Rising singer/songwriter Nate Smith is blazing a trail in country music, and he shows no signs of slowing down. But, his success hasn’t come without hardship.
A California native, Smith’s world was turned upside down in 2018 when his hometown of Paradise burned down to the ground by the devastating Camp Fire. Due to the unforeseen disaster, his family was forced to relocate. But, instead of focusing on what was lost, Smith turned to the comfort of music and set out to write an uplifting song called “One Of These Days.”
The tune, which shares a message of hope, went viral on social media, and before long, Smith was in Nashville pursuing a career in country music.
In Nashville, Smith continued to write music, releasing a slew of catchy tunes including “Wildfire,” “You Shouldn’t Have To,” “Sleeve,” and “Under My Skin.” In the fall of 2021, he signed a deal with Sony Music Nashville and released “Raised Up,” which finds him clinging to things that ground him when obstacles come his way.
Now, Smith is out with his newest offering, “I Don’t Want To Go To Heaven.” The song, written by Smith with Daniel Fernandez, is all about appreciating life’s gifts and the wish to hold onto those gifts a little longer. Before releasing the “I Don’t Want To Go To Heaven,” Smith posted a teaser of the song and has since amassed nearly 4 million views on TikTok.
“I just feel lucky that I get to be the messenger for these songs,” Smith says in his bio, posted to his official website. “I’m not here to be cool or anything like that. It’s literally just to hit people in the heart.”
Smith, who has opened for artists like Brett Eldredge and Morgan Evans, caught up with Country Now to talk about his journey from California to Tennessee, upcoming plans, music, and more.
Read on to find out more about Nate Smith in this exclusive Q&A below…
How did you begin a career in country music?
Well, I live in Nashville right now, and this is the second time I have lived in Nashville. I lived here in 2008 for a few years. I had a publishing deal. But then I went through a pretty tough breakup, and I ended up moving back to Paradise, California, where I’m from. I put my music career on hold, worked in churches, drove for Uber, and was a nursing assistant working in a hospital in ICU trauma. So, nursing was what I was planning on doing. Then in November of 2018, my town caught on fire, and it ended up wiping everything out. My whole family had to relocate. They all live in Idaho now. I moved down to an adjacent town with my dad for a little while because I lost everything I had. Then, a friend of mine ended up sending me an acoustic guitar, and I could not believe it!
So, I ended up writing a song about that fire, and people started sharing it on Facebook. It was touching the community, and it just brought everyone together. So, that inspired me to continue writing again. I started doing benefit shows, and fast-forward a year later, I was playing these shows, and my dad ended up selling that house. All of my friends in town did a GoFundMe to get me to move back to Nashville. They were like, ‘You’ve got to go. You’re hindered if you stay here.’ So I lived in my car for about a month because my lease didn’t start until July 1. I drove all over America during the [past year], which is kind of a crazy time to be moving around. But I got to Nashville and got lucky. My mutual friend and current manager, I sent my music to him. He was willing to talk to me and eventually offered me a management contract. So Chief and Simon of Core Entertainment ended up signing me over there, and about a month and a half later, I signed a publishing deal with Sony Music Publishing. I had $14 the day I signed with them. I was out of money. I had no way of paying my rent. But, the day that I signed, I got a bonus, and I made four car payments. I was so behind! So, I started doing that and writing songs and figuring out my voice and sound. Then, CAA (Creative Artist Agency) said they would take me on for booking shows. So I started doing that and got to tour with Brett Eldredge and Whiskey Myers, which was unbelievable. Then, Sony Music Nashville ended up offering me a record deal. So, I signed there a few months back, and we just put out our second single. So, it’s been such a fun journey, and it’s cool to see that they’re allowing me to play music that can touch people.
Going back to the fire in your hometown of Paradise, California, can you tell me how the song “One Of These Days” spiraled out of that experience?
I just sat down and started working on that song. It was easy to write because, for example, green and gold are the colors of Paradise High School. The church on the corner was where I used to work and where I grew up, and the fact that it burned down was really hard. I have so many memories of that place and all of the things that go into it – the character of it and the way that the floor is older and all of that.
So, I feel like people were sharing that song once I put it on Facebook. Maybe a week after the fire, when it came out, people were just like, ‘Man, I haven’t been able to cry or have any emotions, but this song is helping me heal.’ So, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Music is so powerful. It’s so cool to see a song do that.’ But, it helped me first, and that’s why I wrote it, but it was a song of hope with a message of, ‘One of these days we’re going to rebuild.’ And, sure enough, Paradise is rebuilding, so I’m just happy to be a part of that.
Was entering venues difficult for you when you traveled across America throughout the past year?
Gosh, it was more DIY. It was like getting creative. For instance, I stopped in Kansas, and there was this town there called Hays. I ended up going in there and getting a beer at the table, and they were pretty open for the most part. Not every city was. So, it was like you go to one city, and it was blocked off, and then the next one they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you can come in, take your mask off and sit down at the table.’ I ended up meeting some friends there, and we had a house party. I went there, met their friends, and played for about 40 people at their house. And then the next day, I went to that bar and brought my guitar inside, and I went table to table and just played for people. So, I was doing that sort of stuff. It wasn’t for money, but it was for bringing confidence to me because it’s scary to do. So, I went table to table, and now I’ve got friends for life from there. So, it was different everywhere I went. I did another house party in North Carolina with a big group of people, so it was more of that too.
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So you moved to Nashville twice. Reflecting on your first time, what was it about the second time that made you stay, and how have you grown since the first time?
That’s such a good question. So, when I was 23. If I had gotten a record deal like I did today, I probably would’ve made it about me. It probably would have been that fantasy of Nashville, where I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a record deal.’ I feel like young me would’ve been more that way. Now, it’s not about me at all. I have a purpose now, and that is to make music that will connect to people’s hearts and bring them healing and all of those things. My big message is hope through a lot of my songs. It is, kind of, leaked into all of them. I have songs that are up-tempo and party-like, but they still have that bit of hope in them too. So, my mission now is super clear. I know what I want to do, and hopefully, I’ll see it happen. But I’m glad this didn’t happen at 23. I’m thankful that I am a little bit older and more mature, but I still have growth to do. At least I have an idea of what I want to do. For me, it’s like, the more I make it about them, the better off we are now. So, it’s not about me, and I feel lucky to help people with these songs. I get to be a messenger. And it’s pretty awesome.
What artists do you turn to for inspiration when writing your songs?
I wouldn’t say that I look to any artist for inspiration. I look into my heart and my journey, and what I’ve been through. I always want to make sure that when we’re writing the songs, if I don’t feel any emotion, then no one else is probably going to feel anything either. So, for me, it has to start from a real place. But sonically, there’s a lot of classic elements in there and stuff that you’ll get out of it. “The Dance” by Garth Brooks would be a great example, and anything that’s in the heartfelt world is what I’ve always leaned towards. And then the heavier songs are more visceral. So, I look for stuff that hits you right in the gut.
Tell me the inspiration behind your current song, “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven.”
I love that song so much, and I’m glad we put it out. It wasn’t really in the plan to even release it. We had other ideas that I feel would’ve been awesome. But, with this one, I put the demo up on TikTok, and people just started sharing it a lot and duetting it and stuff. It was getting to a place, where like – so we put out this song called “Raised Up” before that, and that song’s special to me. But, it felt like we were fighting against “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven” because I would post about the new song, and people would be like, ‘When is ‘I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven’ coming out?’ So, we couldn’t ignore that. People were telling me, ‘This is going to be my first dance at my wedding,’ and all of this crazy stuff. So, we realized we were on a time limit there. To me, that song talks about not taking life for granted. It talks about appreciating the people you love in your life right now. So, it rearranged the way of the song because it’s like, “I wanna go to heaven, but just not right now. I want to appreciate what I have.’’ so that’s where it came from.
How did your debut single “Raised Up” come about?
That song is so special to me. Honestly, like when I wrote it the day of like, I don’t cry a lot, but that day, I did. I had to leave the writing room because I got embarrassed. I was tearing up in that write, and I just missed home so much. It reminded me of that, and I think as we get older, life can change around us fast, and things can happen, and you get busy with your jobs, and I feel like it’s just a good reminder to remember where you came from and what made you who you are. So I always turn back to the way that I was raised up. I turn back to the way that my mom used to encourage me and my friends and family. So, that’s what it means to me.
Is it ever difficult for you to choose what song to post next on social media?
I mean, yeah. But when you see a reaction around something or a community coming around to a song, it becomes their song and not mine. And, it’s kind of cool because, at the same time, it gives you a foundation to build on. So it’s like, ‘Okay, this is what people are connecting to. So let’s pull from the songs that do that and make sure there is always an element of hope in every song that I put out.’ So I think as long as it’s something that people can gravitate toward, then we’ll be okay. So, yeah, I think it’s not easy to make that decision.
Should fans expect an album from you anytime soon?
It’s definitely on the table. We don’t have a plan for it, but it has been talked about. If we did, it wouldn’t be until next year. So, we’ll probably, at this point, keep doing single releases and connecting with people and getting to know folks because I’m brand new and no one knows me yet. So, I think that’s a good way to do it, and when the demand gets high, we’ll put it out.
Aside from your music career, what are your hobbies?
One hobby I had before – because, honestly, like being an artist, nobody tells you how busy you are. It’s a 24-hour job. It’s amazing. And the reason I can endure it is I love it so much. I genuinely love it. I love writing and all of it. But, it takes up a lot of time. So, my hobbies before that, which I’d like to get back into when I can, are backpacking and camping. Those are my favorite things to do. If I can get away for three days and go on a backpacking trip and live out in my tent and sit around a fire and laugh, that’s my favorite place to be in the world. It’s the outdoors, and I love to travel. I also really enjoy craft beer.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2021?
I’ve got two more shows with Whiskey Myers this month. So, I’m excited about those. They’ve been gracious about letting me go out with them, and I’m excited to play songs for them. Every show you play, you build, learn and grow. Those tours have helped me a lot. Fans should also expect some more content coming out soon. We have a special piece coming out that will involve a whole choir. There is going to be an audio and video piece connected to them. So that will be coming. Then next year, there will be more music and shows. I cannot wait to meet everybody if we can.
Fans can keep up with Nate Smith on Instagram.