She has a new look, a new sound and even a new stage name. But Caroline Smith wants the folks back home in Minnesota to know she’s mostly the same woman who shoved off for Los Angeles two years ago.
“That’s why I made it ‘Your Smith,’ ” she said of her moniker change. “The possessive means that even as I’m changing and evolving, I’m still the same person. I’m still yours.”
A Detroit Lakes-reared singer/songwriter who rose up through the Twin Cities clubs before landing the radio and viral hit “Let ’Em Say” with Lizzo, Smith officially became Your Smith with last month’s release of her charmingly breezy, slow-grooving new EP, “Bad Habit.” She’ll make her first appearance at First Avenue under the new moniker Friday.
Smith said the name change was more a personal decision than a professional one, but she’s fine if it’s interpreted as something of a career statement.
“The short answer is: I just wanted to start with a clean slate,” she explained.
Her longer answer involved looking back over the first decade of her career. Minnesota music fans saw her evolve from a folky singer/songwriter into more of a sultry R&B singer with her 2013 album “Half About Being a Woman,” which included the infectious and subtly feminist pop radio hit “Magazine.” Then came her more hip-hop-flavored collaboration with fellow Minneapolis-to-L.A. expat Lizzo.
Performing as Your Smith now, she said, caps all those transformative years.
“I feel like I’ve been constantly growing and changing, most of it in the public eye, some of it mistakes,” she said. “And then at 30, I felt like I really had more of a clear vision of what I wanted to say, and how I wanted my music to sound.”
When she initially made her coming-out as Your Smith on social media, Smith also chalked up the change to a “celebration of refinement through perseverance,” a note that hints at the tumultuous year Smith endured after moving to L.A.
For starters, she split up with a longtime boyfriend. “I’ve been getting to know myself a lot better,” she said of being single again.
She also made the daring career move of shelving a series of recordings that were to be her next album, tracks with unnamed outside collaborators that she said “just didn’t feel right in the end.”
“I think the people who are fans of my music would’ve seen through it,” she said, not wanting to describe the specific sounds.
She did not give up on working with new people, though. Her New York-based record label, Neon Gold — home to the likes of Charli XCX and Tove Lo — sent her on a writing getaway with other musicians to Nicaragua. She wound up working with a writer/producer who lives a few blocks from her in L.A., Tommy English (Børns, K. Flay) and some other notables including Nicky Davey (Internet, Syd) and Stint (Demi Lovato).
Those names all appear in the credits for the “Bad Habit” EP. She released the four-song collection both for pragmatic reasons — to hurry up and get something out after shelving her would-be next album — and to serve as a short, simple guide to where her heart is at right now musically.
The EP incorporates a decidedly ’70s-flavored Southern California sound, from the Rickie Lee Jones-like nightlife ode “The Spot” to the Steely Dan-flavored, jazz-groovy light-rocker “Debbie” and the sexy “Ooh Wee,” which comes off like a blend of Anita Baker and Sade.
Smith said she has long been inspired by music out of Los Angeles, but she found it ironically hard to channel that inspiration once she actually moved there.
“When you go into a room to write with people here, they all seem to have current top 40 music on their mind,” she said. “It starts to wear on you and homogenizes your creative voice.
“But then I had this sharp realization a ton of my favorite music is from out here. It just really was exploring the history of the Troubadour [nightclub], Jackson Browne, Carole King and Steely Dan, up to Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette. It was such a blatantly obvious source of inspiration.”
Her move to California wasn’t quite so obvious, though. She started flying out there regularly in 2014 after signing with a new publishing company, Pulse Music Group. During one of her visits, a friend asked her casually, “Why don’t you just move out here?”
She hesitated, she said, “because I had such a great support system in Minnesota.” But then that also became a reason to make the move.
“There’s such a comfort level there for me in Minnesota, it was maybe a little too comfortable,” she said. “I needed to get out of that zone and be a tiny fish in a huge ocean. It was humbling in a way that taught me to fight for what I want more, and not be in any way boxed in.”
Yep, still sounds like the Smith we all remember.