On their new single, Shaun Smith and Ross O’Reilly find solace in song and pay tribute to a friend’s memory
Cash & Carter, the brainchild of Birmingham artist Shaun Smith (aka Stealth) and London singer, writer, and producer Ross O’Reilly, seamlessly blend UK country with traditional Americana, drawing inspiration from legendary acts like The Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and (unsurprisingly) Johnny Cash and June Carter. With over 100 million collective streams between them, Smith and O’Reilly have united their songwriting prowess and are planning to release their debut EP in January next year.
Deeply personal new single Americana (Letting Her Go) delves into the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a close friend to suicide. Balancing a tribute to their memory with an exploration of grief, Smith’s emotive vocals, O’Reilly’s supportive guitar playing and the sensitive production all add to the song’s cathartic feel…
Shaun: Americana started on my sofa when I was living in a shared house in Watford. Shared accommodation isn’t great for noisy creatives, but that didn’t stop this song idea scratching the inside of my brain. I was on the sofa with my guitar and just noodling (quietly) between A minor and C and under my breath kind of croaked out the opening melody. After running round it a few times, the opening line just kind of fell into place. And it just felt right. I feel that whole environment was key to the creation of the song. The fact I was playing quietly, when I sang it was soft and fragile and that really informed the direction of where the idea could go. At that point I new I should take it into my session with Ross and the songwriter Alfie Jackson.
Shaun: The lyrics were tough for this song. Not particularly difficult to come up with, but the song is about a loss of a close friend and how I could come to terms with that loss. So actually being able to write something so personal can be tricky because it’s emotional and you’re digging through trauma. And not just your own trauma, it’s everyone else’s who has been affected, and you just want to do good by everyone, including my friend’s memory.
I think my favourite lyric is in the first verse. It’s not particularly poetic or clever but its true: “Everybody here would have killed to get the chance to meet her”
Ross: Ideas sometimes arrive in a good place right from the very start. Others take a little longer to wrap your head around. We sat on this song for a number years and in total recorded it twice. We wrote it with our friend David ‘Alfie’ Jackson of The Holloways.
We had a few competing ideas at the very beginning but this was probably one of the only times I’ve actually left a writing room to write the main guitar part. Once I had it the guys loved it and we started putting the song together. This guitar part starts the song. A haunting but inviting sound played as chord inversions of Am and C major on my Fender Telecaster.
A song of few chords but a huge amount of emotion (certainly within the lyrics), the parts had to be played well but simple enough to let that story through.
IN THE STUDIO
Ross: Such an important part of songwriting these days lies in the production. With Americana I felt it was a just a case of supporting the story without getting in the way of the words. Easier said than done mind you. A collection of electric and acoustic guitars, live bass, minimal drums and subtle keys all add a supporting role for the lead vocals.
One of the best vocal performances I’ve heard out of Shaun (pay me later mate) is on Americana. If ever there was a song that I’ve recorded that really suited the singer, this it it. For me It’s amazing.
90% of vocal recording is down to the vocalist, the tone and the delivery of the performance. On the odd occasion, the equipment, in this case the microphone, can add to and enhance the recording. Every microphone has a point where its proximity effect (how close you are to the mic) has an effect on your sound recording. Shaun got right into that mic, as close as he could, and let that lead vocal burst through. The sound was full of low end and warmth and sat right on top of everything else. We tried re-recording the vocals to make it better but the take we ended up going for was the original vocal from the very first day of writing the song. If it ain’t broke and all that! So Shaun’s vocal, a little bit of charm from the mic and some subtle valve compression and that was it.
In modern music it seems rare to find a song recorded (like they used to) unhinged and not tied to a click track. Sometimes it’s all about the ‘vibe’. For the right song, capturing that initial moment any way you can is paramount. At the time I did say to myself, “What are you doing, why have I recorded this song without a click?” As you can imagine, the editing, delay time, the timed FX …essentially lots of the pros of modern recording went out the window. Whilst quicker than using tape, it certainly took longer than it would normally recording into Pro Tools. Every backing vocal, guitar part, kick drum had to be recorded in with no option of copy & paste. Although time consuming, it certainly adds to the charm of the record.
Often those initial recordings and parts end up being the most interesting. Mistakes, poor mic choice, bad tuning (on the guitar, never the vocals…) or just my pure laziness can all add to the recording process. The kick was a sample I’d created from another song and it just sat in and worked great. I’ll admit I was lazy putting drums on Americana as it only features a few cymbals and a kick drum. Saying that, it did lead to the acoustic guitar part taking over the role of the hi-hat in the chorus. Sometimes that’s how it can work out.
We just hope everyone enjoys the record, and maybe it helps some people out there. Thank you for having us, and thanks for listening to the song.