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Friday, January 15, 2021

Taking life one song at a time

Senior Maddy Smith performs at The Green Frog on Thursday, Nov. 19. She performed original songs and gave away CDs. // Photo by Christina Becker
Senior Maddy Smith performs at The Green Frog on Thursday, Nov. 19. She performed original songs and gave away CDs. // Photo by Christina Becker

Pounding through the pavement, the beat of each step pours through senior Maddy Smith as she heads to class; with sudden inspiration, she pulls out her phone, typing in lyrics and then continuing on her way.

Smith sends the lyrics into motion as she strums her guitar and fills yet another journal with songs, quotes, paintings and inspiration supplementing her passion.

The songwriting is nonstop, and over the past year Smith has written over 100 songs, she said.

During her freshman year at Western, Smith wrote her first song when a friend was going through a rough time. The song, titled “Limelight,” was the first of many to come, Smith said.

Today, Smith tries to write at least one song per day.

Her musical avenue wasn’t a surprise to her family, with Smith’s own mother working as a music teacher. Strings and melodies filled their home throughout her childhood.

“She had me learning how to read music before I knew how to read,” Smith said. Smith’s passion has led her to explore new avenues for the sake of musical inspiration, she said.

In the summer of 2014, Smith visited Nashville for a month. She spent her time there absorbing the music culture, visiting music venues and talking to fellow musicians.

“I definitely find a lot of influence in other people’s music,” Smith said. “I’ll listen to it and it will make me feel something and I’ll expand on that feeling in my own music.”

Her music is a blend of the many artists she admires, such as: Brandi Carlile, Alabama Shakes and Johnny Cash. The genres blend with Smith’s style of indie, alternative and country music with a strong folk and jazz influence, she said.

Taking her performances outside of Bellingham, Smith once waited in line for three hours for the chance to sing at The Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. The venue is a famous one in the music industry, where  several music artists’ careers  — such as country artist Garth Brooks’ — have begun, according to its website.

“There were people there from all over the world,” Smith said. “It’s a very iconic place, and knowing that, and knowing that really famous people have played there, it was definitely a little more nerve-wracking.”

After waiting in line, Smith was put in a lottery system and was chosen to perform by chance.

Maddy Smith records all of her song lyrics, notes, images and other materials in her journal. // Photo by Daisey James
Maddy Smith records all of her song lyrics, notes, images and other materials in her journal. // Photo by Daisey James

In front of a full house, Smith played her song  “Five Years Old,” one she recently finished recording for her EP “Hudson Bay.”

“Hudson Bay” was recorded in Seattle and produced through Tim Holeski, who was introduced to Smith through her guitar teacher. The EP features four original songs by Smith, which she played rhythm guitar and sang vocals for.

Not all of the songs Smith writes will have their day on the stage, however.

“I have 130 songs, and of those I could play 60 of them happily,” Smith said.

Senior Karimeh Daneshmandi experienced Smith perform for the first time three years ago at an Open Mic Night in Nash Hall.

“She’s got a lot of drive and she’s really talented and offers something different to the music industry,” Daneshmandi said.

Daneshmandi still makes an effort to see Smith perform, she said. 

“I really support her music. She has such a unique voice and interesting sound,” Daneshmandi said.

Holeski was drawn to Smith’s music because of her abilities as a songwriter, and while most young artists write their own songs, the quality of Smith’s writing  is what sets her apart from others, he said.

“The important element of a great song is the ability to set a mood; to capture a mood and to take the listener on a journey. She does that really well,” Holeski said. “She paints a beautiful picture with her lyrics.”

The time spent on her music has been fueled by support from her family, Smith said. Smith’s parents offer support even with the mention of dropping out of college and focusing solely on her music, she said.

It didn’t start with the guitar, however. In first grade, Smith picked up the cello, something she pursued for the following 10 years.

In her junior year of high school Smith put down the cello and decided to try her hand at the guitar. The guitar allowed Smith more freedom to express herself than the cello, which forced her to follow the rules of classical music, she said.

With guitar in hand, Smith began writing her own songs.

“I felt like I could relate to it more,” Smith said. “I feel very human when I am playing music and I am writing.”

Her family began recognizing how connected Smith was to her music.

“Maddy always comes alive when she thinks about music,” her father Adam Smith said. “She has enthusiasm and life when she’s doing what she’s good at.”

Those around Smith see a bright future ahead.

“I really think she’s going to go places, and I’m excited for her,” Daneshmandi said. 

Pen to paper each day, Smith believes that she could be content living off her music for the rest of her life; it’s just something she loves to do, she said.

“It doesn’t matter to me necessarily how successful I am. Just if I am successful enough to get by on a music career,” Smith said.

Maddy Smith practices chords on her acoustic guitar before her performance later that day at The Green Frog. Smith plays the cello, piano and electric guitar, but said she likes the acoustic guitar best. // Photo by Daisey James
Maddy Smith practices chords on her acoustic guitar before her performance later that day at The Green Frog. Smith plays the cello, piano and electric guitar, but said she likes the acoustic guitar best. // Photo by Daisey James

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