Twin Cities songbird Caroline Smith finds the sweet spot

Caroline Smith (wearing a dress by Calpurnia Peach) with her Good Night Sleeps Jesse Schuster and Arlen Peiffer

Caroline Smith (wearing a dress by Calpurnia Peach) with her Good Night Sleeps Jesse Schuster and Arlen Peiffer

Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps have all the makings of a band on the verge of breaking out: Smith's folky songs are sunny, simple, and memorable without straying into saccharine; her sincere, chatty stage presence is disarming; and her backing band (Cloud Cult's Arlen Peiffer on drums and Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles' Jesse Schuster on bass) loves to tour. With an airtight album already under her belt (Backyard Tent Set, released earlier this year), a voice that sounds like a whippoorwill floating on a spring breeze, and an audience that seems to grow exponentially with every show she plays, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Smith before she rockets off into the stratosphere.

City Pages: What are your earliest memories of playing music?

Caroline Smith: My dad taught me how to play guitar when I was really young, playing Bob Dylan songs and stuff. He got me my first guitar, and then I took it over to my mom's house and started writing songs. It wasn't until I was 15 that she found out that I was playing, and she made me start playing out in restaurants. That's how I got started playing out—my mom made me. She was like the hockey mom of the arts.

City Pages: You played the First Avenue mainroom for the first time this year. What was that like?

Smith: That was really surreal. We played Best New Bands, and that was my first time being up there. On the second song, I looked out, and I totally had this flashback of me being 15 years old and playing in my bathroom mirror and pretending like I was on the main stage at First Avenue. I totally had that cheesy movie moment. It was awesome.

City Pages: It seems like a lot of people compare you to another local musician who played Best New Bands this year, Lucy Michelle. How do you feel about those comparisons?

Smith: If I'm compared to Lucy Michelle, I'm flattered, because I think she's really talented, and she's a very sweet girl. We have a lot of mutual friends, and are acquaintances ourselves. The more I listen to her music, the more I just don't feel like we're doing the same thing. Maybe our vocal influences are similar, with Billie Holiday and stuff, which is where people are apt to compare us—and we have the same bass player—but I feel like our songs are completely different. Her band is really amazing, and it's more about all of them working together, where my songs are all about the songwriting.

City Pages: Agreed. Sometimes it seems people tend to lump female singers together simply because they are female.

Smith: There are plenty of bands that come up in Minneapolis at the same time that sound an awful lot alike, and they don't ever get compared. But me and Lucy—I think it'll be like that for a while. We were thinking about doing a battle show [laughs]. I don't know, we'll see.

City Pages: Are you working on songs for a new album already? What's your songwriting process like?

Smith: I'm a really slow songwriter. I can only write a song a month, maybe, if that. And then half of those songs I don't really like. So I'm really picky, and it takes me forever. I wish I could just sit down and write a song, like my friend Andy Ulseth, he just sits down and can write a song, and I was always really jealous of that. But I have to wait for the perfect moment.

City Pages: How do you know when the moment is coming?

Smith: It's just a feeling. That's a blunt answer, but that's really what it is. Like, "I could write a really good song right now. Oh my god, I need to go home."

City Pages: Have you discovered any methods for getting back to that place where the creativity is flowing?

Smith: Yeah. There has to be something that is quaking me or something that is making me emotional. Which is why 90 percent of my songs are about boys [laughs].