Somewhere out there in the ether floats a mixed and mastered album that encompasses two distinct musical identities of Minneapolis singer-songwriter Caroline Smith. One is the luxurious-maned folk (and, later, retro-soul) chanteuse that released four albums as Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps. The other, which dominated, is a brattier, pageboy-haired rocker, Your Smith, she created after moving to Los Angeles three years ago. But the document of how the new character won doesn’t exist. Just as Smith decided that the songs were too confusing to release, her computer hard drive crashed, taking the record to oblivion. Smith says, “I thought, ‘Well, that solves that, I guess!’”
But Your Smith is the one playing The City this week, promoting the Neon Gold debut EP, “Bad Habit,” featuring the addictive Sheryl Crow-ish stroll “The Spot.”
Crow’s California-cool style was an influence from her Minnesota childhood that Smith never completely acknowledged until she arrived in Hollywood. She had been too busy soaking up the Minneapolis sounds of everything from Prince and the Revolution to The Replacements and Soul Asylum.
“This Your Smith stuff feels like a synthesis of all my influences, all the phases I’ve gone through,” she says. “Which is a big task, trying to find a hybrid somewhere between Steely Dan and Janet Jackson.”
Smith’s avatar was born from necessity, not a whim. Back in the Midwest, she started to experience debilitating bouts of writer’s block; the songwriting that had once been an effortless breeze was now proving difficult. It all came to a head when she sat down with an old co-writer friend to premiere some potential new material.
She wound up humiliated. “They said, ‘Uhhh…this is all over the place, like some weird half-song. What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, cool. I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore.’ I needed a change of scenery and a kick in the pants.”
Smith found both in Los Angeles, where she signed a new publishing deal and began working out the kinks of Your Smith, who could say and do things that Caroline couldn’t.
“Caroline’s a big people pleaser, whereas Your Smith can be more assertive or blunt,” she says. “And now it’s become a state of mind thing, where I’ll tell myself, ‘Don’t stress out — let Your Smith handle this one.”
The disappearing mystery disc was the final step in unleashing the genie. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t my best work,” Smith says. “But I needed to write that album to get it out of my system, and to clear the path for the songs that I ended up writing as Your Smith.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18
Tickets: $13 to $15
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.eventbrite.com
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