When fans of the show Nashville hear Riley Smith’s new EP, they may recognize his voice as the character of Markus Keen from season 4 of the hit show. To fans outside the Nashie fan base, his name appears in such beloved films and TV shows as Not Another Teen Movie, True Blood, True Detective, 90210 and several more hits. But Smith himself would probably describe himself as an artist first and foremost.
His multi-episode stint on Nashville not only introduced the actor to a host of new fans, but also led to his 2017 self-titled EP. Though created in Nashville, the EP’s latest single, “I Can’t Keep Missing You,” blends Smith’s west coast roots living in Los Angeles for several years with the pop-country sound of Music City. “I was like, “Let’s write something that makes you want to drive down the PCH,” Smith tells Sounds Like Nashville. “It’s a real, straightforward, pop-country driving song. I kept the story real true, because I had been spending a lot of time in Nashville… We tried to keep the story true to my situation.”
The California vibe is apparent from the moment you hit play, as the energetic guitar combined with Smith’s vocals transport you to the west coast. But don’t be fooled by its sing-along lyrics – there’s plenty of emotion packed behind them. Smith reveals that when he was trying to decipher which songs to include on the EP, he tested his demos on family and friends to see what they gravitated to most – and the track received unanimous approval. “The one song that everyone had on their list was ‘I Can’t Keep Missing You.’ I was like, ‘Okay, that tells me everything I need to know about the song,’” he says. “I can’t say I didn’t expect that, because it is that kind of song that kind of grabs you. It’s more of a universal song. That’s why I thought it was important to use it on this EP.”
Though Smith has been writing songs for years, his time in Nashville helped him evolve as an artist. His life in LA was a far cry from his childhood growing up on a horse ranch in rural Iowa and his experience working, writing and creating music in Nashville helped bring him back to his humble roots. “When I got down there, I really fell in love with the culture of the people,” he says of Music City. “It really gave me a second love for country things.”
Like any honest writer and artist, Smith, along with his co-writers, drew from personal experiences when creating the new EP. And for Smith, coming from a personal place meant being incredibly honest, like on the song “Selfish.” “I’ve been saying to everyone that I think that the song ‘Selfish’… is probably the most honest I’ve ever been with myself, and with people, with the listeners. It’s just a song about honesty and being self-aware. Sometimes in life, people that are pretty driven, or have big goals and aspirations, can become very selfish in getting that,” he explains. “It is an apology, but it’s more just like a realization and honesty. I think what it says too is, ‘I understand it, but I have a place I’m trying to get.’”
It is from this sense of honesty and desire to achieve ambitious goals that Smith has created what he calls “loner music.” Traveling all the time has kept him away from loved ones and presented a roadblock to accomplishing common life goals, like starting a family. This sense of isolation is a feeling Smith says anyone can relate to, as we all endure times of loneliness. “The situation that I’m in a lot is being alone,” he admits. “Most every single song on the record kind of comes from that place because that’s what I’m going through and that’s who I am at this time in my life, for the last, really two decades. That’s what that loner music is. I felt like it could transcend to people that aren’t necessarily in my position. A lot of people might feel alone… and for a lot of different reasons, but the feeling is the same no matter why you feel it.”
The rawness and openness Smith embodies on the EP is a reflection of the kind of writing that takes place in Nashville, with the singer revealing that returning to the city after so many years offered him a refreshed perspective not only on the community, but his artistry. “This just brought me right back to it, and all of a sudden, I just started writing from the heart again, and I started trying to get back to my roots,” he says. “I’ll forever be grateful to that alone. It really changed who I am as an artist.”
Riley Smith is set for release on July 21.