For years, whenever she performed a concert, Patty Smyth heard the same question from fans: “People would be like, ‘When are you gonna give us new music? When are you gonna give us new music?’ I kept saying, “I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it…’
“Finally I said, ‘Fuck it, man. I’ve just got to do it!’”
IT’S ABOUT TIME is Smyth doing it — for the first time in 28 years, not counting the 2015 holiday album COME ON DECEMBER. And on the eight-song set, produced in Nashville by Grammy Award-winner Dann Huff, the veteran songstress is doing it with the same passion, fire and provocative temperament that she’s displayed since her ferocious arrival with the band Scandal in 1982, except now with the perspective and wisdom of three more decades of life and legacy she’s attained during the interim.
“I’ve been touring and playing shows with the same band for 12 years, just having a blast,” says Smyth, a Brooklyn native who now resides in Malibu and New York City with her husband, pro tennis legend John McEnroe. “I was always writing, but I didn’t really think about, ‘Should I put out a record?’ It’s so difficult right now, so I didn’t know whether I should do it or not. Then I finally went into the zone of writing these songs I felt were poignant and relevant for me, and I started to realize this is a real thing that’s happening and just went with it.”
Smyth’s instincts, of course, have established a career that’s made her something of a legend in her own right as one of the foremost singers, and not just female singers, in rock. With the band Scandal, Smyth filled radio during the early 80s with indelible hits such as “Goodbye To You,” “Love’s Got a Line on You” and “The Warrior,” a Top 10 smash that also topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. She didn’t miss a beat after the band’s dissolution, either, following with a pair of well-received solo albums (NEVER ENOUGH and the Roy Bittan-produced PATTY SMYTH) and more hits, including “Never Enough” and “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” a duet with Don Henley that vaulted Smyth to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts, and to No. 1 in Canada.
Along the way Smyth was also asked to replace David Lee Roth in Van Halen (she was eight months pregnant so the time wasn’t right) and made guest appearances on the Hooters’ NERVOUS NIGHT album and a couple of Henley’s platinum releases. Her “Look What Love Has done” for the film JUNIOR was nominated for Academy and Grammy Awards, and Smyth’s “Wish I Were You” was a soundtrack theme song for the 1998 box office smash ARMAGEDDON.
But it’s no great secret, and maybe even a source of pride, that Smyth — who reunited with Scandal for a time during the 00s — has spent most of the past two decades below the proverbial radar. Family is the main reason, raising a brood of six mine, his and ours with McEnroe and giving those duties the same determined and passionate priority Smyth gave her music career.
“I was literally drowning in kids!” she says with a laugh — noting that it was daughter Ruby who encouraged Smyth to be part of the VH1 BANDS REUNITED episode in 2004 that resurrected Scandal. “My life just got too big for me to get around it. I’ve lived it, and it was great. But I had to step back (from music); I just didn’t think I would step back for as long as I did.”
With the children all grown (youngest daughter Ava is 21), Smyth found herself using songwriting to take stock of where she finds herself in life now and what she’s learned over those intervening years as a wife, a mother and a community member as well as an artist who hasn’t entirely shed the chippy defiance of her youth. “Y’know, here we are. We still love music, we still like to have fun, but we’re in our fifties — How the hell did that happen! It went really fast, y’know. And for me that’s a little bit of a bittersweet thing. It’s a privilege to get older and you’re lucky to get older, but you do lose things.”
That’s what we find Smyth singing about on IT’S ABOUT TIME‘s six original songs. Not necessarily all drawn directly from her life — “I like to observe people,” she explains — the tracks speak of growth and change, of shifting goals and insecurities, of faith and challenges. Throughout, Smyth ruminates on life’s lessons. finding them in relationships, friends’ marital problems, losses and other issues. IT’S ABOUT TIME is no downer, however; It’s a chronicle of thriving as well as surviving, and in the rocking “Build a Fire” Smyth celebrates longevity, specifically her 25 years with McEnroe.
“It’s all about relationships in the end,” Smyth says. “These are the years when our inner well is filled with so many experiences and memories and moments. I’m just telling where I am right now, and what’s going on right now.”
Recording IT’S ABOUT TIME — which also includes covers of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” and Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” both staples in Smyth’s live show — in Nashville was a treat, meanwhile. (She recorded “Downtown Train” before, in fact — on her debut solo album, two years after Waits’ original version and two years before Rod Stewart’s hit rendition.) She wrote songs with a variety of collaborators, including good pal Liz Rose, while she’s known producer Huff since his days in the rock band Giant; He’s since gone on to win Producer of the Year and Musician of the Year awards from the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music, helming hits for the likes of Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson and scores of others.
“I knew him as a guitar player. When I found out he was a big producer I was like, ‘Do you want to work with me?’” Smyth recalls. They recorded primarily at legendary Blackbird Studios, with co-producer Ilya Toshinskly handling acoustic guitar and a crack band that included guitarist Derek Wells, keyboardist Charlie Judge, bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas and drummer Chris McHugh.
“It was totally a jump off the cliff,” Smyth says of the new musical arrangement and locale. “I wanted to rock a little bit. I didn’t want to go into full, faux country but I wanted some of that. It’s in my blood; When I grew up, on one hand I was Led Zeppelin, on the other hand I was in the folk clubs with my mom. So I wanted IT’S ABOUT TIME to have all that in it.”
IT’S ABOUT TIME’s release will, of course, keep Smyth and her band playing, but the best news is that having stepped back into the active music-making world, she predicts we’ll be hearing a lot more, and probably sooner rather than later.
“All I ever wanted to do was sing and perform, and when I discovered I could write I was so friggin’ happy,” Smyth says. “I want to just keep getting better and more disciplined and keep moving forward. My No.1 priority, my kids, are all good and grown now, so the music can be it for me again, and I’m really enjoying that.”