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CAITLYN SMITH: SECOND TIME’S A CHARM

This ain’t a twenty minute town no more
It don’t look the same
Red lights, bars, streets, too much concrete
I don’t recognize a thing

Caitlyn Smith knows the difference. An acclaimed songwriter and artist signed to genre-blurring Monument, she remembers the Nashville that existed before the appearance of skyscrapers filled with drunken tourists, blacked-out bridesmaids and people moving in with no clue about what had been lost. Those images set up her sweeping midtempo track “I Can’t” to measure two kinds of heartbreaks, losing your lover and losing your hometown. When COVID-19 hit, she doubled down on the latter, creating a video and a second version with her good friends, three-time CMA Group of the Year Old Dominion, to emphasize the impact on the city’s shuttered businesses.

The sultry-voiced artist from Minnesota, who co-wrote Meghan Trainor’s #1 “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” with John Legend, Cassadee Pope’s country Top 5 “Wasting All These Tears” and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” excavates the broken places with a clear eye and trembling courage. That exhausted recognition, the will to carry on while knowing the reality marks “I Can’t.” Recut with Old Dominion for her deluxe edition of Supernova, “I Can’t” shows how “over” never truly extinguishes the flame—and how places you love can be bulldozed by people who don’t care about history.

“I Can’t” is a double metaphor that becomes a triple through the video. You in the empty bar juxtaposed with Old Dominion playing on a night that’s long gone makes it real.
I was driving through downtown Nashville, looking at the cranes and skyscrapers on my way to East Nashville. I went, “This isn’t a 20-minute town anymore,” because it used to be 20 minutes to anywhere. 

I moved to Nashville in 2009, 2010. There was maybe one good restaurant, but Music Row was full-on with this amazing sense of family. All the publishing houses were in little houses; you’d finish your song, walk down to the bar for a drink, maybe fall into another song and write that too. 

I sat on the porch of my publisher’s house, probably built in 1898, writing with Ruston Kelly, watching one of the houses across the street being demolished for some 20-story condo. These are holy spaces; so much music and creativity happened here. I’m all for growth, but I mourn these holy places being torn down for shapeless boxes. Nashville’s not about pedal taverns or bachelorette parties, but you can’t tell that to the city.

Then you dial that grief into something personal.
What I’m proud of is how it does start so big, then we keep making it smaller, more tightly focused. Sometimes that personal loss can feel like a whole city is right on your chest.

The circumstances—“I Can’t” with Old Dominion going to Country radio almost a year after Supernova was released—are pretty kismet.
When Shane [McAnally] threw out Old Dominion, I thought, Never in a million years. Matt [Ramsey] sounds good on the radio, but he brings his heart to it, is sultry in a way here. When you hear him, you believe it. The whole band loved the song, so it was great. My label sent it to a few people to see if anyone cared—because I thought my country ship had sailed, maybe had never even been in the harbor. Suddenly, people were saying, “When can we play this?”

That’s the beauty of Monument.
I don’t fit in a box. I’d been to all the labels. It was all no’s, because nobody knew what to do with me. Some days I’m more rock ’n’ roll, more tender, more soul. Monument saw me as an artist who was doing her own thing, making her own album. They didn’t want to get in the way but to support what I was doing and work alongside me.

This year, I moved back to Minnesota after 10 years in Nashville. In returning home, my creativity went to new places. Monument gave me the permission to explore, to go into the music. If I was in Nashville or on another label, I might’ve not done Stripped. But when I went to Shane and Katie McCartney and explained I wanted to strip down the record and rebuild it, they said, “If you go do that, we’ll figure out how to get it out there.”

That’s not typical.
No, but doing what’s typical is how to get more of the same. They see that. By giving me the permission to be the artist I want to be—and it’s terrifying to wade into that uncharted water and explore—they’re opening up a new lane instead of running down the same highway.

Stripped is where I want to go as an artist. This is me emerging. This is how you change music. It’s chances, digging, reaching. 

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