Keep Missing You.” What was the songwriting process like
Smith: I wrote the song with the producer of my record, Kevin Leach and Nathan Dantzler, who mixed and mastered the record. We went into the writing session with the idea of a really straightforward, upbeat country song. I wanted to add an element of West Coast country — driving-down-the-PCH, missing-Tennessee vibe.
C&I: What can we expect from your full album?
Smith: Hopefully the lyrics will move some people. I feel like I put a lot of time into the words. The story. I felt like I grew a lot as a writer while in Nashville, and I hope that translates. I think it’s the kind of music that’s honest and relatable. The kind of tunes that will keep ya company on the road.
C&I: What was the process like of taking your ideas from concept to music?
Smith: I have a song idea section in my notes on my phone. Every time I go through something or see something. I put it down in my notes. There’s a lot of them in that phone. So I would show up each day to my cowriters’ and throw some ideas out there. Depending on the vibe, the mood, and the room, we would take one of the ideas. I’d tell them where I was coming from when I thought of it, talk it out, and then start writing it. It almost becomes a therapy session.
C&I: Do you have a song that you’re most proud of?
Smith: They are like my kids at this point. I’ve put so much time in to nurturing each, so I can’t really single one out. They each have something that moved me for a reason and made me want to turn that idea into a song. And it’s fun to see how the listener interprets it and connects to it in their own way.
C&I: Can we expect any touring? If so, what’s a dream venue for you?
Smith: We are tailoring some shows around my acting schedule. August 4, I do my EP-release show at my favorite venue out here in LA called the Hotel Cafe. It’s just down the street from my house and I've been playing there for a decade, so I always feel right at home there.
C&I: What would you like fans to know about you that they might never guess?
Smith: There’s two things most people wouldn’t know. One’s pretty nerdy. I collect Starbucks coffee mugs. I travel a lot and started picking them up in European cities I’d travel through. Then people started giving them to me as gifts. Now I have a ton of them. At this point, I think I’ll try to collect as many as I can and just make it obnoxious.
I also still have two ropes and a cow head with horns in my backyard to rope on. People usually don’t believe I can rope well. I’ll sit out back with a cold one and just rope when I need to clear my mind. It’s my yoga.
C&I: Before we wrap up, gotta ask: What’s on repeat on your playlist?
Smith: Currently, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and always George Strait.
Watch the video below to see Smith's music video for "I'm On Fire."