When Meaghan Smith performed her first song for an audience while in animation school, she had a one-person "crowd."
"My roommate came in, and I had to make her face the other wall, and me face the other way, and she had to just not ever turn around," remembers Smith, a big smile on her face.
Smith is open about her stage fright as she sips chamomile tea the morning after one of Halifax's February snowstorms. A decade after that lonely performance, Smith has no reason to hide her humble beginnings---the London, ON, native just released her debut full-length, The Cricket's Orchestra, and is stepping out of two years opening for artists like kd lang, Joe Purdy, Ron Sexsmith and Sarah McLachlan. Not to mention her cover of the Pixies' hit "Here Comes Your Man" for the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack, as produced by T-Bone Burnett---who won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his work on Crazy Heart's hit "The Weary Kind." Oh yes, and she'll be performing at Lilith Fair. For the patient singer, it's all been a long time coming.
Slipping back to her days at Sheridan College, Smith says following her music career didn't go well at first---she "completely bombed" an open mic night because of nervous sobbing. Later, Smith moved to Halifax to work as an animator. "Then I just had the thought: I don't know anybody here, and I know there's open mic nights...if it's as bad as it was as that one I played in college, I will move home."
Luckily, Smith never had to pack her bags; she just had to switch careers. When 2006 arrived, Smith had scrimped together enough to hire Les Cooper---Jill Barber's producer on For All Time---to record The Cricket's Orchestra. Along the way, Smith discovered her "old" sound.
"I like to call it modern vintage," she says. "I do a duet with Kid Koala"---"A Little Love"---"I have samples all over the place. It's not a recreation of an era because that's been done. Sorry, but Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and all of those people did it perfectly, and I could never assume to even try and do something as good as what they did."
As soon as the album was mixed and mastered, Smith traded her song "I Know" to the Atlantic Film Festival for a meet-and-greet with execs doing placements for films and TV shows---a trade that led her to play showcases in LA, with CD in hand and no manager in sight.
That's when Sarah McLachlan called.
"I think she was a little concerned for me, because I had no idea what I was doing," laughs Smith. Shortly after that call, she signed with Sire Records, crediting president Seymour Stein's vision with her drawn-out CD release schedule. "He truly believes in the old-style, old-school way of introducing people to music, which is letting them discover it, as opposed to shoving it down their throats."
Four years after recording Cricket's, Smith says she feels no less connected to the material now than when she wrote it.
"When I sing these songs I go to that place of being really happy and proud of myself," she says. "Thinking back to facing the wall in college and now turning around to face the 20,000 people that are going to be at Lilith Fair... I'm so happy that I made it to this point."