British singer and songwriter Sam Smith spent 45 minutes answering questions about his music, thoughts about his album, and his personal life after a sound check for a sold-out September show at Echostage, in Washington D.C.
The D.C. Chapter of Grammy U, a community of aspiring college student musicians asked questions to the 22-year-old soulful London singer as part of the chapters’ field trip. The students have had opportunities to meet several musicians – including Ziggy Marley, where the stars provide tips and encourage the adoring fans who hope to pursue a recording industry career.
Smith has been rising in the charts since the release of the single Latch in 2012, and followed up with releasing In the Lonely Hour in the United Kingdom on May 26 and in the United States on June 17. The albumincludes the hit singles Stay with Me and Money on my Mind, both hit No. 1 in the UK, with Money on my Mind becoming a global hit, reaching the top 10 in more than 10 countries, including the United States. The album sold 166,000 albums in its first week of release. It has been a vastly successful year for Smith with Stay With Me selling more than a million records in the U.S.
The students eagerly were looking for words of wisdom from someone who hit the big time rather quickly.
Smith didn’t disappoint.
Grammy U meets Sam Smith
The Grammy U students strolled into Echostage to find Smith, accompanied by three backup singers, a pianist, a guitarist, and a bass player, performing his latest single, Stay With Me.
Shortly after finishing the song, Smith walked over to the end of the stage sat down, grabbed the microphone, and greeted the students. He gave a brief introduction, and then, thanked the students for coming and students graciously thanked him for his time.
One-by-one Smith sincerely answered each question with an honesty rarely seen these days. He opened up to strangers and expanded on sensitive issues, including his own sexuality.
Smith, who previously told the world he is gay, said his sexual orientation is a “non-issue.” He says he has never been treated differently because of his sexual preference.
Students praised him for coming out and supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, which triggered Smith to open up about the inspiration behind his latest album In the Lonely Hour.
It originated from a recent relationship and heartbreak he suffered.
“I just wanted to talk about him and have it out there. It’s about a guy and that’s what I wanted people to know,” he said. “I want to be clear that that’s what it’s about.”
Smith said he loved the man, but the man didn’t love him back so they broke off their relationship.
Heartbreak wasn’t the only attribute that encouraged In the Lonely Hour, but, a mixture of love, life, and self-improvement played a part.
When asked about writing his own music, Smith said he writes all of his music but occasionally he collaborates with others because it helps the creative process.
Smith said he finds muses and ideas in his text messages and his diaries as well as conversations with his close colleagues.
But the recording business does not always have the best intentions for you, he warned the students.
“The industry does have a lot of deceit and untrustworthy people but there are some genuine people as well,” he said.
Smith compared surrounding yourself with honest and genuine people to having good parents.
“Parents will push you and will tell you exactly what you need to do instead of just agreeing to everything and wasting space,” he said. “They will tell you the brutal truth. Parents will let you make your own decisions, but still, challenge you.”
Smith also advised students to have a full understanding of contracts and additional agreements, which might explain why he is on his 10th manager. He didn’t explain what happened to the last nine, but said hire a manager who is active and not lazy.
He didn’t provide details about being on his tenth manager. His manager was standing on the right side of the students. But he did express how important it is have a manager who knows the business and who is active and not lazy.
He also took a few shots at what inhibits his freedom to record.
“Record labels tend to take creative freedom from artists, as an artist your finest work comes from having freedom and being able to step away from the trends,” said.
The critics share also some of the blame because he says they label music instead of letting the music speaking for itself. Smith, for example, has been labeled as a pop artist, but he says he may explore a jazz or an electronic album. He also has a few ideas on what musicians he might consider laying down a few tracks with.
“Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder just to name a few are artists I imagined working with. Both of those musicians have different sounds,” he said. “As an artist you should be able to make any kind of music you want. Who says an artist can’t reach a diverse level of artistry?”
Smith ended the interview and walked off stage to personally greet the s tudents. The students gathered alongside Smith to take a few pictures. Moments later, Grammy U’s ambassador Kayencha Daugherty thanked Smith for his time and the students waved goodbye.
“Sam Smith has the perfect attitude to become a legend. Not only is he a good singer, but, also, he has the ability to connect and open up to his fans. That type of artist you don’t come across these days,” Grammy U member Monzona Whaley, a 23-year-old Morgan State graduate, said.
Smith is not done touring in the United States. Riding the success of his recent album In the Lonely Hour, Smith is scheduled to perform a January 12 concert at the Patriot Center in Virginia.
Baltimore native Chanet Wallace is a senior studying journalism at Bowie State University. Besides being a full time student, Chanet is on a mission to shift the culture. Right now she’s plotting on how she can creatively inspire someone if not everyone.