The honest truth: A man who sings what’s on his mind

By Matt Murray

Corey Smith grew up on food stamps. Now, honesty is making him millions.

The 31-year-old Georgia native said he has a responsibility as an independent artist to write honest, and sometimes explicit, music for his fans, and he’s still adapting to being classified as a country musician.

“Being an independent artist has allowed me to take chances,” Smith said. “It’s taken me a long time to realize I’m a country artist. I used to hate country. I feel like I have more of a rock philosophy beneath it, it’s more edgy. Country artists are always the star of their football team, where rockers are the outcasts. I was horribly unathletic and unpopular. Guitar was my way out.”

Smith’s biggest problem with country music lies in the greed he says can sometimes overpower the music.

“There’s a fine line in music between the art and the commerce and at times, country music blatantly crosses that line,” Smith said. “There’s a clear formula some artists stick to sell records and it makes me sick.”

Smith said he avoids crossing the line by simply writing what he’s feeling.

His latest album “Keeping up with the Joneses” was released last year, and the album takes a look at his roots in the South, as well as the changing landscape of his life.

“This last record shows that I’ve evolved a bit. It’s more metaphorical,” Smith said. “On some of my previous albums I just said exactly what I was thinking, and this one has more beneath the surface.”

Smith has produced all of his albums and said the production and style of “Keeping up with the Joneses” is what makes it unique from his previous releases.

Smith credits the Internet and social networking sites like MySpace and Twitter for the success he’s had, saying they offered him a cheap, easy way to get his music heard.

But he has concerns about how much access fans have to artists through social media, too.

“I think the jury’s out on how much a fan wants to know about an artist,” Smith said. “I’m a big John Mayer fan, and I started following him when I first got on Twitter. I had to stop following him, because it made me realize he was a douchebag.”

Smith is married with two kids and said family life has had a strong effect on his music.

“It’s made me feel more responsible. I have to be honest and not censor myself, but it makes me think twice about the message I’m putting out there.” Smith said.

He now tours three or four days at a time, and insists he make it home for at least two days out of a week.

Smith said in addition to family, one of the biggest inspirations behind his writing is people’s lack of willingness to be open minded.

“What gets me is closed mindedness, particularly in the South, especially with religion,” Smith said. “It’s had a big impact on how I view the world, and not necessarily in a good way. Some people see it as you’re going to heaven or hell, and there’s no in-between. That’s not a good way to look at things.”

His tour brings him to Lexington this Saturday, and Smith said UK students are likely to connect with his music.

“My songs have a particular sense of place, and it makes sense people from similar places are going to identify with it,” Smith said. “I love Lexington, and I love bourbon.”

Smith recalled a particular run-in he and his love for bourbon had the last time he was in Kentucky.

“I took my buddies out to a bourbon bar the last show I played in Lexington and I asked the bartender what the most expensive shot was, and I heard him tell me $15 so I bought a round. He started treating us really good, giving us free samples for the rest of the night. My tab at the end of the night was ridiculous, and it turned out it was actually $50 a shot. But it was good.”

Corey Smith will be at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom on Saturday night. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9 p.m. Opening acts include Ingram Hill and Kenny Owens. Tickets are $18 in advance and $25 at the door.