Dan Smalley's debut EP, If I'm Being Honest, was released on March 20, and is the culmination of the singer's 16 years on his musical journey. Raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Smalley picked up a whole lot of life experience before moving to Nashville, where he broke those formative years down into four songs on his brand-new EP.
The project lives up to its name — it's honest and vulnerable, but Smalley makes sure to save some room for fun. While If I'm Honest is firmly rooted in country music's confessional storytelling, Smalley admitted that it took him a while to hone in on the sound he wanted to present as an artist. As a child, he would watch his father sing as a vocalist in the Air Force and eventually began performing in a cover band himself, singing songs by everyone from Maroon 5 to Willie Nelson.
"People love when you sing that sound," he mused of his time singing covers. "Should you sound like that? And people love when you sing that song. Should you sound like that?"
"Some people, I imagine, just wake up, that's the only voice they got," he continued. "That's all they can put out there. That's what they do and everybody loves it. And my experience, the way I had to go about finding my own voice, I had to try every different avenue there was as far as music goes."
Smalley began driving to Nashville to write in 2015, making the eight-hour trek from Shreveport every other week. He and his family eventually made the move permanent, and Smalley secured a publishing deal before signing with Big Machine Records and releasing his EP.
"It took a long time to get there," he reflected. "But had I not gotten there before I got to Nashville, Tennessee, there's no telling what would have happened. I think such is life. We go through things in life that make us who we are. As an artist, as a vocalist, as a singer, as a guitar player, as a musician, period, I don't ever want to stop growing. I don't ever want to stop getting better and learning."
If I'm Honest contains four songs — the title track, "'Till Country Comes Back," in which Smalley uses the word "country" to refer to a woman, the lighthearted breakup anthem "Rich and Famous," and "Lucky," a vulnerable offering that touches on several of Smalley's past experiences including a drunk car crash where hit four crosses on the side of the road and the night he drunkenly broke into a house he thought was his and was shot by a resident.
"And at this point in my career, I want to help as many people as I possibly can," he said. "I want people to hear my story and find a little bit of hope in it. I want them to hear 'Lucky' and say, 'Man, that guy went through hell and came out the other end and now look at him,' you know what I mean? 'If he did it, then I can do it.'"
Along with "Lucky," "If I'm Honest" is the EP's other incredibly personal track and contains one of the singer's favorite lines, "Truth is I'm more broomstick side between cowboy and a kid / Truth is I'm most of the time just shooting from the hip."
"I want people to hear it and maybe take a deeper look at themselves and say, 'Hey, if I was being honest, what would I be saying to people out there in the world?'" Smalley said. "And can I relate to this guy that's usually just winging it? Most of the time, he's just shooting from the hip.' That's honest for me. Truth is I'm a little bit more childish than grown up."
Photo Credit: Chelsea Thompson