Caitlyn Smith has lived in Nashville for about a decade now, and in that time, she’s seen plenty of change: Parking lots and empty land have become new hotels, apartment buildings and shopping options. Numerous cranes dot the city’s ever-changing skyline, and multi-story, artist-branded bars sit alongside iconic honky-tonks on Lower Broadway. Plenty of others have moved to town, and still more visit each year.
“It’s changed completely,” Smith says of Music City — but so has she.
“I’m not the same girl I was when I moved to town, and thank God for that,” she continues, reflecting on “the relationships and things that I’ve moved on from, and the pieces of my life that I’ve had to let go of.”
Smith found herself considering the weight of all of this change as she drove around the city one day, and the idea struck her — so much so, in fact, that it became “I Can’t,” a song co-written with Ben West and Stephen Wilson.
“It’s inevitable for every human that we come up against this mountain of change sometimes, and sometimes it’s welcome, but a lot of times, it’s very hard, and it can feel impossible. It can feel like you can’t,” Smith muses, later adding with a laugh, “2020 is the greatest example of all of us dealing with great change … 2020, and into 2021, continues to bring upon me this idea that I want control, but I don’t have it, and I definitely need to grapple that constantly.”
Smith had big plans for 2020: a spot on Little Big Town’s Nightfall Tour and a new album, Supernova, released on March 13 — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming major news in the United States and life as we knew it was grinding to a halt. The record she had spent two years writing and recording “kind of [got] eaten up by the CoronaMonster,” she notes dryly.
“I definitely had to come to terms with, ‘Okay, this supernova may just burn out,'” she says, laughing as she makes the pun. “It might not have been a big and beautiful blast like I had seen it.”
Smith and her team did their best, but fans’ minds were elsewhere. So, they took a deep breath, regrouped, and came up with plans for a deluxe version of the album, to be released in September. It contains a Coldplay cover and a new version of the song “I Can’t,” reimagined as a duet with Old Dominion.
“I thought, ‘Okay, you can ask them, I don’t think they’ll say yes,'” Smith admits, “and to my surprise …”
Smith, herself a hit songwriter, and the songwriters-turned-band members of Old Dominion have run in overlapping circles for years: For example, she and Brad Tursi met on a Willie Nelson tour shortly after Smith arrived in Nashville, and she and the band have shared festival stages, too.
“I Can’t,” with its lyrics and harmonies and country roots, was the obvious song choice.
While Smith’s music floats between genres, collaborating with Old Dominion now gives her a serious shot at country radio airplay. Though it wasn’t her initial intent, programmers “started getting really, really excited about this,” and the song was recently released as an official single.
“It feels like this beautiful bonus round of something I’ve already grieved and something I’ve almost already let go of,” Smith says. She’s not expecting to earn a No. 1 song or a major hit, but says: “This is a blessing, and anything that comes of it is magic.”
“So often as artists, we can get so precious with our songs and so precious with our projects … I think goals are beautiful and goals are good, but sometimes, assigning expectations can be a dangerous thing,” says Smith, a Gemini and Enneagram Type Three who’s still working to fully learn that lesson herself. “Holding things lightly can just allow you to be surprised, and it can allow you to be blessed by whatever happens. It’s just a different shift of perspective, but I think it’s healthier.”
Still, she isn’t fully sitting back and relaxing: When the pandemic began, she moved into songwriting mode, looking to songwriters including Carole King and Paul Simon for inspiration. Now, she’s culling through her creations for a third album.
“I have yet to get in the studio,” she notes, “but my head and heart are ready.”