As of March of 2020, Caitlyn Smith was on the verge of a breakthrough. It was just a matter of time before she launched her debut solo album, Starfire, in 2018: a confident, well-executed compilation that proved Smith was just as strong a solo artist as a pen-for-hire. Then came Supernova, her sophomore album, which expanded on her expressive, hook-laden pop-country style and showed that Smith’s true calling was as an artist, not just as a songwriter.
Smith’s new album, Supernova, was released on March 13, 2020, and she had planned a massive tour and press push to introduce her music to a wider audience. When the epidemic struck, Smith’s intentions were quickly derailed, as were many other musicians. Supernova was released six months before Smith and her husband Rollie Gaalswyk packed up their stuff and returned to Smith’s native Minnesota. Smith’s writing benefited from the change of scenery, even though none of them had anticipated it happening so quickly.
Her new album, High, will be released by Monument Records on April 8. For Smith, this collection is her most personal because many of High’s tracks, including the free-spirited “Dreamin’s Free,” are based on her own experiences and relationships. In terms of sound, High is Smith’s most fully completed effort yet, as it is the first album she produced herself – for the first time, the recorded tracks sound exactly the way Smith heard them in her head.
Smith tells NPR Music that the pandemic’s slowdown and his return back to his hometown “provided a fresh place for me” “What if this next record I just made myself?” I kept thinking while working in my studio. And that was a scary experience. When I initially heard about the task, I thought it seemed like a lot of work. That has the potential to be terrifying.’ It wasn’t until my dear spouse said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” that I realised he was right. You can always give it a go, you know. Start anew and try something else if it doesn’t work out.'”
The risk paid off; producing the record herself is an accomplishment in and of itself, but particularly so given the larger-than-life arrangements on many of the LP’s songs. For Miley Cyrus’ next album Plastic Hearts, the song’s title track begins with a softly smouldering verse before becoming a soulful, larger-than-life crescendo. That transition is typical of Smith’s work, which uses dynamics and melody to enhance the emotional impact.
Smith’s long-awaited headline tour took up in early April with the publication of High, a follow-up to Supernova 2.0. She is also involved in Girls of Nashville, an advocacy group she co-founded with other artists in 2014 to bring greater gender equality to the male club that is commercial country music. NPR Music chatted with her about moving out of Nashville, making High, and crafting her lovely melodies.