On The Row: Payton Smith

Payton Smith. Photo: Haley Crow/MusicRow

Whether utilizing his burnished, mature tenor voice or nimbly drawing out a nuanced melody or percussion from his trusted guitar, 19-year-old Payton Smith is already adept at drawing the listener into a song, and into a feeling.

Smith played every guitar part on each track of his recently released, self-titled EP from Big Machine Records.

During a recent visit to the MusicRow offices, Smith picked out rhythms and poured out melodies, immersing himself in performing original songs such as “Creek Don’t Rise,” and the retro sound of “’92.”

“My momma played a lot of ‘90s country music and I love the feel of ‘90s country and I wanted to capture that Brooks & Dunn vibe and rhythm,” Smith said of the song.

Payton Smith with MusicRow Magazine’s Sherod Robertson. Photo: Haley Crow/MusicRow

He vividly recalls being all of five years old, and being inspired when he saw Keith Urban performing on the CMA Awards.

“That’s a young age to know what you want to do but I remember loving music. I remember watching him get onstage and he did this thing where he tuned his guitar and he made it look so cool,” he said.

“I had this toy guitar at the time and I must have spent the next two weeks just torturing my guitar trying to do what he did. It affected me just seeing how much energy he puts into a song. When I started writing I wanted to write with that live energy approach to a song, so that’s how we approached this song,” before segueing into another of his own self-crafted hits, “Like I Knew You Would,” which is set to be his next release.

Much like Urban, Smith finds inspiration from a range of sounds—with Smith’s songs evoking a blend of country and John Mayer-esque pop and R&B guitar work. Smith first visited Nashville when he was 14, and made the move to Nashville with his family two years ago.

“The first time I came to Nashville was on family vacation, I wanted to play at the Bluebird Café because I had been writing songs, but it was Labor Day weekend so the open mic night happened to be closed that night. I went down to the lobby of the hotel we were staying at, and there were about 20 or 30 people and one of them happened to be a session player in town. That session player introduced me to Buddy Cannon. He’s always been about the song and he really taught me that it all comes back to the song.”

Another Nashville performance led to his current deal with Big Machine Label Group. Big Machine Label Group founder/CEO Scott Borchetta happened upon Smith shredding during a performance at CMA Music Festival, which led to a meeting and later an offer to join the Big Machine roster.

“I remember getting that call while I was driving down Old Franklin Road and I just pulled the car over and started crying,” Smith recalls.

He is in the studio with fellow Louisiana native James Stroud working on music for his upcoming project. He will also soon join Chris Young’s headlining tour.

“Chris has been such a great supporter of my music. We were just looking at buses this morning, so it’s surreal to be out on a bus this year. It’s my first time going out and playing in front of big crowds and amphitheaters, but I’m so excited.”

Payton Smith with MusicRow staffers. Photo: Erin Burr

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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