April Smith seemed to burst out of nowhere. I still remember the first time I saw her as she was heading to the stage. The crowd expected her to be just another female singer-songwriter. Maybe a little bit like Joni Mitchell; maybe a little poetic like Jewel or quirky like Liz Phair. But they never expected the second coming of Melissa Etheridge with a voice that seemed to attack the audience from every angle.
By the end of her first song they knew she was something different. And they would always remember that voice. That booming voice. The one that made it seem like you lived a lifetime within the four and a half minute song she had just finished singing. The voice that you never expected to come from the chick on stage. Sure... she was a woman, but she was something different. She rocked! I bet she even preferred to be called a chick to a woman.
And those lyrics, what's up with those lyrics? Listen closely, she's not writing songs - she's writing screenplays. Mini movies that rock. Instead of creating a soundtrack for a film she's creating soundtracks that are films. And somewhere in between you stop and wonder about those lyrics... Man, there are a lot of songs about men in there... And there's a lot of anger... And some weird thoughts expressed... She'd make one scary girlfriend!
"Yeah, I'm a scary girlfriend," admits April Smith. "If you have the chance to go out on a date with April Smith you run!"
April Smith has the distinction of being the first artist signed to the new Indigo Planet Records, the label started by Dave Kosciolek, owner of the Indigo Coffeehouse in Aberdeen. It's a label dedicated to promoting New Jersey artists and it's starting out with an emphasis on Jersey Shore artists like April, who was originally from Toms River and currently lives in Shrewsbury. This will be April's first full-length studio record. She previously released the 6-song Demo CD Revenge of the Brunette last year.
Long-time fans of April will hear some songs they're familiar with and some they've never heard before on her upcoming record. A few of the songs were released on the demo but re-recorded for the new disc and a few are songs she often performs live that weren't recorded for Revenge of the Brunette. But Smith says that the songs will all fit together.
"I'm just trying to look at the album as a whole," says Smith. "I don't want it to seem piecemeal. I want it to be a coherent collection of songs where you realize why they're all together. I can't say it's a concept album, but I want to make an album where when you listen to it you'll understand why the songs belong together. It's almost like a rollercoaster ride where there's going to be a rock song and then there's going to be a ballad and then some symphonic balls-out song in the middle. It's not going to be all the same, but it'll be coherent and fit together. It'll be a nice little puzzle in the end."
It's hardly a coincidence that April's songs sound like mini-movies because when she describes the record, she describes it in terms of movies.
"I love movies," explained Smith. "My favorite comedy is probably Better Off Dead". I love John Cusack and I loved the follow-up one, One Crazy Summer. I think the songs on the new album are going to basically be like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Girl Interrupted meets Stepford Wives meets the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. That's basically what it comes down to. It's very theatrical, almost bigger."
The timing of Indigo Planet Records emerging couldn't have come at a better time for April. She's in a groove right now where each new song sounds better than the last and her voice has never sounded better. When she first started out, she would sometimes use her voice too much and drown out the rest of the music. She's learning how to blend the two together and it's making her songs that much better.
"I think a lot of the problems with singers is that if you have a really strong powerful voice and you can hit those really high notes you'll do it as much as you can," explained Smith. "It's like vocal acrobatics. But just because you have Photoshop it doesn't mean you have to use it on every photo you have. And that's how I approach my music now. Some songs I use my voice to build more instead of always being a static, booming high loud song. It's more dynamic. I'm also trying not to write as much. I'm just writing what comes natural now instead of worrying if a song is dynamic enough. Things are more heartfelt and the writing I'm doing now is more whimsical. It always used to be about experience. Now I'm writing almost about fantasy."
Smith, a regular performer at the Indigo Coffeehouse, says she had no idea that Kosciolek was even planning to start a record label. She was honored to be the first artist signed and laughs when remembering how nervous Kosciolek was when he asked her. "He kept saying, I never thought you would sign with me."
Even though being on a new label can be a rough experience, Smith believes completely that Kosciolek will make the label a success. And she's looking forward to the challenge they both will face.
"I have no doubt that he will find a way to get my album in front of as many people as he can," said Smith. "That's the goal. We want as many people to hear the record as possible. And we want to compete with the big guys. We want to say, 'yeah, we're an indie label, but that's not going to stop us. Don't even doubt that we will be in your living room!'"
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.