- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Brad Smith has authored more than a few chapters in his 48 years. The latest has him feeling good. Not that the others didn’t. They begin with being born in Columbus, growing up in West Point. Fast forward to today, and he’s in the Los Angeles area, launching an already considerable music career into another gear by scoring a National Geographic film out now in IMAX theaters and composing the soundtrack for a western that won Best Short Film at the 2015 Carmel International Film Festival.

In between, there was football, track, cover bands, and playing baritone horn at Oak Hill Academy. Add working the loading dock at Bryan Foods, a stint at Mississippi State, making California rent by manning a jackhammer and running construction crews. And, oh yes, a couple of Grammy nominations, touring with Guns N’ Roses, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones, playing Woodstock and “Saturday Night Live.” And writing an iconic song — “No Rain.” Though released 24 years ago, it still airs today on radio, in football stadiums, arenas and even “CBS This Morning” commercial break segues.

Brad was a founding member, primary songwriter and bassist of the band Blind Melon, and he has a lot to be grateful for. That includes the small-town upbringing he credits with helping him “keep it simplified” through highs and some tumultuous lows, not the least of which was the death by OD of Blind Melon’s charismatic lead singer Shannon Hoon in 1995. The blow devastated the high-profile band, which also boasted co-founder and West Point native Rogers Stevens, Glen Graham of Columbus and Christopher Thorn of Pennsylvania.

“It’s been such a weird ride — bands being put together, touring, playing SNL, Shannon dying, building studios in Seattle and then L.A., becoming a music producer, and now doing the scoring … ” Brad says by phone from California. Even unseen, he somehow radiates personality, not to mention passion for what he’s up to now — composing for film. The musician, songwriter, producer and engineer admits he’s sitting on his third solo record. Seventeen songs are ready to go. But that project, he says, is temporarily on hold, while his creative compass gravitates to film.

“There’s something kind of exciting about supporting a director’s vision,” he enthuses. “I love being able to enhance and help them tell their story, and I think that’s where I am right now.”

Brad’s first foray into film work was “The Mediator,” which won at the Carmel International Film Festival. When writers, producers and brothers Parker and Graham Phillips (many would recognize Graham as “Zach Florrick” on “The Good Wife”) offered the chance to score the 1890s tale, Brad immersed himself in music of the time period. He’d go to bed with melodies rolling around in his head, until one wouldn’t go away.

“I knew I didn’t want it to be too spaghetti western of a vibe, so I was very careful not to lean too hard into the ‘cowboyness’ of it,” he shares on the Phillips Pictures website. “I wanted it to sound more ‘grand’ and less gunfighter.”

Nicholas Cochran was supervising sound editor on the film and has this to say on the website:

“I cannot say enough good things about the score for ‘The Mediator.’ I’ve worked with numerous composers over the years, but seldom do I collaborate with a composer that has the sound design of a film in mind from the get-go.”

Brad is rightfully high on his second film score project, “Extreme Weather.” The new IMAX documentary produced by National Geographic opened in theaters in mid-October. Its soaring images dramatically thrust audiences close to Oklahoma’s tornadoes, California wildfires and crashing glaciers melting in Alaska — all directed by Sean Casey. Casey and his wife, Jennifer, are known for the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers,” Brad explains before describing the phone call.

“I did the film because I did the promo for it,” he says. “Once it got financed one of the directors called me and said they’d really loved the score on the promo, and would I do the whole film.

“I was acting all cool. Yeah, sure, I’d love to do it,” Brad laughs, remembering. The cold sweat set in over the enormity of the task after he hung up. It didn’t last long. He dove into transitioning from the rural musical landscape he’d crafted for “The Mediator” to a more orchestral, sci-fi influenced score.

“I’ve had to do a lot of research — like what is the actual range of a violin, or an oboe,” he cites as an example. Because he doesn’t come from “that type of music,” Brad feels he had something fresh to bring to the table that the filmmakers responded to.

“I was really happy to work with such a prestigious marquee brand as National Geographic. It’s killer to work with just amazing, forward-thinking people,” he says. “This is really my proudest work as a composer.”

It’s now been almost 30 years since two West Point boys, Brad Smith and Rogers Stevens, put the Magnolia State in the rearview mirror and struck out together for California to make music. But Brad carries Mississippi with him every day.

“Yeah, it’s been a long, long ride, and I think one thing that has helped me keep it kind of simplified in the music business was my Mississippi roots. I’ve embraced them every day since I moved here,” he says. “Because I didn’t grow up in a big city, I wasn’t distracted by big city chaos in a way. West Point is a small town, and I had one of these amazing childhoods. Everything was really simple.”

That kind of background gives a guy a certain outlook on life, he adds, one that has helped a self-described junior high nerd-turned-self-taught guitar player stay pretty grounded.

Plus, it’s cool when he tells people where he’s from.

“I love the fact that I’m from Mississippi. I’m like an exotic creature out here to a lot of people,” he chuckles. “They love (it) because I have a different perspective, and I hit it with a fresh energy.”

He gets a kick, too, out of rolling out the state’s contributions to the entertainment and music world, from Morgan Freeman and Oprah to the blues, Elvis and current musicmakers like Jimbo Mathus.

“In terms of music, you can’t even compare it,” he says with relish.

Brad lives with his wife, Kim, and 11-year-old daughter, Frankie, in California, where he actively produces for other bands, keeps up solo projects like Abandoned Jalopy and The Garden District, which propels his songs onto TV shows like “The Vampire Diaries,” ”The Mentalist” and “24.” He’s on tap to score a new Phillips Pictures film that begins shooting in May 2017. He’s even incubating the idea of writing a screenplay for a film concept he’s come up with.

As busy as he is, Brad has ample reason to return to old stomping grounds whenever he can. His parents are Gail and Chance Laws of Columbus and Ernie and Sue Smith of Tupelo.

“I love coming back, are you kidding me?” he’s quick to say. Seeing family and getting in some golf or tennis are high on his list.

“And there’s nothing like fishing in a pond in Mississippi, especially when you’re spending so much of your time in California. … I love just going out there, taking it in and looking at the landscape, and in a weird way just being thankful.”

For his mother, Gail, it’s good to see. They recently got in a visit when Blind Melon played festivals in the Deep South. Yes, Blind Melon still resonates with fans and performs — not so very often, because its members all have careers in various parts of the country. But with singer Travis Warren at the mic, they convene when they can and resurrect the sound that changed all their lives once upon a time.

“I’ve been so fortunate to see him lately, and he’s got a lot of friends here still,” said Gail. “He just loves composing for film now, and I’m just so happy; he’s doing what he loves for a living and, boy, nobody can ask for more than that.”

Brad calls striking out for the west coast when he was 19 to pursue music the biggest, bravest decision he’s ever made.

“I could not have been more fearless; nothing else mattered to me,” he says. It took a while, but when lightning struck, it set in motion chapters even Brad couldn’t foretell. Decades later, different doors are opening, and there is little doubt how he’s feeling about it.

“It’s a whole new world I’m loving right now.”


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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