New Faces NJ: April Smith

Growing up in Toms River, April Smith was surrounded by music. Impromptu talent shows with her older brother and sister were commonplace; Smith swears that she was singing before she was speaking full sentences.

At 19, Smith decided she wanted to learn how to play guitar. Her father, a life-long musician, told her that he would get her an acoustic guitar and introduce her to the basics, but under one condition.

"He said, ‘If you want to learn, you have to learn the way I learned: by going out and watching other people and teaching yourself,’” says Smith.

That do-it-yourself mindset is evident in Smith’s music today. In February, Smith and her band, the Great Picture Show, are self-releasing their album, Songs for a Sinking Ship, which was financed by fan donations through Kickstarter.com, a fundraising website for artists and creators. In the two months allotted for the campaign, Smith exceeded her goal of $10,000, garnering more than $13,000 in support.

"I was really amazed at the support we received, because it’s not just everyone donating their money but their time, by spreading the word and getting behind the campaign," says Smith. "Not only did people want to hear it; they wanted to be a part of the album."

Songs for a Sinking Ship captures Smith’s unique retro sound, described by Billboard as “throwback pop, swing, and country with a modern edge.”

"What was really important to me was that the recording sounded timeless, that it wasn’t overdone, and that it had the charm of not being over-polished," says Smith. "It was really important for me to keep that retro element of the swing and the overall sound of the live set."

Spontaneity is another key element. Smith and the band like to experiment with a variety of sounds. The album features piano, upright bass, drums, guitars, horns, ukulele, accordion, and even a bag of bells used as a tambourine and a suitcase used as a bass drum on the track "Colors."

"We recorded that song in my apartment and we didn’t have a full drum kit,” says Smith. “We wanted to give it that field recording sound where it’s a little bit gritty.”

Other hallmarks of Smith’s music include meaningful lyrics inspired by Tom Waits, a taut guitar strum, and a rich, plummy voice that sounds like it can’t possibly come from the tiny 5-foot-2 woman.

"My influences come from a time that was way before I was born," says Smith, who credits her older brother and sister for introducing her to a lot of classic rock, such as Queen and Led Zeppelin. "My brother always liked bands with really powerful singers," says Smith. "I think that’s where I get a bit of my vocal style."
Smith also lists swing-era artists such as Artie Shaw, Fats Waller, and the Andrews Sisters as important influences.

"I’ve always loved to dance and I find that big-band ’30s and ’40s music is so fun to listen to cause it makes you want to dance," says Smith.

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