By Annie Reuter
Caitlyn Smith has been writing for as long as she can remember. As a kid, she’d sit in her bedroom for hours coming up with stories and songs.
“I started writing when I was 8 years old,” she tells Radio.com over coffee during a recent visit to New York. “And instead of doing the normal kid thing of sports, I would come home from school and go into my closet and push the dresser all the way to the side and sit in my closet and write. I would write poetry. I would write songs. I would just make stuff up for hours.”
All that practice came to fruition last year when the country singer-songwriter heard a song she had written on the radio for the first time. It was a song she’d written with her husband, Rollie Gaalswyk, over a bottle of red wine called “Wasting All These Tears,” which was recorded by Cassadee Pope.
“He [Gaalswyk] was in the garage and had the radio on, and the song came on and he runs in the house and he’s like, ‘Get out here!’ And so I run out into the garage and we turn it up all the way and dance around our garage. It was just a super magical moment. Really, really fun,” she recalls with a big smile.
To some, it might sound strange to write a breakup song like “Wasting All These Tears” with your husband, but for Smith it’s just another day at work.
“We’re both writers and we both have crazy ideas and crazy lines coming,” she admits. “I don’t always write from, ‘I have lived every word of this song.’ Sometimes when you write you put on an actor hat and you can play a different character, which makes writing breakup songs with your husband a little easier.”
She says that the two of them “keep doing it because we like writing with each other. Sometimes it ends in a fight,” she laughs, “and sometimes it’s awesome.”
“Wasting All These Tears” became a platinum-selling single for Pope. But it’s not the only song that has helped raise Smith’s profile as a writer. Her catalog also includes songs that have been cut by such high-profile artists as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (the GRAMMY-nominated “You Can’t Make Old Friends”), Lady Antebellum (“747”), Rascal Flatts (“Let It Hurt”) and even Garth Brooks (“Tacoma”).
Smith wrote “Tacoma” with Bob DiPiero. “I was trying to come up with something on the way to [the writing session], and I had never written with Bob before,” Smith tells of how the song came to be. “I put in the address of his office, and my Google maps took me to Tacoma, Washington. I saw the word Tacoma and I thought, ‘Man, that’s such a great song title. I just love that word.’”
That single word, she continues, “immediately sparked this melody, which was the first verse, and I just started singing it into my phone. It just fell out of the air. When I got to the write I said, ‘Bob, what do you think about this?’ And we started singing and wrote the song so quickly. It was the first time we had ever written [together], and it is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever been a part of.”
In addition to songwriting, Smith has been a performer as well for years. She’s recorded and released several albums on her own—her first at 15 years old—and just this past fall released a seven-song EP titled Everything To You. While “Tacoma” isn’t on the track list, the EP does include Smith’s own version of “Wasting All These Tears,” along with six more tracks that showcase her powerful storytelling.
Between getting songs cut by A-list stars and gaining new momentum as an performer thanks to the EP, Smith’s career may look rather sunny right now. But as she tells it, the journey to where she is today has been a long one. As a result, she has learned to celebrate the small triumphs.
“I’ve been writing in Nashville for probably 12 years. I tell people it’s 90% disappointing,” she reflects. “A lot of times you’ll write a song and be like, ‘Yay! This a masterpiece.’ And maybe you’ll show it to somebody, and maybe it’ll get put on hold, and then it won’t get cut. Or, maybe it will get cut, but it won’t make the record. Or, maybe it will make the record but it won’t be a single. There’s a lot of disappointment.”
But, she adds, “what I learned to keep me going is just celebrating every small success. I remember that first couple years that I moved to town. Anytime something awesome would happen I would go and buy a bottle of champagne and we would celebrate, because it’s really an exciting journey. Celebrate the little things.”
One of the songs on Everything To You, “Dream Away,” perhaps best describes the singer’s never-faltering optimistic attitude. Fittingly, she wrote the song during a dream gig—while she was on tour with Willie Nelson.
“We did a five week tour with him, and it was like summer camp,” she recalls enthusiastically. “A couple songwriter friends came along to do some songwriting, and on the bus we started jamming on this little melody, and it just brought me back in my mind to being a kid and growing up. My grandparents had this apple orchard. I just remember running around the apple tree and swinging on the tire swing. I was always such a big dreamer as a kid. The song brought me back to that place, and we decided to write a song for my little girl self.”
Today, Smith’s childhood dreams have been realized, as she can turn on the radio to hear a song she wrote or simply sit down and create a new one herself.
“There is always a song in something, somewhere,” she says with yet another infectious smile. “You just have to open your eyes a little bit.”
Caitlyn Smith’s Everything To You is available on iTunes.
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