Unlike some duos, there is a lot of history between Trey Smith and Jennifer Fielder, who make up the rising twosome Smithfield. The two actually grew up as friends in the Lone Star State, but Fielder says their families’ history goes back a lot further.
“Our families go back three generations,” she told Billboard. “Our grandparents went to high school together. Our parents went to high school together, and then when they got married, our families did New Year’s Eve parties and Fourth of July parties together. We actually met when we were ten and twelve, and we actually served as entertainment for the family.”
Both of them knew the other was interested in music – but the idea of performing together hadn’t come up until Smith’s band had broken up, and he was in search of his next musical direction.
“I was having lunch with my cousin, and she said ‘Do you remember Jennifer? She still sings. You might want to reach out to her and see if you all could sing together.’ I did the classy thing, and reached out to her on Facebook, saying ‘I don’t know what you’re doing with your music. Would you like to try to get together?'” Her first response – not what you might think!
“I’ve got to be honest. I really didn’t want to be in a duo,” she admits with a laugh. “When he reached out to me, I thought ‘I can’t say no because he’s my family friend, and I’ve known him my whole life’ – so I felt really obligated. But, I was so glad I said yes because it changed both of our lives from that point on. We moved to Nashville about a year later.”
The two found jobs in Music City, while establishing connections that would lead to a recording/publishing deal with rising indie Bigger Picture. The two recorded their first project together, and began making plans for a radio tour. Things were going smoothly, but then Smithfield was caught up in the changing business model of the music business.
“The label folded, and we also lost our publishing deal, as well as our management deal – all in the same week,” Fielder recalls. “We basically had to start over from scratch. At that point, we had been in Nashville for about four years writing songs, and we thought ‘Maybe this isn’t even in the stars for us,’ but we had put in so much time, and had recorded all of this great music. But we had no money. We started a Kickstarter campaign, and with help from the fans who were already on board, they helped us to raise the money to buy our record. The label wouldn’t give us our music back. They wanted $30,000. Obviously, we didn’t have that, so our fans helped us raise $12,000 online for our EP.”
“We ended up taking out a music loan with a bank – which we didn’t know existed. From there, we had to build our careers totally from the ground up. We ended up getting new management, and then built an entire team. That enabled us to do a music video, pictures, and a website. Everything that a record label does, we did it ourselves.”
And, suffice to say, Smithfield has definitely made a name for themselves by building their career in DIY fashion. “After that, CMT put our video into their ‘Artist Discovery Program,” says Fielder, “and then SiriusXM The Highway started playing us, and we made our debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Everything has grown organically over the last three or four years or so. We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with just the Kickstarter campaign and our EP.”
Smith says that being so close to realizing their dreams – and then having a label deal yanked away hurt – but it also kept their hunger alive. That’s why, he reasons, that they have no problem doing the heavy lifting of building a career themselves.
“We realize that it’s very tough to do a lot of these things by yourself in this landscape. It’s certainly not an easy path to take, but we were taught to never wait on somebody to do something that you want to do. If you want to make it happen, you’ve got to make it happen. That’s what we’ve done our whole careers.”
Fielder agrees, but doesn’t try to sugar-coat her feelings at the time of Bigger Picture’s closing. “There were a lot of tears shed. That was truly the first moment where I ever thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to quit.’ At that point, we had been in town for four years. It was devastating, but we learned a lot about ourselves and our music. It was a hard pill to swallow, but some things just make you stronger, and it gave us a great story.”
Smithfield has just released a new single, “If It Ain’t You.” Though it’s a love song, Fielder says it’s not about them.
“A lot of people tend to think that we’re dating, so we try to stay away from lovey-dovey type songs,” she says. “However, this song was actually inspired by my grandmother. I lived with her for four years, and she was my best friend when I was a little girl. I never met my grandfather – who passed away about a month before I was born. She would take me out to the cemetery every Sunday, and put flowers on his grave. One day, I noticed that there was a tombstone next to his that had her name and date of birth on it. I thought it was so odd, and I asked her about it. She said ‘I don’t want anyone else laying next to him, so I’m claiming my spot.’ That just always stuck out to me for years, and one of the things we were told when we moved to Nashville was ‘Write what you know. Always be true to your art and what you know.’ I told her story in a writers’ room – about the fact that she always wore her wedding ring – for twenty-seven years. She never took it off or got remarried. When I got older, I asked her why and she said ‘If my grandpa’s hand wasn’t the one that she was holding, or the man she was coming home to at night, she really didn’t want love. She didn’t know what love looked like without him. We just told that story in the writers’ room, and we came out with a great song.”
Though Fielder and Smith aren’t an item, they share a mutual love in Felicia, their van which carries them around to their shows.
“Felicia is our van – our faithful mode of transportation to our shows and radio tour visits,” says Smith. “We ended up taking out a loan to get her. We named her ‘Felicia,’ so one day when we get the bus, we can say ‘Bye, Felicia.'”