"I don't cry for the wasted years
Or the twisted roads that got me here
I have been to the end of the earth
And I know what standing still is worth
In a Perfect Moment when the stars aligned
Love don't travel in straight lines
And every day of my life
Has led me to this Perfect Moment with you "
"Perfect Moment" from Darden Smith's Sunflower
It takes a certain amount of inner courage and vulnerability to strip away the things you think will please others and learn to live in the "perfect" moment". It is that moment and place where the view from the bottom starts to take on new meaning and change happens. Many albums that endure have found their genesis in that zone.
Five years ago, Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith was without a label deal, had been through a divorce and was wondering what had happened to a "beautiful" life that, only a few years prior, was enjoying personal, critical and commercial success.
Beginning in the mid-80's, Smith made a handful of strong albums that took him on a circuitous path from being a rootsy indie Texas singer-songwriter to major label artist, as well as other more transitional efforts.
When everything began crashing down in the mid-90's, Smith had to do some serious self-assessments about what he was doing with his career. It was time to take responsibility for his artistic voice or do something else with his life. The epiphanies that resulted became the underlying subtext for Sunflower, Smith's most fully realized and intimate work to date.
"At a certain point you have to make the record that you hear in your head. There's no guarantee that it's going to sell anyway, so you might as well do what you want to do -- much as anyone will let you. Fortunately, I'm at the stage where I have complete freedom," adds Smith. "I think if your not out there risking something, people aren't going to be as identified with what you have to say."
Instead of seeking out another label deal, Smith decided that the only way that he was going to truly create what he wanted was to do it himself with co-producer, Stewart Lerman and then seek out the label. Smith recorded Sunflower in New York and Austin. Much of the album was done at home.
"This is the third record I've done with Stewart. Talking with him, he said, "You might as well go and get to the bone and just do it exactly how you want to. Who are you pleasing anyway? Yourself ... or are you pleasing some mythical record company guy who probably isn't going to care anyway? You should just go do what you want to do and say exactly what you want to say."
Sunflower kicks off with the reflective "Perfect Moment", a song that sets the tone for the whole album.
"I think the tone of the whole record is established with "Perfect Moment"," states Smith. "In the last five years, I realized that everything is spot on where it should be and the trick is to see it for what it is," Smith reflects. "'Stronger' was definitely about realizing that even if you go all the way down, nothing stays the same, and if you sit still with it,things will get better. Every day is not all bad. There's good stuff that happens everyday, every moment and its gonna be ok."
"When I started writing these songs, I was in a pretty dark place. At the same time, I was becoming more comfortable with spiritual presence and with writing about that," says Smith. "'Shadow' was written around then and it expresses that it's OK to have dark places. I don't want to get rid of my shadow, but I don't want it to run the show."
Musically, Sunflower synthesizes the intimate organic acoustic qualities of classic singer/songwriter efforts of artists like Paul Simon with ethereal ambient and rhythmic touches that recall the reflective expansiveness of U2's The Joshua Tree. "Satellite", the first single off of Sunflower, exudes the kind of rich melodicism and smart economy of arrangement found in Tom Petty's best solo work.
The inspiration behind the title of the album revealed itself in Smith's own back yard.
"Between my house and studio, is a big patch of ground we planted in wild flowers and prairie grasses of all kinds. The whole idea of this is to not water and let what happens happen. Not having any experience with this kind of thing, it's hard to tell what's what when everything first starts to come up in the spring. These ugly, spikey weeds came up and didn't seem to be anything worth keeping. Everything else was blooming but these big weeds. I was ready to pull them until a friend came over and said they were sunflowers. In a few short weeks after they were saved from the trash heap, the most beautiful blossoms appeared. Tall, almost nine feet, and graceful, they moved with the wind like some kind of plant world matron looking over their brood. And they lasted forever. After the other plants started to wilt with the Texas heat, the sunflowers kept strong. They seemed like a good talisman for this record.
"Songs are like weeds. You never know how they'll turn out. In a way, we're all like that too. At a certain moment we're all a bunch of weeds, then we hit a good streak and it's blossom time."
Everything exists in that perfect moment and Darden Smith's Sunflower is the work of an artist whose time has come.