LeafCrown’s album touches Taylor Smith’s past and present
Leaf Crown’s new country-rock album Artlessness (leafcrown.bandcamp.com) was written in Chattanooga and recorded in Nashville for a woman in Australia. Flash back a few years, when Chattanooga-raised singer/songwriter Taylor Smith’s work visa in Australia fell through, forcing him to return to Tennessee after five years, leaving behind his girlfriend of the previous year and a half.
He took a job “slingin’ springs” at a Chattanooga mattress shop and took advantage of the ample downtime to write songs for his sweetheart, halfway across the world.
Within the heartfelt affection expressed in Smith’s richly evocative and warm voice, there’s a bittersweetness, as the album also serves as a dedication to the memory of local musician and Lambchop “charter member” Marc Trovillion—a.k.a. Buddie T—being one of the last albums on which he played before passing away one year ago from a heart attack.
The album’s title comes from a quote attributed to composer Claude Debussy: “I want to sing my interior landscape with the simple artlessness of a child.”
“Country music for me has always worn its heart on its sleeve,” said Smith via email. “It’s real. There’s no pretense. And I think that’s what ‘artlessness’ meant to me. Not concerned with whether it’s good or polished or smart or if people think it’s cool. It’s just there, simple and real.”
“I’m really only interested in music, ‘beautiful’ or not, that you can tell came from someone’s gut,” said Smith. “They spent something. They left something of themselves in the work. Saying something real. Something true. Even if it doesn’t make sense.”
Smith was joined by his close friend and guitarist Matt Lewis, but the rest of his backing band came together after he noticed some drums in a customer’s car as he was loading a mattress into it.
“[Smith] asked if I was a musician, and the next day we’re laying down what would come to be the first song on the upcoming album,” said guitarist and Red Crow Studios owner Ross Carlson.
One thing led to another, and Carlson soon enlisted percussionist Bob Stagner (of the Shaking Ray Levis) who knew Trovillion, and the proceedings moved to Beech House in Nashville, under the skilled hand of respected engineer Mark Nevers.
“Things were kicked up a notch at Beech House,” said Stagner. “I like being under the gun, and it’s a beautiful piece showing some of Marc’s last music. Plus the entire record was a love letter to Taylor’s bride-to-be, and we had to make each song as strong as possible.”
During the 18-month separation, Smith met up with his girlfriend Antonella in Hawaii, where he popped the question; she accepted.
“Those love songs ensured the storybook ending that hopeless romantic was hoping for,” said Carlson.
When Trovillion passed away a year ago, friends, collaborators and Lambchop fans provided a flood of tributes to him. Media outlets across the world reported the news, including Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork and NME, reflecting just how treasured and beloved he was.
“I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone imbued with such genuine kindness, talent and wisdom as Marc,” said Carlson. “Without fail, he was the one person in Tennessee who was always up for something fun, beautiful or adventurous at any time of the day or night.”
“I know I’m one of many people who love and miss Buddie T,” said Stagner. “I knew that anytime I picked up the phone and called, he’d help talk me off the roof. Making music with him was as easy as talking with him. He always added his soul, and you can hear it.
“Some of my happiest times were when I’d ask Marc what he was up to, and he’d say ‘I’m just here working on a custom woodwork. Last week we played the Royal Albert Hall in London,’” said Stagner. “I am really lucky to have made this record with such fine folk, and when I hear it now my heart is surrounded by light instead of being a bit broken.”
“Marc pretty much embodied what I want to be as a musician: someone who, over the years, has cultivated his gift, made great art and remained humble and hardworking until the end,” said Smith. “He was a real person, and I remember him telling me and Matt Lewis, that he loved us and he really just encouraged us to look after ourselves and keep making music and good things would happen.”
For Smith—reunited with the love of his life, and having released his new album, ripe for discovery and a breakthrough—Trovillion was right.