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Joe Smart

Joe Smart is a Triple Threat
Q&A with a Grammy-Winning Ted Brown Music Employee

Music stores like ours have a tendency to attract people who love music. One of our employees even won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2016! We sat down with Ted Brown Music’s master electrician, Joe Smart, to talk about his work, his music, and his Grammy Awards experience.

What do you do for Ted Brown Music?
I work in Audio, Video and Lighting (AVL) installation. My role in AVL is as the master electrician and administrator, overseeing compliance.

How’d you get involved with the Mark O’Connor Band?
Growing up going to fiddle contests, he was the icon - the bar to attain. The fiddle world really is a small community, even though it’s spread across the United States, and playing contest fiddle is its own niche thing. If I don’t know the fiddler by name, I know somebody who knows them.

Of course, he’s originally from Seattle and always coming back up here for shows. It was after I won the National Flatpick Guitar Championship in ’05 that we had the chance to sit down and talk a little bit, and I piqued his interest because there aren’t a lot of flatpickers out West.

Are you guys working on any new stuff?
We’ve put out a few singles recently. A year ago, we had the opportunity to record a couple tracks with Zac Brown that got released this summer. Zac produced them and made cameo vocal appearances on them.

Let’s stop burying the lead. You guys won a Grammy for Coming Home!
Yep, we did. The thematic motto behind the whole thing was “we’re not here to make a safe bluegrass album.” Everything was experimental. Everything was pushing toward new ways of approaching things. It was quite the experience. We did most of the tracking in the Nashville house of blues. We were there for about a week. We did a couple music videos, pushed really hard and debuted at number 1.

What was it like performing at the Grammys premiere?
It’s one of the coolest music experiences, because everybody that’s performing is performing in front of 5,000 of their peers. It’s not just the fan base - Everybody in the room is just as good as you are, so you’ve got something to prove. Because of that, the Grammy performances are some of the best performances you’re ever going to see.

Getting nominated is awesome. Did you expect to win?
I’m very much a statistician. Watching the award shows, I can pretty much predict who’s going to win. But there’s always still that heart-pounding moment, like watching your team play in the super bowl. Coming down to that final second, you know they can pull it out, but you’re just not sure if it’s going to happen. When our name got called I shouted, “Yeah!”

Did anything surprise you about the experience?
The award they actually hand out, like when you see Adele holding seven Grammys, they’re just props. Each one is hand-made and engraved by a guy in Colorado and it gets mailed to you about three months later.

Who are your musical influences?
My influences are pretty eclectic. I’m old enough to have grown up with LPs and reel-to-reel tape. My dad had stacks of reel-to-reel tapes with everything from southern gospel to Beethoven and Bach to cowboy songs – I still have recollections of being three or four years old and listening to these tapes.

I always had a high regard for artists who were the triple threat – they can write, they can sing, and they can pick the heck out of an instrument. For me, it was never that I wanted to be a star. I just want to be the best musician I can be.

Any advice for aspiring musicians reading this?
The best place to start is to copy. If there’s a particular musician who does something you like – copy it. Traditionally, that’s the way lessons are done. You sit down with a teacher, they show you a piece, and you copy it. By copying, you have access to a giant library of teachers. After a while of studying a particular artist like that, you start to understand and predict what they’re doing. You learn who they are and their way of approaching music. Eventually you develop your own library, and then you discover your own voice.

Last thoughts?
I think it’s our job as people to always be learning and finding new avenues to learn. I think people should never be satisfied with what they’ve achieved. Always strive for the next thing, whatever that is. For example, I recently got into the CrossFit thing and went gangbusters on it. Maybe I’ll do the CrossFit games - don’t put it past me. I can do whatever I choose, I just have to decide I want to. It’s that simple.

Master electrician… Grammy-winning musician… CrossFit star?
Yeah, you know. I call them the 9-to-fivers, the people who go to work go home, make dinner, watch Netflix, go to bed, get up and do it again, over and over, year after year. But we can do so much more.

 
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