Ad Astra as Aspera, meaning through hardship to the stars, is the state motto of Kansas, Shevy's home state. Shevy left Kansas in her mid-teens for Nashville where after being discovered by a producer and found herself being the most talked about writer in town. Tired of being put to work to turn out country hits and wanting to go in the direction of the artists she looked up to, like Lucinda Williams, Shevy left Nashville in her mid-twenties for Los Angeles to blaze her own path. Shortly after her arrival Shevy was the victim of a brutal physical attack that took her physically and mentally away from creating music for several years. Needless to say she's been through some difficulty which is why her home state motto resonates with her more now than ever. This video is an homage to the spacious fields and the simplicity of where she grew up. This place is where she drew inspiration from for this record Ad Astra, which marks her return to music.
Ad Astra Per Aspera. Shevy Smith knows this saying by heart ; after all, she recited this Sunflower-State motto countless times as a child growing up on her family's remote Kansas farm. To the stars through difficulty- that was the translation. It was a rallying cry for hope; a summation of the struggles of Kansan's westward expansion. For Smith however, only recently did it take on a much more personal meaning: after enduring years of turmoil--both physical and emotional-- the 28-year-old singer/songwriter, who felt it only natural to title her latest album-- a stunning collection of country-rock charmers tempered by a bluesy aftertaste-- after this age-old phrase, has finally cooked up a batch of songs she always knew was deep within her. That it took the pain and sacrifice life often throws at one to bring these songs to the surface was a burden that Smith, now looking back, was more than willing to bear. Says the singer of her expansive new album, "It brought me back to life as an artist."
Recorded and produced with Mike Bucher, over an 18-month period in their Topanga Canyon studio, Ad Astra reconciles all of Smith's musical passions into a taut set of free-flowing melodic nuggets: There's the rough-and-tumble backroads honesty of Lucinda Williams; Tom Petty's down-home rock vibe; Bonnie Raitt's blues- drenched womanly grit. "Narrow in the North" finds Smith at her most free-form, throwing caution to the wind and evading standard song structure; "Chemical Church" sees her at her most vulnerable But above all, there's the voice of Smith-- warm like fleece-- spilling tales of pain, confusion, and ultimately love. Things that Smith knows all too well.
As a young girl growing up on a central-Kansas farm, 20 minutes away from any scrap of established civilization, music was all Shevy Smith knew. Well, that plus chickens and horses running around the Smith family home. Piano came at four; guitar at 11. Smith started writing because she "was too young to know it was supposed to be complicated." Making songs on her clock radio, Smith quickly attracted the attention of a local woman who passed Smith's raw recordings to her music-producer-of-a-son-in-law in New York City who promptly began flying out to Wichita to collaborate with the then-14-year-old Smith. As far as she knew, this was how things went in the music world: you made songs, got discovered, and success came knocking. Smith soon had a deal with an independent publishing house in Nashville. "It all moved pretty fast," she says in reflection.
After high school, Smith decided to move to Nashville to fully pursue her music career. But it quickly became apparent to her that those with whom she was working-- oftentimes including some of the most respected managers and songwriters in the country music world-- had a different vision of what or whom she should be as an artist. "What I got really quickly was that I wasn't really ready-made pop country even though I had grown up with such strong country roots," Smith says. "I wanted to be a little rougher and more raw. It was a struggle and a fight to temper who I really was," she says. "You have managers saying 'If you play ball on this first one, then you get to do whatever you want on the second.' It wasn't right for me. I could never swallow the pill."
At 24, Smith cut ties with Nashville and headed westward to Los Angeles. Things were looking good: she had formed a new band and was moving forward. But only three months after settling down in LA, Smith was brutally attacked outside a Sunset Boulevard laundromat. Everything changed. "I went into fetal-position survival mode," Smith says of the time after her unconscionable attack. "I didn't' want to be seen." The songwriting flame that once burned so bright within her was also temporarily extinguished. Smith retreated to a small beach town in Orange County, dyed her blonde locks brown, had multiple facial reconstruction surgeries and hid out for over a year.
But in the fall of 2009, after deciding to teach young girls guitar lessons as a means by which to accumulate rent money, the songwriting spark Smith had always possessed surprisingly returned. Smith specifically found herself inspired by the unadulterated excitement these young women had for songwriting. "It brought me back to life as an artist," she says. It also planted the seeds for Girls with Guitars, now a multi-location Southern California-based school of guitar headed by Smith. And unlike many traditionalist's approach to teaching, Smith's school-- spurred by its lead instructor's revelation that young women are naturally so keen on songwriting-- preaches the art of creativity over theory.
With her students as her inspiration, songs pouring back out of Smith. She and Bucher moved to a house in Topanga Canyon and began recording their "faces off" for over a year. The result is Ad Astra, which finds Smith and Bucher playing every instrument--from guitars and drums to accordions and glockenspiels. "It was really experimental," Smith says of the album. "Nothing was out of the question."
Smith plans to take Ad Astra's songs on a full-fledged tour. But her immediate desires are much simpler: she just wants to be heard. Because, for Smith, a naturally-gifted artist, nothing is more rewarding than finally returning to her roots. "I never thought of doing anything else besides music," she says looking back at the funny way life can throw one off course from their true calling. Smith gazes out the window of her Topanga Canyon home, at last reveling in life's simplicity. "There's magic floating in the air up here," she says with a smile.