Listening to break-up songs and bold singers with The Tender Fruit | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Listening to break-up songs and bold singers with The Tender Fruit 

The Tender Fruit's Christy Smith

Photo by Justin Cook

The Tender Fruit's Christy Smith

Record review: The Tender Fruit's The Darkness Comes


Have you noticed how early the sun is setting? By the time you've clocked out of work, it seems already to have slipped past the horizon, so that the day is done before you can even get dinner on the stove.

The arrival of the second record by The Tender Fruit, the keening and intimate folk project of singer-songwriter Christy Smith, feels seasonally appropriate. It's called The Darkness Comes, and it digs into the hours and situations where doom and gloom seem rarely to subside. Smith spends much of the album exploring and wrestling with a litany of failed relationships, having what she terms "one-sided conversations" with people from her past. On the title track, she even addresses her childhood adoption and what it's meant for the rest of her life.

The Darkness Comes goes deeper than Smith's debut, 2010's Flotsam & Krill. While the songs are more emotionally honest and open, they pair those raw nerves with greater musical polish and production. Smith's gentle voice soars over drums and curves alongside flecks of cello and keys, giving her former acoustic simplicity new gravity.

On a gray day, in the cozy living room of her Raleigh apartment over coffee and cookies, Smith discussed some of the music that's driven her as a listener and writer in the four years since Flotsam & Krill.

LESLEY GORE, "YOU DON'T OWN ME"

(A classic independence anthem, this song has since found fitting favor with feminists.)

This song came out in 1963 on an album called Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts. Isn't that great? I need to name more albums like that. To hell with this mysterious title thing; just put it right out there.

I love this music because I grew up listening to it. My stepdad has this huge record collection. Because I was a church kid, I couldn't really listen to what was on the radio. I didn't know anything about Madonna or whatever was happening at that time. These were the people I idolized. I still know the words to all of these songs, like I was a teenager in 1963. I grew up the way my parents' generation did. Sometimes, I'd feel very out of place. I would just feel like an old person talking to people my own age. They'd be like, "How do you not know about this?" I'd be like, "I don't know, but if you want to talk about Fats Domino, I can talk about that with you!"

AIRSTRIP, "ANGRY BED"

(Formerly based in Durham, Airstrip issued its biting debut, Willing, via Holidays for Quince Records in February 2013. Frontman Matt Park relocated to Los Angeles in July.)

I was obsessed with this song while I was writing "Pearls." I was totally afraid I was ripping off Airstrip. All of my friends were like, "You're not ripping it off. You don't sound anything like Airstrip." I like how raw it is. I like the sparseness of those beats, but when you listen to Matt's lyrics, he has these lyrics that cut you. "If we didn't go to bed angry, we wouldn't go to bed at all": I know what it feels like to give up on fixing things and accept that you're in a bad situation.

IRIS DEMENT, "GOD MAY FORGIVE YOU (BUT I WON'T)"

(Written by Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock, this song addresses a sinner who claims to be reborn.)

It reminds me of this church-pew feminism I grew up with. We were always taught growing up in the Southern Baptist church that it was God, then men, then us—that we were there to serve and support the men. I never understood, because it always seemed like the women were running everything behind closed doors. They knew what was going on. Those women had this quiet way of asserting their power and making their presence known. She never says, "Screw you, you scumbag."

I didn't even know what feminism was until I got to college. No woman that I grew up with would've ever called themselves a feminist or espoused feminism as a viewpoint. But it was still there. The older I got, the more angry it made me: Why were those men supposed to be in charge of us when it was so clear to me that all the women in my life were so smart? They were the ones running the home and keeping things together. From my perspective, I was like, "I don't want these men telling me. I'd rather have the women in charge."

HOPE FOR AGOLDENSUMMER, "DANIEL BLOOM"

(This is a live recording that this pair of Georgia-born sisters did for the online outlet Monkeywhale.)

They play this amazing swampy music that's really suavely put together. This particular song talks to this idea of adolescent sexual frustration and longing: "Daniel, won't you come to my high school?/I want to educate you." They sing about sexuality and desire in this way that's not bawdy or gross. It's sly, subtle and really powerful.

INDY: There aren't a lot of young women who can pull that trick.

Sometimes they do, but sometimes I feel like when women sing about sexuality, they feel like they have to be real in your face. With my stuff, I'm trying to explore the idea of talking about sex—good sex, bad sex, whatever it is for you—in a way that feels empowering.

WEEZER, "SAY IT AIN'T SO," "TIRED OF SEX," "BUTTERFLY"

(We listen to three Weezer cuts: the soaring hit of "Say it Ain't So" and two deeper selections from Weezer's Pinkerton.)

Rivers Cuomo is one of my songwriting and guitar idols. When my shit gets too sad, I just inject a little Weezer in there, and then it's great again. Rivers Cuomo delved pretty deep into stuff that's not easy to talk about on Pinkerton. It's not always appealing. You don't like the person that he is or the things that he talks about, but it's really honest. That's something I really strive for in my writing.

The reason "Butterfly" is so amazing is that he's not painting a flattering picture of himself. It's pretty awful. It's essentially "I'm sorry I had sex with you and didn't call you the next day." Anybody who's ever been on the other end of that, you can hear that song and go, "OK."

WYE OAK, "I HOPE YOU DIE"

(The transfixing "I Hope You Die" helped Wye Oak gain greater footing in the indie pop world.)

I don't understand what this song is about at all. I feel like she's putting a voodoo curse on somebody, a beautiful voodoo curse.

INDY: After this album, Wye Oak put down the guitar a bit and turned toward more synthesizers. As a largely acoustic guitarist, what do you think of that move?

I think I prefer this. When they were doing the more electronic stuff (at Haw River Ballroom, opening for Future Islands), I was still digging it, mainly because of Jenn Wasner. Her voice is so beautiful, and their dynamic onstage is so great. But what they create with this earlier stuff's more powerful in some ways.

I don't know how I feel about this move toward electronica in general in the indie music scene. When people are pushing buttons and turning knobs, a touch of that is good. But too much of that and you can lose something visceral—the flaws, the little cracks, pops, flaws of the human voice, a guitar feeding back through an amplifier. You lose that with synth stuff.

STRAND OF OAKS, "GOSHEN 97"

(Smith heard Strand of Oaks for the first time in mid-September, when the band opened for Hiss Golden Messenger at Cat's Cradle.)

This guy is singing about religion and life and addiction, and he's doing it in this totally different way. I love this. This band knocked me on my ass.

I love having that bite, that intensity. Life is fucking intense. I can honestly say that every good song I've written has come out of a place of total desperation and sadness. I write songs when I'm at the bottom of the well and need to get back out again. I recognize in this guy that same thing. I write as a survival mechanism, a coping mechanism. To capture that live, that intensity and where you were when you wrote the song—it's not always easy to do every time.

INDY: It's cool when you go to a show, you don't know what to expect, and it knocks you flat.

It's like a mini, safe way to fall in love. That's why I gravitate to the live performance. I take away new music and follow people after I've seen them live. There's something about seeing them and standing in the same room and breathing the same air. Having never heard any recordings, I got to just experience that music in a pure way and hear those words. It feels like falling in love, it really does. But it's a good falling in love, where nothing terrible is going to happen. You're not going to get your heart broken.

This article appeared in print with the headline, "Monologue bombs."

  • Christy Smith's second record, The Darkness Comes feels seasonally appropriate

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