To an extent, I realize that all RFC Thinks You Should Know columns are love letters to little known musicians. What you're about to read, however, goes one step above and beyond that. It isn't just a partial love letter but a full blown confession of sheer adoration, a chronicle of my brief but wonderful relationship with a man who goes by Sad Brad Smith.
I discovered Smith when he was opening for Tristen at Schubas last month. I didn't make the show itself due to the fact that I'm keeping a watchful eye over the Chicago scene from atop a roost in Ann Arbor, Michigan these days but while previewing the show, I saw Tristen would be with Villagers and a man I'd never heard of... Sad Bad Smith, naturally. I was intrigued by Smith's name alone and upon seeing a picture of Smith, my interest was very much piqued. Morose men with acoustic guitars and facial hair are, after all, are my forte. Upon a bit more "internet stalking" (or, as I like to call it, "research"), I discovered that Sad Brad Smith was a Chicago local who, for some ungodly reason, I'd never taken note of until now. It seemed like a travesty. Dude was clearly right up my alley! Yet somehow, we'd never crossed paths.
All things considered, I felt pretty positively about Smith before hearing his music, having high expectations for the man, and a quick sweep of the internet found me legally (A-Wink!) snagging a copy of a song Smith had done for that Clooney Oscar vehicle, Up In The Air.
I didn't have to hear much of "Help Yourself" to realize that a burgeoning love affair coming between Smith and myself was encroaching. Musically, Smith goes past being "a dude with facial hair and a guitar", adding beautiful oddities that keep his songs multi-faceted, a cut above your average fella in folk. And lyrically? I can't help but feel as though Smith is a kindred spirit of sorts to me. (Because he's singing about things I feel! Cool!)
Smith, it seems, is building his career on the juxtaposition of accessible indie folk and heartwrenchingly bummer lyrics. As someone who has made a life out of the juxtaposition of her own inner turmoil and the happy face she puts on around her friends, family, and strangers, this is something I appreciate and feel like most people can relate to, even if it's ever so slightly. I mean, every indie kid loves a good sad song and as "Sad" is in Brad Smith's stage moniker, you know he's got more than a few of those sad songs up his sleeves. That theory of mine that was confirmed big time when I procured Smith's LP, Love Is Not What You Need.
Smith doesn't rely on vocal trickery to get listeners. In fact, his voice is remarkably smooth and wry, just another juxtaposition to add to the list of Smith's many. The quality, however, of his voice is made extremely evident as his album wears on, with the title track possessing some serious epic, sad beauty, slightly reminiscent of past RFC Thinks You Should Know-er, Wolfgang Schaefer.
The fact that Smith comes across as a sheer hopeless romantic who just can't get things right is probably a skewed perception. I say this from experience, as I've gotten more than a few "Hey! This is just one side of the story, people!" songs written about me in recent years and it's a little infuriating sometimes. I'm sure the girl (or girls) that Smith wrote his sad songs about have a bit of light to shed on the scenario but do I care? Not exactly. Smith paints himself as a thinking girl's heart throb who wants nothing more than that one lady from the past to realize she's "still in love with (him), (but she) just doesn't like the way that it feels". I say this from experience too as I'm still waiting for that one fella to wise up and realize we're perfect together but I also realize that day will never come. What do I do in that case? Well, were I Smith, I'd write some gorgeous sad songs about it to ease my aching heart. As me, however, I've been taking refuge in songs like "Everyone Knows I'm Still In Love With You" and "Baby, I'm So Sad". (See! Told you Smith's music and I get along great!)
So why does RFC think you should know Sad Brad Smith? It might be all the reasons I've listed above that make him such a remarkable and under appreciated song writer. It might be Smith's name drop of Neutral Milk Hotel. Or maybe it's the fact that every girl loves a man martyring himself with his own tragedy. It's probably all of this. Regardless, if you don't have seven bones to drop on Smith's latest, go sell your plasma or something. "Home Sweet Home" is the most seductive sad song I've heard all year.