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Lawrence songwriter Sky Smeed celebrates new album with RecordBar show

Sky Smeed grew up in Chanute, Kan., and now lives in Lawrence. A stint living in rural Massachusetts sparked a songwriting hobby that has turned into a vocation.
Sky Smeed grew up in Chanute, Kan., and now lives in Lawrence. A stint living in rural Massachusetts sparked a songwriting hobby that has turned into a vocation.

Sky Smeed went fishing with his dad on his uncle’s pond one day and came away with a story he’d never forget, a true story that he turned into a song that became the title track to his latest album, “Lunker Bass.”

“It captures one of my favorite childhood memories with my dad,” he told The Star recently. “It’s the full-on fishing story. We go out to my Uncle Bill’s pond and catch a huge lunker bass — my dad catches it but he tells everybody I caught it. And I have a picture to prove it.”

The song is one of 10 tracks on “Lunker Bass,” and, like the title track, the other nine songs capture moments, memories and other personal experiences, which is Smeed’s steadfast approach to songwriting. He will celebrate the album’s release at a show Saturday at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd.

“This album kind of continues my search for the simple song that tells the truth,” he said.

Smeed grew up in Chanute, Kan., listening to a variety of songwriters, especially Van Morrison, who “was in heavy rotation on the record player when I was a kid.” His other influences and inspirations include Guy Clark, John Prine, Hank Williams, Robert Earl Keen and Tom Waits.

Smeed turned to songwriting as a hobby while working in near-exile in rural New England. It soon became his vocation.

“I moved away from home about the time everyone does, when I was about 19,” he said. “I moved from Chanute out to Massachusetts. I was living on historical mansion grounds and maintaining hiking trails and living in this carriage house and there wasn’t much to do at night.

“So I started writing songs to fill my time. After I’d accumulated a small collection of them, I went into a recording studio and cut my first album. And I really enjoyed it, so from that day on, I’ve been able to crank out the occasional CD.”

He released his first album in 2001; he has since released three others. The latter two, including “Lunker Bass,” were produced by Mike West at his 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor in Lawrence, Smeed’s new hometown. West and his wife, Katie, record and perform as the duo Truckstop Honeymoon.

Smeed said he’d been listening to the band for at least five years before it occurred to him to call Mike West about his recording studio.

“We had about an hourlong conversation and discovered we had a lot of the same ideas about how he likes to approach recording music, which is exactly how I like to: You get in with your group, your base group, your rhythm section, and you cut it live,” Smeed said. “You play the songs as best as you can and get the best feeling you can. I love that.”

West’s techniques honed Smeed’s approach to recording

“It has changed it,” Smeed said. “As soon as you get in there, it’s all about being focused. It has really helped me lay down a song and made me more direct and on-point and helped me get the best take possible.”

Saturday night at the RecordBar, Smeed will be backed by a trio. Truckstop Honeymoon will open and celebrate the release of its new album, “Big Things and Little Things.”

In addition to the title track and its fishing tale, “Lunker Bass” includes a cover of a Katie West song, “Cry Like a Baby.”

“It’s one of my favorite tunes she’s written,” Smeed said.

Another “Lunker” track, “Starting All Over Again,” is a tribute to a friend.

“It was inspired by a 90-year-old friend,” he said. “I used to hang his Christmas lights every year. Last year he went into a rest home because he’d fallen too many times and he was so gracious about it, you know, still flirting with the nurses, that I wrote about it.”

The song “Bumper Sticker” is a bit of nonsense, but it’s one of his favorite songs to perform live.

“It’s a bunch of bumper sticker messages slammed together,” he said. “I was reading an interview with one of my favorite songwriters who was asked to give advice to younger songwriters coming up, and he said, ‘I wouldn’t write anything you aren’t proud of because you might have to play it for the rest of your life.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, man. I failed my idol.’

“I can’t say I’m really proud of that song, but it’s really fun to perform. It’s like a feel-good summer hit. It really doesn’t make much sense but it makes people chuckle and sing.”

Smeed writes every day, no matter how inspired.

“I like to at least get some kind of idea out,” he said. “I don’t always keep what I write, but I like to put in some time in the morning before I start staring at screens and do the other stuff gets in the way. It’s a good exercise.”

Since he started writing almost 16 years ago, he has figured out the most direct path to writing something worth keeping: Write about what you know and what you’ve lived. The most difficult part is knowing when you’re finished — when you’ve landed the fish, so to speak.

“Sometimes I don’t know if the songs are ever finished,” he said. “As soon as I think it’s finished, I’ll give it a day or two or maybe a week and then go back to it and play it, review it. Then maybe I’ll send it to a few friends to see what they think of it, then probably review it again and alter the course and eventually decide I have to finish this thing. It has to be done, one way or another, or I’ll spend the rest of my life agonizing over two lines.

“That’s what’s cool about a lot of the songs on this new album: They feel complete and concise. I feel like I got my point across, which may be the answer to your question: You know it’s finished when you feel like you got your point across.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

SATURDAY

Sky Smeed will celebrate the release of “Lunker Bass” with a performance Saturday night at the RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd. Truckstop Honeymoon will open at 8 p.m. Admission to the 18-and-older show is $10. TheRecordBar.com

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