Interview: Smithfield’s Childhood Friendship Inspires Beautiful Music
Smithfield, the up-and-coming duo made up of Jennifer Fiedler and Trey Smith, are childhood friends, but the Texas natives never imagined that they would end up performing together. Fiedler and Smith each had their own musical aspirations -- which didn't include sharing the stage with each other; thankfully, fate intervened, and the two realized that when they joined forces, it was magic.
"Our parents went on double dates. Our grandparents went to high school together. So our family’s have always been intertwined," Fiedler tells The Boot. "Trey grew up, [and] rock music was kind of his forte ... and I grew up in country. So when his family moved to Houston and I stayed in Dallas, we were out of touch for several years, until college. Trey reached out to me on Facebook and said, ‘My band broke up, and I know you’re a good singer. I’d love to try this out.’"
Fiedler hesitantly agreed -- not because she was interested in becoming part of a duo, necessarily, but out of fear of backlash from their parents if she said no.
"I hadn’t heard him in his band; he hadn’t heard me in several years. My first reaction was, ‘I don’t want to do this, but he’s a family friend. I’ve known him forever.' Some of his family does Thanksgiving with my family. So it’s like, 'I’m gonna hear about it down the line if I were to say no,'" Fiedler remembers thinking. "I didn’t think it would lead anywhere. But -- this is the cheesy part -- that day when we sang together, all the hairs on my arm stood up, because our harmonies and our blend was like something I had never heard.
"It was beautiful; I loved singing with him," Fiedler continues. "So we said, 'We have to give this a shot.'"
Smithfield spent a few years making frequent trips to Nashville -- "We’d drive 14 hours, stay a week, network, play writers' rounds, co-write," Fiedler recalls. "We just wanted to meet people and immerse ourselves in the community" -- before they decided to make Music City their permanent home. Together, Fiedler and Smith found the "cheapest place in town to live" and both worked a series of odd jobs -- stocking grocery store shelves, delivering food, working in a gym and for Postmates -- while playing all over town. Within their first year in Nashville, they landed a deal with the now-closed Bigger Picture Music Group.
"We were so excited about that, so we didn’t have to work part-time jobs for about a year," Fiedler says. But, "three months before our radio tour, they folded. We lost all the "kids" in the divorce: We lost the publishing deal, some team members.
"That was a really tough time," she adds. "You go from making a living doing a music, and then, all of a sudden, [you're] having to go back to square one. It’s hard to swallow and do, but this was our dream, and we weren’t going to give up on it."
Bigger Picture wouldn't part with Smithfield's music unless they paid up -- and Smith and Fiedler couldn't afford it. So, they got creative and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their eponymous debut EP.
"We always credit our fans with helping us do our dreams because, at that point in time, we didn’t have any money," Fiedler notes. "They essentially helped us make our project and our music."
Before Smithfield put out their self-titled EP, in November of 2015, Fiedler and Smith took out a loan ("in our own names, for the very first time," Fiedler says) to get the funds to promote their music. Smith calls that experience "terrifying," but the two felt that it was necessary to achieve the goals they set for themselves.
"We wanted to get a publicist, and we wanted to do a music video, and we wanted to do more photos," Smith explains. "So we did that, and by that risk, CMT picked up the ["Hey Whiskey"] music video. Because of the music video, we got our Opry debut. Because of our Opry debut, we got on SiriusXM and Spotify. It was like a domino effect."
Although Bigger Picture's closing seemed devastating to the duo at the time, they now agree that it was the best thing that ever happened to them.
"I’m so thankful that that label folded, because it allowed Trey and I to learn the business, learn our own business, do some things on our own, grind it out," Fiedler remarks. "Our story, I think, has a lot more grit to it. I think people will respect us more -- at least I hope; I’d like to think they do. I think it’s going to set us up better in the long run."
With Smith and Fiedler spending so much time together both on and off the road, fans have speculated on the status of their relationship -- but they insist that there is no romantic involvement. Rather, the pair has "a wonderful musical marriage," as Smith describes it ... and makes "beautiful musical babies."
"We’re comfortable around each other, I think, because we’ve known each other so long," Fiedler adds. "We share the same morals and values as our family has raised us; we work hard together. We make a great team: I’m very Type A, he’s very Type B, so we’re like the yin and yang."
Smithfield are currently working on a new EP, which they say will reflect their relationship and (non-romantic) love for each other.
"Some of our songs have a love element to them, but Trey has a song where I give him his shining moment and I just do harmony, and it’s about him and another girl. "Hey Whiskey" is kind of my shining moment -- it’s about me and a bottle of whiskey," Fiedler quips. "I love that about us, because it doesn’t paint our music in a corner. It’s not all about ‘I love you, I love you,’ because that doesn’t feel natural or real to us, right now. We’re not in that situation."
Smith says that he and Fiedler hope to have the new project out "by the end of the year." They're currently "collecting our favorites of what we've written" to put the project together. In the meantime, their Smithfield EP is available on iTunes.
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