Introducing music journalism's latest female-penned release, Courtney E. Smith's Record Collecting for Girls. Following suit with like-minded veteran writers like Sara Marcus and Jessica Hopper, Smith's first book boldly tackles the music memoir, a literary genre historically saturated with male writers. The Texas native and former MTV music programmer offers an alternate female perspective on the topic, incorporating familiar Rob Sheffield-like playlists and expansive High Fidelity-esque Top 5 lists into the mix.
Record Collecting's title isn't totally accurate; it isn't actually about record collecting, nor will it necessarily help you release your "inner music nerd," as promised. What it does offer, however, is candid insight to the emotional connection that women, in particular, form with music. It is a personal memoir, full of entertaining anecdotes and experiences, exploring how music has played a part in their existence and the way it subsequently shapes our memories of them.
Rocks Off recently spoke with Smith to discuss her ambitions for the book, her Texas roots, and even swap some dramatic relationship stories - all of which, naturally, related back to music.
Originally from Conroe, Smith attended Austin College in Sherman, ditching her initial inspirations to become a research scientist to instead pursue internships that would lead to a career in music. She interned at Dallas radio station The Edge, under the omnipotent musical guidance of (Adventure Club) host Josh Venable, while simultaneously juggling an internship with MTV, hosting AOL chat rooms for shows like Loveline.
"Once I saw that music could realistically be a job that you could do for the rest of your life," she says, "I was hooked."
Smith eventually began managing blogs for MTV's vertical Web sites, shaping her writing voice and subsequently developing a passion for writing. "People seemed to enjoy my 'smart-ass' voice - I wanted to explore writing, and that's when I first started thinking about this book," she says.
Aware of music journalism's decidedly male slant, Smith hoped to represent the oft-overlooked female viewpoint.
"As a fan of David Sedaris, Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield, I kept thinking about the women they're all writing about in their books," she explains. "I wondered whether these women saw things the same way the men did, whether they'd list the same songs to describe what happened between them.
"I figured they'd have a different point of view and wanted to hear their sides of the story, too. I decided I could try writing this kind of book... because I certainly have plenty of romantic disasters to tell!"
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Smith hopes to achieve some specific goals with Record Collecting: "I wanted the book to be accessible for people with varied levels of music knowledge; if you know a lot about music, it might be something you just nod along to, or even disagree with. If you don't know a lot about music, I hope the book makes you feel more passionately, more cerebral about what you're listening to.
"I liked the idea of talking to women, in particular, since most music books are targeted to men," she adds. "Many of the book's stories are conversations I've had with my girlfriends and are written in the style we have them."
Smith's statement is clearly felt as one reads her book. Rocks Off found ourselves relating to specific chapters, particularly "The Smiths Syndrome" and "Are We Breaking Up?" We suspect most women will. (Coincidentally, Smith and Rocks Off share personal age-old post break-up memories involving the same ignorantly bitter Lush song, "Ciao!")
Smith communicates both memoir and snark in an unassumingly kick-back tone, not unlike the vibe girlfriends share when discussing music over Cosmopolitans - or perhaps more accurately here, Jameson shots with PBR backs.
Smith cites the Dum Dum Girls, La Sera and even Taylor Swift as modern music's most promising leading women. The latter, she says, is "'reachable,' like the Debbie Gibson of girls in pop today.
"And I'm keeping an eye on Katy Perry," she thoughtfully adds. "Since her Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair interviews, she's been trying to redirect herself to being a bit more political and thoughtful, and I wonder where it will lead. She could dictate a change in the pop landscape, because where Katy goes, Rihanna goes, and so on."
Smith's rock forecast isn't as sunny: "I think we've got a few more years of pop radio sounding like a European disco, and rock music is a genre dead-zone," she says, dully. "There is nothing invigorating and no bands on the horizon who I see really changing it, though I hope somebody comes out of nowhere."
Smith promptly perks up, shifting from gloom to optimism: "I think country is a popular apex right now. We're seeing changes; people are leaving behind iconoclastic images of what it means to be country - taking off the hats, losing the boots, and we're seeing outlaw-country throwback bands like Pistol Annies. I think it's the most interesting part of music right now."
Smith's interest has inspired her next literary proposal, a guide to "country music for people who don't like country music."
"I want to explore the eccentricities and lifestyle of the country genre that people wouldn't necessarily know about if they're not fully in it," she explains.
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In addition to her job as Clear Channel's digital program director in San Antonio, Smith is currently on a short book tour, including a stop at Austin's BookPeople September 22.
"It's the day after the Decemberists' Colin Meloy reads at the same store," she says sarcastically, "so I'm sure a ton of people will be there for me!"
Clearly, Smith's sass never tires... at least she's true to form.