Myla Smith is having some troubles communicating.
Counting down the days until she's eligible for a phone upgrade, she has had to resort to using the speakerphone on her current malfunctioning device. And she is struggling to master the succinct art of Twitter.
"I think I'm just a little bit too far out of that age range," she says with resignation.
The one arena in which she still has no trouble expressing herself, however, is music. Next week, Smith will celebrate the release of her new EP, Drugs, with a concert at Christ City Church inside Minglewood Hall.
This is Smith's fourth release, so you'd think the process would be old hat, but the Shelby County native is pulling out all the stops to promote her most mature, assured and fully realized effort to date.
"I'm really proud of the way it turned out," says local producer-engineer James Joseph, who cut the record at his home studio using a collage approach that built layer upon layer of vocal and instrumental tracks to achieve a huge sound. "I think every song on it has the potential to go somewhere."
With that in mind, Smith has hired a PR firm (hence the Twitter) and recently shot her first video for the leadoff single, "Slow Down."
"I just spent a lot of time on (the record) with the writing and song choice and production," says Smith, a certified public accountant who has gone part time to concentrate on her music. "I really wanted to make sure it got the push it deserved."
Born and raised in the Shelby Forest-area community of Shake Rag, Smith has been playing music since childhood, making her first recordings on her Fisher Price tape recorder. One of her earliest gigs was overdubbing children's vocals on the public TV children's show "Barney & Friends."
Music took a backseat to academics in college, but the pull of music proved too strong.
Smith made her debut in 2006 with the folk rock effort All the Things That Go Missing, released on her own Shake Rag Records label. She followed that up with the gospel set Amid the Flood in 2009.
Then in 2010 came White/Gold an acclaimed double EP — White was a collection of pop-oriented material while Gold had a bluegrass/country vibe — that announced the partnership that has since dominated Smith's life. White/Gold was released on the day of her wedding to Memphis cellist and bassist Richard Thomas, formerly of the band Retrospect.
"We met each other just through music in town," Smith recalls. "We'd known each other a long time. He's just so quiet. We got the opportunity to work on a project together around Christmas 2008, and we just got to actually talk more than we ever had before. I was like, 'Oh, he's kind of cool, actually.'"
Smith says Thomas has become a partner not just in life but also in music. She maintains artistic control over her music, but he has given her an important sounding board for the "big-picture stuff."
"He's just been instrumental in encouraging me and pushing me to try and improve and go on to the next level," Smith says. "Especially when you're a solo writer and artist, it's really hard to have all that weight on your shoulders. ... When he came into my life, I really felt for the first time I had somebody who was truly invested in my music with me."
One of Thomas' most significant contributions was introducing Smith to his old bandmate Joseph, who helmed White/Gold and returns to help guide Drugs. Joseph, who has mixed recent efforts by Ryan Peel and Fast Planet, says the key to the album was choosing the right songs from among the 30 or so that Smith brought to the table.
"I would say the majority of them were a little more like classic country," he says. "It just seemed like the ones everybody gravitated toward were the more hooky, pop-type songs."
Smith says the more rocking sound reflects a return to her own sensibilities after a brief period of trying to make music the Nashville way.
"I realized if I was going to be really successful in that avenue, I was going to have to change the way that I wrote songs," she says. "They're trying to get down to this one little piece they think everybody's going to like, and in order to do that, you have to distort and mash and twist your product into something that I don't think is very artistic. I just didn't want to do that."