By Jesse Meisenhelter
I emailed my biggest music idol on a whim earlier this semester asking for an interview. Caroline Smith is Minneapolis’s own sweetly sexy singer, songwriter, and feminist. I almost had to cancel because my voice had yet to return after Spring Break. But my embarrassed explanation that I lost my voice karaoke-ing to Taylor Swift’s “22” actually became the perfect starting point for our interview.
Caroline Smith: No, no I totally understand. I actually lost my voice this last week also, and it was the scariest thing. I was supposed to sing a friend’s TV show pilot and I couldn’t hit any of the notes.
Jesse: Oh really? Do you lose it a lot from performing?
CS: Oh no, this was actually the first time. I was just at a friend’s birthday last week and was drinking and started karaoke-ing to Rick Ross.
Ask me in person if you want the rest of that story. But here is the real interview.
JM: How do you feel like being from a small town in Minnesota impacts your songwriting?
CS: Well to clarify, I was born in Columbus, Ohio. And even moving from Columbus, Detroit Lakes [Minnesota] felt really small and starved for diversity but also independent and with a very different definition of family and connection. Because my mom was single and working I became really close with my younger siblings.
Growing up in Detroit Lakes taught me that hard work has really beautiful outcomes. Like when the going gets really tough be thankful for it, because the results will be fruitful.
JM: How did you form your band?
CS: I moved to the Cities when I was 18 to go to school at the University and started playing sets at Bar 400. I met Arlen Peiffer [Smith’s drummer] working the door there. Finding members of the band happened quickly. If you feel like part of the band, then you’re in. The same happened with Mina Moore. She just happened to sing with the dude who produced my record. Her and Eric Mayson came on board most recently when we transitioned away from Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps — our more indie-folk sound — to just Caroline Smith and the more Soul/R&B I really wanted to be playing.
JM: Can you tell me a bit more about that transition in your name and your sound, from indie-folk to neo-soul.
CS: I was feeling really emotionally tumultuous trying to record our second album as The Good Night Sleeps. I didn’t grow up listening to folk or indie music. It was always about TLC and other ‘90s R&B. So even though I grew up writing and playing songs on the acoustic guitar, the folk sound that I was going for as The Good Night Sleeps didn’t really represent who I had grown into as a person. The first song that I wrote that just felt right was “Child of Moving On.” I still think that is the best song on the whole album.
JM: Where do you get inspiration for your songs?
CS: Well really, from all the fuck boys. Couldn’t do it without them. I love Rihanna and Beyonce. I really like women that write for others, like Carole King. Really, any woman in the industry who has gained her own voice.
JM: Alright, let’s talk about the fuck boys for a second. I wanted to ask you what sort of relationship advice you would give that isn’t already in your lyrics?
CS: [Laughs] Well, put yourself first. It really shouldn’t be that hard [I wish you could hear voice as she said these words. It’s all in her voice]. Love yourself more than he or she could and everything will sort of fall into place.
JM: What part of your career is shaped by the Minneapolis music scene?
CS: I feel so proud to be a part of the Minneapolis music scene. It has this genuine creative energy because all the artists support each other and are excited to have more people take part. It all revolved around these little dive bars like the 400 Bar, which used to be on the West Bank near the University and had acts like Mason Jennings and Semitonic [it’s where they debuted “Closing Time”]. A lot of these old dive bars are closed now but the Current is really instrumental in promoting new artists. I also love that First Ave. is run by a woman. She is always so helpful and makes it a space I really want to perform in.
JM: As someone who is about to graduate, I’m really interested in your thoughts on when you knew you were going to pursue music and what that looks like for you on a day-to-day basis?
CS: I just was a musician. You will just know. You don’t need to think about it. I came to Minneapolis to go to the University but didn’t finish my degree because once you start making music, it’s really hard to take a day off. If you get an idea in the middle of your weekend you have to chase it. Right now my day is filled with little things because I am writing and recording, but I am also doing all my own publicity. I am up at 7 am just starting on things like designing our t-shirt and can keep going until 10pm.
JM: Your music is the first time I have connected to music specifically due to the way you construct and define feminism within your lyrics. Can you speak about how that is formed?
CS: It’s formed by being a woman in the music industry. Every sound guy assumes I don’t know how to use my amp. They will ask every guy in my band about my gear before asking me. And even when they mic it wrong — my amp only has one speaker but it looks like it has two — they get really fussy about me trying to change it. But it’s not just the tech guys. It’s really all the small things. All the micro-aggressions, like the fact that almost no venues have mirrors backstage because guys don’t really need to check their makeup right before going on. So you’ve probably seen me in the public bathrooms at shows right before my set just trying to put some lipstick on.
JM: Talk to me about your upcoming tour. Do you like touring? What do you listen to on the road?
CS: I am really excited to get back on the road with all of the band. We have done four tours together now and we never fight. Jesse [bassist and long-time bandmate] does all the driving and Eric is our on-the-road entertainment. We listen to a lot of D’Angelo and Knxwledge. This tour we will probably listen to a lot of Anderson .Paak, and Erykah [Badu] and Kendrick [Lamar]. On the road you want something chewy, something that will make you think about it.
JM: Do you have any routines before you go on stage?
CS: I always do my vocal warm ups… and we take a shot. Usually of Jameson.
This interview has been condensed for length.