Nate Smith, a talented country singer/songwriter, is having a breakthrough year as an artist. His single, “Whiskey On You,” has been certified gold and is moving up the Billboard country and pop charts. He has signed with the Sony Music Nashville label, and he’ll be releasing his debut album early next year (2023).
Although Smith is now riding high in his music career, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, just four years ago, he lived through a dire situation when his hometown of Paradise, California, burned down in the devastating Camp Fire. Although Smith lost everything in the fire, he emerged from this disaster with a newfound determination, and a vision of being able to use his music to help other people, and to restart his career as an artist and songwriter.
In the aftermath of the Camp Fire, Smith was inspired to write and perform a song called “One Of These Days,” which gave hope to other survivors of the fire. The song was so well-received, that Smith soon traveled to Nashville to record the song there. He subsequently recorded and released an EP that contained his songs “Wildfire” and “Reckless.”
Smith eventually moved to Nashville, and signed a deal with Sony Music Publishing. He then focused on his songwriting and collaborating, and he eventually signed a label deal with Sony Music Nashville.
In addition to his hit “Whiskey On You,” Smith is known for his uplifting ballad, “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven,” which is about loving someone so deeply in his present life, that it feels like heaven on Earth. Besides releasing his original solo version, Smith has recorded a powerful rendition with a gospel choir, and an duet version with acclaimed singer, Tenille Townes.
Over the past two years, Smith has become a prolific songwriter and artist. As a result, he has built a large catalog of songs and recordings, leading up to the release of his debut album early next year. Notably, Smith’s album will contain 20 songs that includes five of his previously released songs, along with 15 new songs.
Here’s the video of Nate Smith’s hit, “Whiskey On You.”
With his upcoming album release, Smith is looking forward to embarking on a major tour of stadiums and arenas in 2023, as the opening act for Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Nate Smith. He tells how he got started with music, and how the tragedy of the Camp Fire gave him a new outlook on life and a renewed sense of purpose.
DK: I read that you’re from the town of Paradise, in Northern California. How did you get started with music and writing songs?
Nate Smith: I was actually born in Spokane, Washington, at an Air Force base there. My dad was in the military, so we moved around a bit, but we ultimately ended up in Paradise, which is a small town. My mom would take us to church, and church was one of the first places where I played onstage. My first interaction with music was when I was 9, and I started to play guitar when I was 13, and I played trumpet. I was in the band in junior high and high school.
DK: I read that you first came to Nashville in your early 20s to pursue your music career, but then you eventually moved back to California. Can you talk about your first move to Nashville?
Smith: It was a new experience. I was young, and I fantasized about Nashville in a lot of ways, being excited to meet with record labels and other music people in town. Whereas now, I have a clear vision about why I do music. Now my whole thing is that I want to help people. I want to make music that can touch hearts and make a difference in people’s lives. Still overall, my first experience in Nashville was good, because it gave me the foundation of co-writing and networking. So I think it was a good introduction to Nashville.
DK: In 2018, there was the huge Camp Fire which devastated Paradise. But then you wrote a song called “One Of These Days” which seemed to give comfort to people and got you back into music. Can you talk about this period and writing this song?
Here’s the video of Nate Smith’s new song, “I Found You.”
Smith: It was one of our biggest fears, that if we ever had a fire in town, it would be pretty bad, because there aren’t many ways out of Paradise. There’s a lot of people there and not a lot of exits. So if you can imagine, everyone was trying to leave at the same time. It was really tough to get out of there. But I was very fortunate because I lived right on the main road. So I was able to get out pretty quick before I realized how bad it was. So I got down the hill to a town called Chico, which is the city that’s nearby.
I remember that my brother was calling me, saying he was having a tough time of getting out of there. He was a youth pastor, and some of his youth students were trapped, or some were staying in shopping center parking lots to stay safe. It was a wild experience, and I lost my car and guitar in the fire. But a friend lent me a guitar, and I ended up writing the song, “One Of These Days,” and I flew to Nashville to record it. When people heard the song and were moved by it, I realized that music can make a big difference. That’s what inspired me to start writing songs again.
DK: When you went back to Nashville to record “One Of These Days,” did you stay there from that point on?
Smith: No, I went there just to record that song, and I came back (to California). But then I started making trips to Nashville to write and record, and my sister’s fiancee loaned me a few thousand dollars to record four songs with (a musician/engineer) named Joel Bruyere. Then I made my first EP which had a song called “Wildfire” on it, and the songs “Reckless” and “The Way She Rolls.” I recorded that EP on a loan, and I released it right before I went back to Nashville
DK: You’re now signed with the Sony Music Nashville label. Did they sign you after they heard your EP?
Smith: In a way…that started the momentum. TikTok has been a huge tool that I use, along with Instagram, to try to get my music out there. TikTok is an incredible tool that can help you go viral quickly, which turns into streaming numbers which turns into selling tickets for shows. So once I got to town, I got management pretty fast, and I was thankful for that. Then I got a publishing deal with Sony Music Publishing, with Rusty Gaston (CEO) and Mya Hansen (Senior Manager, Creative).
Here’s the video of Nate Smith’s song “I Don’t Wanna Go
To Heaven” (featuring a gospel choir).
I signed with them and I started writing songs full-time for a year and a half. I was in the studio writing everyday, trying to hone my craft and get the songs right. And Rusty was telling me, “Get your songs right before you get a record deal. That’s the most important thing. Without the songs, you’ve got nothing.” He also said, “Find the greatest song in Nashville, whether you write it or somebody else writes it.” So I went on this hunt to find songs and to write songs, and that’s what we did.
DK: I like your song “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven,” and you recorded additional versions of this song with a gospel choir, and with Tenille Townes. What inspired you to write this song?
Smith: I wrote it with my friend, Dan (Fernandez). We were sitting around and talking about relationships we had in our lives and our experiences, and we really got open and emotional about that. He sat at the piano, and I started humming and saying “Heaven,” and it flowed out between the two of us. We wrote it in a couple hours and it felt right…we just loved it. It stayed as a demo for a minute, until I started teasing it on socials and people were connecting to it. Next thing you know, we put it out. Then I asked my label and manager if we could put out some different versions, and I thought the choir one would be really cool. So there’s me and Joel (Bruyere) in the studio, directing a choir! It was crazy (laughs). And having Tenille (Townes) do it was a huge blessing. She brought something really special to the song. I love her voice and I’m a huge fan.
DK: Currently, you’re having a breakthrough hit with “Whiskey On You.” What’s the story behind writing this song?
Smith: It’s kind of funny. I’d just gotten out of a relationship, two days before I had a writers retreat. (Music exec) Jim Catino has an awesome lake house that’s two hours away from Nashville, and he invited me to come out there. It was the perfect time—I was upset and all that stuff. So I went out there and wrote a bunch of songs, and “Whiskey On You” was one of them. It felt really good, so we recorded the whole demo right there in his kitchen, with my vocals and everything. Then we came back to Nashville and the team liked it a lot and we decided to cut it. So we went in the studio and recorded everything and re-recorded my vocals, but it didn’t feel right like it did when we did the demo. So finally we said, “Let’s just use the demo and mix the demo.” And that’s what on the radio right now.
Here’s the video of Nate Smith’s song, “Sleeve.”
DK: I also like your new song, “I Found You.” Can you talk about writing this song?
Smith: Yeah, that was at a writer’s retreat with a couple of my buddies (Lindsay Rimes & Russell Sutton). And again it’s the same thing. These songs come from a real place of talking about your life and what you felt, and gratefulness. And that song was really about the one that got away, but didn’t (laughs). I love writing songs from a real place.
DK: I just heard your latest song, “Wreckage,” that you’ll be releasing soon. Can you tell me about that song?
Smith: I’m so fired up for this song. I’ve been teasing it on socials [and it’s gotten a strong response]. The song means a lot to me personally and it’s something that I’ve experienced. I knew the day we wrote it that it was something I personally loved, but I couldn’t have imagined that everybody else would. It seems like the right song to put out.
DK: Early next year (2023), you’ll be releasing your first album. Can you talk about the making of your new album, and some of the other songs?
Smith: Yeah, that was an incredible experience. There’s going to be 20 songs on the album. The songs that are out already will be on the album, but I believe there’s 15 new songs. Like I said, I was chasing songs for a year and a half, and these songs came out of that time, and I really feel good about this. We had Serban Ghenea mix it, who’s done a lot of work with The Weeknd and Taylor Swift. And Joel Bruyere and Lindsay Rimes produced the albun. I’m excited for people to hear the whole album. So far, I’ve been putting out one song at a time, and I want people to know a little more about me, and hopefully they’ll connect with those songs in the same way I did.