18 years ago, Trey Smith and Jennifer Fielder wandered into a New Year’s Eve party. They didn’t know each other yet, but their families had been intertwined for decades at that point. The pair immediately struck up a close friendship, but unbeknownst to them, that was just the beginning. As teenagers and young people often do, they drifted apart, and years later, fate would intervene and reconnect them. Both ended up going to college in the DFW Area–which comprises such institutes as University of North Texas at Dallas and University of Texas at Arlington–and when Smith’s band broke up, he “reached out” via Facebook and “asked her if she wanted to sing with me and she reluctantly said yes,” he says. Fielder recalls how that first session changed everything. “When he came over and we sang together and heard that blend for the first time, my hair stood up on my arms (that’s the cheesy part). I got chills. It was really easy to go ‘I want to do this, and I want to do this with you.’ I never thought in a million years I’d be able to say that.”
Dazzling and suited up for their first ever concert in New York City, Smithfield, bubbling with unstoppable optimism and smiles for days, plopped down on stools in the lounge of Gramercy Theatre, one of the city’s premiere venues. They were opening for Steve Moakler, and the stop concluded quite an erratic but rewarding week on the East Coast. “We actually got into New York on Monday. So, we’re a little worn down but it’s been exciting. We got to do some really cool stuff. We went to a our first Broadway musical,” beams Fielder to B-Sides & Badlands. And they saw Aladdin, for the record, which first opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre in March 2014.
“We’ve been ping-ponging all over the city. We got here early Monday morning. Did Monday and Tuesday. Got back here today [Thursday],” adds Smith. The duo jet-setted off to Boston for a one-off show before making their final return to the City That Never Sleeps. And the duo are sure making a go of it. A whirlwind press junket, with stops at offices like Spotify, is marking a career currently on the up-swing, despite their label folding. They were signed to Big Picture Group, which also housed Craig Campbell, Blackjack Billy and others, but the label closed its doors in early 2014. They might not have the muscle of a promotion department, but the duo are seeing impressive returns on their music. “Hey Whiskey,” a scorching ballad in a post-breakup world, recently vaulted over two million streams on Spotify; that’s not easy in the streaming and download landscape when everyone has access to music at their fingertips 24/7. Regardless, they have been making a name for themselves.
Last year, they were expected to open on Randy Houser’s 2016 tour stop at the Best Buy Theatre. “Our flight got cancelled in Chicago. So, we missed the show. We kind of had a horrible experience. They lost our bags. We got six hours in New York, so we’re trying to live it up while we’re here. We got pizza. We went to Central Park. We did all the tourist-y stuff. Walked Times Square. Took a picture with Spiderman,” remembers Fielder. Smith quips, “Side note, we didn’t know Spiderman wanted us to pay him to take our picture. But we figured that out very quickly.”
“Lesson learned,” Fielder chuckles. “This will be our first time to get to play. We’ve always wanted to play Gramercy Theatre. It’s been on my bucket list for awhile.”
In an interview with Taste of Country, the duo spoke about how important “Hey Whiskey” has been to them, stating, “[It] is kind of my shining moment.” Smith reflects on how they could possibly get even better, joking, “I think we’re just going to give up. We’re done. That’s all we got guys!” he laughs. But in all seriousness, it is certainly a challenge they don’t take lightly. “You just go in everyday and try to write the best lyrics that you can. Some days, it’s going to be lightning in a bottle like ‘Hey Whiskey.’ Some days, it’s not. You can’t choose when inspiration comes. You just have to put in the sweat to get there. The more you work, the better you get at it,” he says.
“We write a ton of songs. They’re not always that level. We set the bar really high. Hopefully, we can continue to at least reach that. Obviously, I hope to exceed it,” adds Fielder.
When it comes to the song’s devastating story, she admits, rather honestly, that she’s never had her heartbroken in that way. “I know this will sound bad but…I’ve always been the one to break the heart. There are times I’ve had my heart broken when I’ve broken it off, and it’s not because I wanted to. I don’t know what that would feel like, to be addicted to alcohol in a heartbreak situation,” she explains. Smith has also scraped some heartbreak a time or two in his life. “I’ve had heartbreak before, but maybe not to that extent. I don’t know if I’ve ever turned to anything specifically. I’m an introverted person, so I keep my feelings bottled-up deep,” he says.
Smithfield first crashed onto the scene in 2015 with the feel-good, electric-guitar-led “Good Ol Days.” Following that with the heaviness of “Hey Whiskey” was a risk they knew they just had to take. “Our president [of Big Picture Media] sat us down one day and said ‘nobody’s ever going to get that song. It’s too dark and it’s not going to connect with people.’ We kept seeing the exact opposite every time we played it out. When we got out of the deal, we did our own independent project and knew we had to put that song on it,” Smith recounts.
“Being a girl/guy duo, most of the time, you think ‘oh, they’re in love’ or ‘all their songs are going to be about how much they love each other.’ Although, we do have a couple love songs, that’s not what we pride ourselves on. We always want our stuff to be different from anything you’ve ever heard. ‘Good Ol Days’ was our lead off and it was fun and upbeat. It really showed us being a true duet. We take verses and switch on and off. But ‘Hey Whiskey’ was always this song that showcased our writing ability and gave us more credibility as songwriters and artists. It’s the song that makes people go ‘oh, yeah. It’s not just fluff. There’s some real deep stuff.’ This is the song I’m most proud of. When SiriusXM picked it up, that’s the one we wanted.”
If the streaming numbers weren’t sign enough of their budding stardom, the fans have spoken, openly, about the song’s unequivocal impact on their lives. “That’s why we do what we do. It’s rewarding, yeah. Music touched me growing up. When you have heartbreak, you listen to sad songs,” says Fielder. “When you’re happy, you have something upbeat on. It’s a part of your life. To think our music is part of someone’s life that deeply, that’s a dream come true.”
“There was a lady we met the other night. She had tears in her eyes, and she was like ‘I love your song ‘Hey Whiskey.’ I hear it everyday. I just want to tell ya’ll to keep doing what you’re doing because ya’ll are going to make it big.’ She really meant it,” she explains. “That’s what keeps me going. There are so many ups and downs in our industry. When you’ve been told ‘no’ a lot or had a lot of hardships, those kinds of things are everything.”
Smith recounts “a comment on YouTube the other day,” he says. “A guy was like ‘love this song, really makes me think about my life.’ And he said something about having that same problem. ‘Wish I would have heard this song back when it was going on and maybe I could have still been with this girl.’ To hear that kind of stuff is just crazy. That’s real life.”
The story and emotion Smith and Fielder were able to capture on “Hey Whiskey,” many singers and songwriters spend their entire lives chasing. As this up and coming duo dig their heels into their next project–which they promise is going “to be a little more progressive, a little poppier on the uptempo stuff,” notes Fielder–they take a moment to admire two vastly different songwriters who have influenced their own work. “Faith Hill is my ultimate idol. But in junior high, Carrie Underwood came out. I loved her so much because I loved her songs. I realized, early on, that she didn’t write them. Hillary Lindsey was a big part of her some of her biggest hits. Hillary is someone I really look up to. She’s a strong female in the music industry who’s written tons of #1 hits, and the songs she writes are really great.”
Meanwhile, Smith was glued to rock ‘n roll. “My favorite band growing up was the Goo Goo Dolls. Johnny Rzenick was the reason I started music. I loved the way he crafted songs. He was talking about he would experience this massive writer’s block and write five songs during the week, all great, huge songs. If I could write one song, it could have been ‘Iris.'”
Smithfield are expected to release their brand new single “When You’re Gone” on June 23. An EP will follow in the fall. “We’ve been working on some new music. It’s a nice evolution of what we do,” says Smith. “The first EP, you got a taste of our harmonies and blend. This next one will be a continuation of that and still pulling in our country influences.”