For the video to her new single “Can’t Say No,” Myla Smith turned to a familiar location, the Jack Pirtle’s Chicken on Lamar Avenue, which was good because the video’s directors had her doing things that didn’t feel quite as natural to the Memphis pop-rock singer.
“I am definitely not a dancer,” Smith says of the comical clip, produced by local company New School Media Group, which casts her as a restaurant worker dreaming of escaping her rut. “They threw so much at me. They were like, we want you to dance and we want you to roller skate, and we want you to lip sync at the same time and deliver food. And I was like, ‘Y’all know the last time I roller skated was at Raleigh Skateland when ‘Danger Zone’ was the jam.’ I didn’t know how I was supposed to do all that at the same time, but I didn’t wipe out even once.”
In a testament to her performance, music industry bible Billboard recently featured the video on its online “Bubbling Under” spotlight for emerging artists, a sign that with her new album, Hiding Places, Smith, like her character, may be headed for better things.
On Friday, Smith celebrates the release of Hiding Places on her own Shake Rag Records label with a show at Minglewood Hall’s 1884 Lounge, with opening act Misti Rae.
Hiding Places comes not quite a year after Smith’s last release, the EP Drugs. The Shelby Forest native had not planned to turn around with another record so quickly, but an anonymous benefactor, impressed with what he heard on Drugs, offered to fund a full-length follow-up.
“I felt like I really had to jump on it. Those opportunities do not come around often,” Smith says. “It’s been kind of a blur. I’ve been working on this project pretty much nonstop since the last one, but I’m just thrilled how everything has come together.”
With funding for a record but no concrete songs to put on it, Smith had to dive headlong into the writing process. In a break from her usual scattered, fit-it-in-when-you-can approach, Smith made the conscious decision to head off to a lake house for a series of intensive weekend songwriting sessions.
With a stack of newly written songs, Smith next had to find a producer. She set her sights high, cold-sending demos to Nashville producer Brad Jones, known for his work with Tim Easton, Josh Rouse and Hayes Carll.
“I wasn’t sure about doing it. But when I heard her songs, I said, definitely, yes. There were just some really good songs in there,” says Jones, citing the emotional ballad “Sparks” and “Can’t Say No” as two that grabbed his imagination. “‘Can’t Say No,’ I was really taken by that because it was very much a pop-rock song but her vocal sounded almost like Dolly Parton. It was a very interesting blend.”
Working out of Nashville’s Alex the Great Recording studio, Jones set Smith one last challenge in making Hiding Places. He assembled a crack studio band that included Will Kimbrough and Memphis native Ross Rice, and then he placed Smith in front and let them all cut the basic tracks live.
“She actually was the bandleader on these sessions,” Jones says. “She was out on the floor with all the other musicians, calling out the tune, calling out the tempo, playing the guitar part herself, singing at the same time. She was very much more in command of the music this time than she was last time, and it shows because when you listen to the record, it sounds like this personal document.”
Smith plans to take her personal document on the road this fall in what she excitedly calls her first real tour. Also in the works are a second single and an accompanying video and Christmas single.
“I feel like some doors are opening, but the only thing I can do is try to make the best product that I can,” Smith says. “Somebody told me a long time ago that you just kind of have to get out there and move around. That’s all I’m really trying to do. I can’t really do much about whether people like it or not. I just have to try to put myself in a place where they’ll be able to hear it and find me. If they like it or not, that’s up to them, but at least I’ve done my part.”
Album release party with Misti Rae, Friday, 1884 Lounge, 1555 Madison, inside Minglewood Hall. Doors: 7 p.m. Cover: $5 ($10 with a copy of the CD). 901-312-6058. Visit minglewoodhall.com.