I first came to know Mrs. Smith when her Off-Broadway show BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! decended upon New York City. It was that show that made me fall in love with Mrs. Smith. I'm so excited that we have now had the chance to reunite to talk about her new concert, starring in a GUCCI Eyewear ad, and being crowned the winner of "Shred for Your Life."
Mrs. Smith & her band The Rage will be presenting their show While My Guitar Shrieks at (le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) on Tuesday, March 7 at 7pm. While My Guitar Gently Shrieks will sonically delve into the traumatic life events that have made Mrs. Smith the guitar virtuoso she is today. From her Little House on the Prairie-style childhood to her kidnapping at the hands of a Norwegian Death Metal band, Mrs. Smith will leave no stone unturned and no note unplayed. Featuring the music of ABBA, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Taylor Swift, Van Halen, Sia, and Metallica, among others. Click here for tickets!
1. It's so great to catch up! Last time we spoke, you were premiering your Off-Broadway show BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! Now, you have switched gears, formed a band, and started doing concerts. What made you want to go this route? When it comes to the guitar, no other instrument gives such clear voice to the Grief and Rage. I never planned on becoming a guitar goddess! Last summer in Provincetown I started performing with my guitar on the sidewalk and it changed my life. The initial impulse behind this "sidewalk guitar show" was survival. I'd lost my entire fortune because of Brexit—my accountant couldn't explain why that was exactly but I was destitute. I found myself living in a mule shed behind the house of a local comedian named Ryan Landry. (A new low). The rent was due on this mule shed and so I took to the street! I was shocked at how the people gathered, huge crowds of them, clogging the streets and blocking traffic to see me "shred" on my guitar. I thought, "we might have something here..."
2. You recently were crowned the winner of "Shred for Your Life" at Webster Hall. What did it mean to you to win this contest? How did this help validate your path of music? The winning of this contest was coming off of my "sidewalk guitar shred" concerts in Provincetown so my "chops" were sharp. Even so, I was terrified. I almost left before the concert even began! There were so many tremendous players in a variety of styles and tones and all so much younger than me. I did make use of Geritol XL for some added energy and the judges determined that was not a performance-enhancing drug (it's b-vitamins). I battled it out over three excruciating rounds and just when I felt like my fingers were going to fall off I emerged the "Queen of Shred." It was definitely validating and helped me have the confidence to start this band and put this new show together. Around the same time a video of me playing in the East Village went viral on Guitar World and got 1.2 million views and then guitar companies started sending me equipment to review and I eventually wound up in this ad for GUCCI.
3. How did it come about for you to be featured in the GUCCI eyewear ad? I was playing guitar in Tomkins Square Park in the East Village this Fall and was spotted by fashion "it girl" Petra Collins. We were inspired by one another. She asked if I would be willing to wander into a GUCCI dreamscape with her and of course I said yes. I was whisked away to Budapest, Hungary, dressed up in gorgeous GUCCI clothes and sunglasses it was ultra-glamorous. You can look at stills from the shoot and read about Petra's inspiration here and here and here.
4. What do you like about performing in a band as opposed to a theatrical show? I love both, but for me right now, the band brings something raw and immediate to the live experience that feels relevant. People are raw right now, they're an exposed nerve because of what's happening in the world. (I've always felt like an exposed nerve so I'm used to it.) Along with my stage productions, I have done appearances at stand-up comedy venues where I perform impromptu stories, tone poems, and guitar solos. These appearances were stripped down and unfiltered and thrilling to me. I wanted to take that experience and elevate it a bit and that's what this new show is about, for now anyway. At first I was insecure about not having lots of costume changes and props and puppets. But when the show premiered to a sold-out crowd at Joe's Pub several audience members said they enjoyed the focused simplicity of the piece. I will also say, theatrical productions are a thrill to do but they are expensive and logistically complex. I like being able to book this show almost anywhere very easily and doing it in rock clubs and cabaret spaces means I can keep ticket prices accessible. And finally, it's just really really fun being a rock star!
5. For fans of your theatrical endeavors, what will surprise them about seeing you perform in concert? It's unfiltered Smith. I don't leave the stage, I don't change costumes, I don't relent from the top of the show until the finale. I go on a complete journey from my traumatic childhood in upstate New York to my life in high society to my kidnapping at the hands of a Norwegian Death Metal band and emergence as a guitar goddess. All of these realities are reflected through sound, music, storytelling and, of course, dumb show. The audience uses their imagination to draw the pictures. One song takes place in complete darkness with just the band playing and haunting voices from my past intruding on the loudspeaker! At first, I hired a video designer (who lives in Bushwick) to make elaborate video projections out of these voices but then realized how much more powerful to let the audience dream what the faces of these tormentors look like! That Bushwick videographer spent 10,000 hours working on those projections but we never used them--of course I still paid him! The surprise and delight is re-living these trauma's and triumph's with me. Isn't that what all entertainment is all about?
6. What was the hardest part about learning guitar? How do you feel learning to play guitar helped you grow as an artist? My father had taught me a few chords on a folk guitar when I was a little girl. Everyone could see I showed great promise but his alcoholic dissolution got in the way of my lessons. Then in the '90s I was kidnapped and held for ransom by a Norwegian Death Metal band. This was barely covered in the press because Patty Hearst completely stole my moment. I was kept in a closet for 90 days and there was a guitar in there. I had to learn to play it to survive. I ended up taking over the band and we won the Eurovision contest. I played the guitar when I appeared on America's Got Talent many years ago and it has been featured in my stage shows but I've never given myself so fully to the instrument until now and it's catapulted me into a new adventure.
7. You will be playing songs from quite a range of musical influences: ABBA, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Taylor Swift, Sia, and Metallica. How did these artists inspire your musical taste? What is the common thread of all these artists that make them fit into your concert? I have a passion for all of these songs because they reflect some element of my story. I've become known as a "shred guitar goddess" and the show definitely includes that but the guitar is such a diverse instrument! You can have an acoustic song that is so soulful and tender and then an electric guitar solo that soars like a valkyrie! And this band is so talented and skilled they can play literally anything so we zig-zag from rock and roll to country to pop to disco to jazz. It's like turning the knob on an old radio through all the styles of music.
8. Let's take this contest in a different direction. What is something you want to shred from your life? I insist on less fear. I know that seems radical, everyone is fearful of everything right now, especially in our little artistic corners of the world. But I want to create art and a life for myself without fear as the engine! That might mean finally taking the plunge and creating a Senior-Match.com profile and trying an internet coffee date. (I'd sworn off human love but is that just fear ruling me?) It might mean finding a way to finally tour Japan with my one-woman shred guitar opera. Of course, I don't want to strip out the terror, I need that, I think we all do. But fear and terror are two totally different energies as everybody knows.
9. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Can I work to make it .0001% better? 1% seems like setting the bar really high. (I'm so exhausted from self-improvement.) Your readers should look into The Miracle Morning, I just started it myself and I'm committing to try it for 30 days and see if it works.
Mrs. Smith is an electric guitar virtuoso, philanthropist, and cat lover who has captured the public imagination with her unbridled creative expression in the face of a life filled with grief and rage. With an improbable life-tale that includes a lonesome childhood of privilege, 14 marriages, and show biz stardom and obscurity, Mrs. Smith is a 20th Century creature who has burst through to the internet age to become a sensation.
Mrs. Smith is the 2016 winner of the "Shred for Your Life" contest held at Webster Hall and was a featured performer at the Guitar Gods Festival in Miami opening up for guitar legends Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. A video of her shredding on the streets of the East Village was shared by Guitar World Magazine and garnered 1.2 million views. Her unique blend of musical performance comedy has been featured on NBC's America's Got Talent, PBS Television as well as Joe's Pub, American Repertory Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theater. She has also been seen at Feinstein's/54 Below, First Avenue, Webster Hall, Ars Nova, The Laurie Beechman Theater, Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, The Bell House, Union Hall, and the legendary Bushwig Festival, among many others.
Mrs. Smith's Broadway Cat-tacular! wow'ed audiences Off-Broadway and was hailed by the New York Post as "Purrfect!" Mrs. Smith's performance described as "Off its meds" by the Boston Globe, "Luminous" by Gay City News and "Oddly poignant..." by the New York Times.