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On the sensual side, Smith yearns for “healthy love” and warns, “I’m coming for you,” in the slower-swaying “All That I Know Is (I’m Your Baby).” And then there’s these provocative, blush-inducing lines in the album’s sultry title track: “Close the doors and take off my clothes / Lay me down on the bed / With your hand nestled under my neck.”
While it sounds like she’s singing about male love interests, Smith said the bulk of the songs were inspired by her female friends and their various situations.
“I’ve always paid attention to the advice, ‘Write what you know,’ ” she explained. “One of the things I think my girlfriends would say I’m good at is giving them advice on their love lives or talking freely about sexuality and women’s issues.”
She credits her openness to her mom, who she said “was the divorced woman with boyfriends people would talk about in our small town, and she didn’t care.” Caroline split her youth between Detroit Lakes and Columbus, Ohio, where her dad lives.
Listen further to the title track, and you’ll hear the sense of empowerment that her mom gave her: “Being a woman is half about being wrong,” Caroline sings. “The other half led me to be singing this song.”
Smith explains the song this way: “I’ve grown up enough to admit when I’m wrong. But I also now know when I’m right, and I’m not backing down.”
Laying the Sleeps to rest
Smith’s bandmates weren’t surprised to hear the sharp direction she took with her songwriting post-Harlem. But when it came to the question “What’s a white girl from Detroit Lakes, Minn., doing singing R&B music?” Schuster said, “It was sort of, ‘OK, show us what you got.’ ”
Smith opted to retire the band name Good Night Sleeps when it came time to make the new record — “I wanted to underline that this record is the real me, not an act,” she said — but Schuster was impressed enough with the new sound to stay around, as was drummer Arlen Peiffer. The two rhythm keepers also perform with Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles and Cloud Cult, respectively.
Then came some new faces. Jake Hanson, guitarist for everyone from the Pines and Haley Bonar to Solid Gold, was recruited not only to play on the record but also to produce it. During the recording sessions in December, Smith sang all the vocal parts, but for her coming-out gig in January, she enlisted a couple of steam-inducing backup singers to round out her sound on stage: Lizzo of the Chalice and Hannah von der Hoff of Sexcat.
“It wasn’t so much that I like having women up there with me on stage — although that is really wonderful — it’s that I like to have a huge vocal sound,” she said.
Alas, with her own “Lizzobangers” album due out next month and a chance to tour with Har Mar Superstar this fall, Lizzo had to bow out of the band. To replace her, Smith recruited a friend from New York, Ayo Awosika.
With the album release party on tap Friday at First Avenue and a subsequent tour, they were busy this week working on appropriately souled-out remakes of some of Caroline’s folkier old songs. They are also planning some surprises, including a cover song they didn’t want to reveal. Suffice it to say it’s nothing by Sufjan Stevens.
“I don’t think this record is one that’ll get reviewed by Pitchfork,” Smith said, “and I’m very OK with that.”
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
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