Before their recent show at NYC’s Irving Plaza, we talked with rising country duo Smithfield about bringing their single Hey Whiskey to country radio, the lack of male-female duos in country music, and some of the biggest challenges they’ve faced.
It’s been a busy start to the new year for Smithfield. The duo, comprised of Texas natives Jennifer Fielder and Trey Smith, are currently on tour opening for Granger Smith, and have just kicked off their first radio tour to promote their hit single, Hey Whiskey.
The Little Song That Could
Written by Jennifer and Trey, along with Casey Derhak and Adam Wood, Hey Whiskey has had quite a journey. “We call it our little song that could because it’s been through so much in four years,” said Jennifer. Smithfield’s prior record label shot it down, saying it was too dark, too depressing, and no one would ever get it.
A powerful and heartbreaking ballad, Hey Whiskey was inspired by a quote that Jennifer saw: ‘you only miss me after whiskey.’ Knowing that there were a million songs about Nashville’s favorite beverage, they set out to find a unique angle to tell a familiar story. Before you get to the chorus, you might think Jennifer, who takes lead vocals on this one, is singing about another woman coming between her and an ex-lover. But when that chorus hits you for the first time you realize she’s actually talking to the bottle of whiskey. And she’s pissed.
“Hey whiskey, why you gotta make him miss me?
Why’s he only call me up when he throws you down?
Wanting me more with every round
Hey bourbon, why you gotta leave him burning?
And feeling that old flame he used to have when he was with me
When their record label folded, it gave Smithfield the opportunity to start playing it live more often and to see how people reacted. “After every show when people would come to our meet and greet table, that’s the song they would talk about,” explained Jennifer. Trey added, “As songwriters you try to find that perfect blend of melody and lyric and it was just one of those days in the studio where we kind of struck gold. It doesn’t happen often, but when you find it you feel like it’s special and you want to get it out there. It’s definitely resonated.”
The song got its first big break when Sirius XM’s The Highway started playing it. “We started seeing people come to shows and singing every word to it,” said Jennifer. From there the audience kept growing. CMT started playing it, and it racked up millions of streams on Spotify. With the radio tour underway – New York’s NASH FM 94.7 was their very first stop – the song is scheduled to impact on March 26th. “I cannot tell you what it means to us to get to go to country radio with it. It’s already touched so many people, I cannot wait to see people’s reactions to it that have not heard it yet. I just can’t wait,” said Jennifer.
A True Partnership
There’s something special about a male-female duo that just clicks; the harmonies, the chemistry. It’s really a unique dynamic. For Jennifer and Trey, their amazing presence on stage stems from their long history together off stage. “We’ve known each other for so long, have similar backgrounds and I feel like we understand where each other comes from,” said Trey. Jennifer added, “Yeah I think that’s where that natural chemistry comes from, it’s because off stage we’re actually really good friends.” Trey jumped in with, “Like this morning when she was telling me to do more crunches.” Laughing, Jennifer continued, “We work really well together; we don’t always agree on everything, but we make every decision together. It’s a true partnership – I wouldn’t do this without him.”
That partnership has certainly had it’s tests. When their record label folded, they decided to go out on their own as independent artists and build their brand from the ground up. Smithfield Inc. was born, and the duo began hiring a team to help manage the business. “We were these young kids that had never been in debt our whole life, and here we are taking out this massive loan on a chance that we would work and make something happen – that was scary,” said Jennifer. Trey added, “ What you see on stage is the product of what we’re doing off the stage. All the work we put into it – all the tears and all the joy. There are times that you’re just like, is this ever gonna freakin’ work? But then you play a huge show or somebody picks up your song on the radio, and you’re like, you know what, this is worth it.”
While they’re open to working with another label in the future, they’re in no rush to sign on with just anyone. “Eventually if we find the right partner who’s passionate about us we’d love to partner with a label again, but right now Trey and I are rockin’ it on our own,” explained Jennifer. “We have a great team that we love and we’re just gonna make this thing happen the way that it’s supposed to.”
The Year of the Girl-Guy Duo
Jennifer and Trey are ready to fill a void in the country music genre. “Country radio has such a rich tradition of girl-guy duos, and I feel like we haven’t really had that in country music for a while,” said Trey. With Sugarland reuniting, they have high hopes that’s about to change. “We’re excited about that,” said Jennifer. “We’re like, alright Sugarland, come back and show everybody how awesome you guys are. They were selling out arenas. And Thompson Square I know is working on a new record that hopefully will come out this year. And knock on wood, Hey Whiskey does really good. So I do think 2018 is going to be a good year. Trey jumped in, “The year of the girl-guy duos.” Jennifer continued, “Yeah. I do, I really do. There’s been a bunch of hit songs with girl-guy duets, but they’re not actually a girl-guy duo. People want to hear that, and that dynamic is really special and it’s rare when you find something special in a girl-guy duo, so I’m excited.”
Be on the lookout for a new EP release from Smithfield late summer or early fall. And Keith Urban, if you happen to be reading this, it’s Trey and Jennifer’s dream to open for you one day, so hit them up if you’ve got a spot for them.
Check out some of our exclusive photos from Smithfield’s last couple of shows in NYC – Gramercy Theatre in May 2017, and their most recent show at Irving Plaza:
Smithfield at Irving Plaza, January 2018
Smithfield at Gramercy Theatre, May 2017