In the ‘80s & ‘90s, singer/songwriter Patty Smyth made her mark as a powerful singer and popular artist. In the early ‘80s, she fronted the rock band Scandal, which had several hits, including the female empowerment anthem, “The Warrior.” Then in the late ‘80s & early ‘90s, she launched a successful solo career, and had a big hit with the ballad “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (featuring Don Henley).
Following the success of her solo album, Patty Smyth, in 1992, Smyth continued to release a few songs and she has steadily toured. However, it’s been a full 28 years since she’s released an album of new songs. But that’s about to change, because this week (on Oct. 9) she’s releasing her new album, It’s About Time.
This new album is a strong return for Smyth. Consisting of six original songs co-written by Smyth, plus two cover songs, the album shows that Smyth’s lead vocals are in excellent form, sounding just as dynamic and compelling as they did decades ago. In addition, Smyth has written several thoughtful, articulate songs that reflect on her life and experiences in recent years.
The album’s leadoff song, “Drive,” is a terrific cut that’s one of the best songs of her career. This song infuses her classic pop/rock sound with a modern attitude and fresh production. “Drive” was a key song for Smyth, because after she wrote it, it motivated her to continue recording and release a full album. “Drive” and most of the songs on It’s About Time were recorded in Nashville and produced by Dann Huff, a top producer & songwriter who has worked with many artists including Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and Faith Hill.
Other key songs on It’s About Time are “Build a Fire” (a hooky, uptempo cut), the heartfelt ballad “Losing Things,” and the new songs “No One Gets What They Want” and “Only One.” In addition, Smyth recorded cover versions of two classic songs: “Downtown Train” and “Ode to Billie Joe.”
Over the past 25 years, Smyth has also led an interesting life away from the music business. In 1993, she met tennis star John McEnroe, and they became a couple and married in 1997. They raised a large family including two daughters, who are now fully grown. Smyth & McEnroe have lived together in New York City and in Los Angeles.
Here’s the video of Patty Smyth’s new single, “Drive.”
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Patty Smyth. But before we get started, here’s a brief discography of her work with Scandal, and her solo career.
With Scandal, Smyth sang lead vocals on the chart singles “The Warrior” (her biggest hit with Scandal), “Goodbye to You,” “Hands Tied,” “Love’s Got a Line on You” and “Beat of a Heart.” Scandal’s album, Warrior (in 1984), was certified platinum. For her solo career, she released the albums Never Enough (1987) and Patty Smyth (1992). Her solo hits were the ballad “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart) and “No Mistakes.” Notably, in 1994 she co-wrote and recorded the song “Look What Love Has Done,” which was featured in the hit movie Junior (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Here’s our interview with Patty Smyth:
DK: You’re about to release your new album, It’s About Time. Is this your first full album of new songs in 28 years?
Patty Smyth: Yes, I guess that’s true (laughs). I put out a greatest hits album in 1999, with two original songs. So I guess you mean an album of original songs. On my new album, it’s all songs that I wrote, except for the two cover songs.
DK: Can you talk about your journey over the past two decades?
Smyth: I’m always a person who says, you’ve got to live a life to write about anything. Over the last 20 years, I’ve kept writing songs, and I’ve been going down to Nashville, doing songwriting sessions with people, and cutting songs that a country artist might do. I have many songs—I always say my daughters have all my demos on their iPhones. They love them all, and they’re like, “You’ve gotta release them.”
So I was always writing, but I couldn’t quite figure out which producer to get in the studio with. I felt that was really important. And it took me awhile, because I guess I had to wait until I wrote that song, “Drive.” I believe writing that song [was a turning point]. When I wrote “Drive,” I was here in L.A. and I wrote it with (songwriter) Gerald O’Brien. He had two music track ideas, and I came up with some melodies for both of them. Then I took them home and finished “Drive” at home in New York.
Here’s the video of Patty Smyth’s new song, “Build a Fire.”
“Drive” became sort of a love letter to my sister and my childhood. That’s what the song was about. [I was] feeling we had somehow forgotten who we were to each other. And I think that song was the impetus…I’m gonna write these other songs around it. I had a couple of other songs, “Build a Fire” and “Only One.” And then I wrote “I’m Gonna Get There,” “No One Gets What They Want” and “Losing Things.” That’s when I thought…I’ve got a lot to say right now, about a lot of different subjects. It felt like the right time [to make an album].
Also, I had met Liz Rose, who’s a great songwriter. I was going to Nashville more to hang with her, because she’s one of my BFFs right now. Then I went to a BMI Awards show and I ran into (producer) Dann Huff, who played guitar on one of my records. He’s a great guitar player, and now he’s a big Nashville producer. And I figured that he has a rock sensibility, but he can also do Americana and whatever else I would need. So I asked him if he could [work with me]. So he and his brother, Dave Huff and Ilya Toshinsky produced six songs, and then Ilya and I did “Downtown Train” and “Ode To Billy Joe” together.
DK: When I asked you about your journey over the past two decades, I thought you might talk about your family life and raising your daughters. And I know you’ve been married to (tennis star) John McEnroe for 25 years. But it sounds like you’ve always been writing songs, and you were just picking the right time to put new music out. Is that right?
Smyth: I think that’s how it turned out. Of course, I wanted to be a good mom. But I’ve been touring almost every summer since 2004, playing between 10 and 25 shows over a four-month period. And I’ve had the same band [for the most part]. You don’t have to sacrifice, because it’s easy to go into the studio and be home, especially with home studios now.
You know, you can’t have it all. I wouldn’t have been able to put out records and tour for 10 months a year. But I probably could have put out a record sooner.
DK: On your new album, your vocals sound really strong, as good as it did 30 years ago. How have you managed to keep your voice in good shape all these years?
Here’s the video of Patty Smyth & Scandal’s classic hit,
Smyth: Thank you for that compliment. I have a lot of theories on that one. Man…my voice sounds like I feel, not how I look (laughs). And (years ago) I found a great voice teacher named Joan Lader, who coaches a lot of Broadway stars.
DK: Currently, we’re all experiencing the pandemic and shutdown. But when things open up, will you be playing shows and touring again?
Smyth: I mean, does a bear shit in the woods? (laughs). Yes! I do want to play live…I miss it a lot. Although I don’t know how we’re gonna be able to do that, because there’s going to be such a glut (of artists all wanting to tour again).
DK: I wanted to ask you about your classic hit, “The Warrior.” I know a lot of people who love that song (which was written by Holly Knight & Nick Gilder). Can you talk about recording that song, and the impact this song has had on your career?
Smyth: It’s funny, because (legendary producer) Mike Chapman, who also wrote with Holly Knight and produced the album (Warrior), brought us “The Warrior.” It’s funny, because I’m impulsive, and that can be good and bad. In this instance, I knew the song was a hit, and I knew I could sing the shit out of it. That was the first thing that I thought. And I wanted to sing it great for Mike Chapman…he had worked with a lot of great singers. He was inspiring to me. I wanted to show him what I got. But I didn’t really listen to the lyrics much, such as “shooting at the walls of heartache…Bang Bang.” After the fact I was like, “What the hell does that even mean?” (laughs). But the verses were so cool, the melody is so great, and it’s become a female, empowering song.
DK: In the early ‘90s, you had a big hit with “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” What inspired you to write that song?
Smyth: When I wrote “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” I was divorcing my daughter’s father, and I remember looking at her and thinking…Holy shit, this is some scary-ass love. This is not like anything I ever knew before. I wrote that song with Glen Burtnik when my daughter was 18 months old, and then I walked around with that song for awhile. I knew it was a good song, but I didn’t know how people were going to respond to it. I didn’t know that I would get true confession, heartfelt letters from people (who loved the song). I was about 30 when I wrote that song. At that point, I had some experience under my belt. So that’s what I was saying—you’ve got to live your life.
DK: Thank you Patty for doing this interview. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention for this article?
Smyth: Well, (with the new album), I would say that this record is the first of a lot more to come, I hope. And that I’m glad to be back, and I hope that people can relate to it…I think they can. If I’m nothing else, I’m honest in my writing (laughs). I try to move myself, and if I can do that, then maybe I can move somebody else, too.