For Undertone recording artist Corey Smith, doing things his way has always worked -- and worked well. He has sold close to two million digital singles, and 250,000 albums. The singer is putting the final touches on his upcoming disc, and has just released the set's first single, "Ain't Going Out Tonight." Smith tells Billboard that he feels the song is a perfect preview to his new music.
"I think it's a great way to introduce the record to people," he said. "On the surface, it's about a young man who might have just gotten married or engaged, or maybe his girlfriend or his wife has gotten pregnant, and he has to make some changes. He knows he has to let go of some things and leave his youth behind him. I certainly remember that point in my life. There were several points like that, now that I think about it. If you're living right, you've got to have those moments."
The Georgia native says "On the surface," because he also confesses the tune has a deeper meaning to him.
"It was my way of expressing a lot of the things I've been through recently in my career. The days of going out and partying was a long time ago for me. The story in the song was probably something I went through when I was in my twenties. Now, I'm 36. In my career, there has been a lot of change over the past year and a half. Over the course of making this record, I had to make some of the toughest choices I've had to make in my career. I had to let go of some of my band members because I couldn't make the kind of record I wanted to make. I went in twice to record, and wasn't happy with the results. I had to concede to some failure and ask myself why I wasn't getting where I wanted to get. I had to let go of a manager that I had worked with for eight years, and he was a good friend of mine."
He said that the lyrics of the song definitely strike him as liberating. "It feels good when I sing 'I'm making changes, letting go of my grudge against the wind,' because that has been me – not necessarily in my personal life, but my career has seen a lot of that."
Though he did part ways with several from his team, he did make one crucial addition in enlisting the legendary Keith Stegall to produce the disc. Despite Stegall's run with acts such as Alan Jackson and the Zac Brown Band, giving the keys to him in the studio was not the easiest thing to do.
"It was a real scary prospect," Smith says. "I had always figured that working in Nashville with a producer would involve me having to co-write and having to use session players in order to get plugged into formula, and make music that sounds like everything else. When I got here and started talking to different producers, I was surprised by how open minded most of them were. It was a completely different approach then I expected. There was a little bit of that with different producers, but when I met Keith, I knew within a few minutes he was the right one for me. I was definitely afraid, but the more I got to know Keith, the less afraid I became," he said, adding that Stegall has alleviated the pressure he has carried around as an artist. "It's been an incredible experience to not have to scrutinize every step of the project, and focus on what's most important. I'll call him all the time and ask him questions, and he'll say 'Corey, don't worry about it. You've already written the songs, and you've got great performances. Let me handle the rest.' That's great confidence, coming from a man who has several Grammy Awards on his wall, many hit records, and an incredible ear for music. Keith helped me to be in my very best state of mind. You forget that it's supposed to be fun," he says of the as-yet-unnamed disc, recorded in Memphis.
Smith kicks off his "Movin' On Up" tour on November 20 in Los Angeles – sponsored by Texas Pete and Ones To Watch. Opening acts include The Railers and Mallory Hope.