The British invasion continues
You can expect three things when you walk into Jodie Smith’s apartment: the smell of sage, the burning of incense and whatever genre of music happens to reflect her mood that day.“I love listening to music when I cook, I love listening to music in my apartment,” the model-actress-writer says. “…There’s always a vibe happening in my place.”
While technology has yet to discover how to transport scents across time and space, it’s evident even over a FaceTime call that what she’s saying is true. The U.K.-born Jamaican is cooking ackee and saltfish in her L.A. apartment as she discusses the role music has played in her life.
For Smith, music wasn’t just influential; it was more of a guiding force. In fact, the Brit credits Pharrell Williams and Kanye West for encouraging her to a career in front of the camera. It’s a path that has guided the onetime corporate banker to modeling gigs with Nike, Levi’s and the controversial Terry Richardson, a guest role on True Blood and a part on the upcoming Amazon series, Mad Dogs.
Raised in Peterborough, England, Smith first musical encounters were with reggae, church music (she sang in the choir) and Kenny G.
“I remember being really young and coming out of my bedroom, right to the bannister on the balcony and listening to my dad downstairs listening to Kenny G,” she recalls.
She was 14 when a friend gave her the first album she ever loved: a burned copy of Jill Scott’s Words and Sounds Vol. 1. It landed in her hands just as she was beginning to write poetry.
“It influenced my writing in several ways,” she said. “I played that CD over and over again until it just scratched on every track…I definitely felt, like, all of the angst. It’s funny when you’re that young, thinking you understand what the pain of love is.”
It was the beginning of Smith’s adoration of neo-soul artists like Scott, India.Arie, Erykah Badu and the like: “I considered myself to be such a poet at the time so, like, everything was poetry.”
It was also around her teen years that her mother became very religious and banned secular music. It forced Smith to go beyond her home to discover new sounds and hide her new finds (“I was really good at hiding things, unlike my brother,” she says).
She loved Destiny’s Child’s Writings on the Wall album and would listen to Eminem, her teenage crush, to help hype herself up to play football. She’s not ashamed that she can still rap along to “Lose Yourself” and admits that she’ll always have a place in her heart for the rapper.
After graduating from university in Pittsburgh, Smith landed a job as a corporate banker in the city. Thanks to her warm smile and friendly personality, Smith easily made friends in good places.
“I’m having this amazing experience in New York, right, and I’m standing next to Maxwell and then the lights go down and Kanye comes out on stage with that epic stage design that he had for that tour and the first song he does is that song ‘I Wonder.’”
One of those friends included Tony Williams, one of West’s trusted singers, whom she met during West’s early performing days. Williams always looked out for Smith, offering her tickets for whenever he and West were in town or nearby. Kanye West’s Glow In The Dark Madison Square Garden
It was while watching West perform live in Madison Square Garden during his Glow In The Dark tour, sitting next to Maxwell nonetheless (before he cut his hair, Smith noted), that she had an epiphany.
“I’m having this amazing experience in New York, right, and I’m standing next to Maxwell and then the lights go down and Kanye comes out on stage with that epic stage design that he had for that tour and the first song he does is that song ‘I Wonder,’” recalls Smith. “And he’s, like, talking about, ‘I wonder if you know what it means to find your dreams come true.’ and I’m sat there next to Maxwell, I’m in the fucking front row of Madison Square Garden and I was just like, ‘I don’t want to be a corporate banker. That’s not the life that I want.’
“…I’ve made so many friends with people that are artists around [Kanye] and that’s what really pushed and influenced me to be like, ‘There’s something else out there for me.’ For the first time it [gave] me the feeling that I’m supposed to have this extraordinary life.”
It was “just like dominoes” soon afterwards. She decided to quit her job as a banker but decided to stick around Pittsburgh a little while longer. There, she met Pharrell Williams backstage at a N.E.R.D. show—yet through another connection she made—who encouraged her to move to L.A. to become a model, not just a writer as she originally planned.
It’s now been six years since Smith made the big leap to L.A. and a new life. According to model-actress-writer living in the city has meant experiencing music rather than just listening to it. “It really helps because the entertainment industry is right here,” explains Smith. “You’re rubbing elbows, meeting new people all the time and getting to hear a lot of new music all time.”
“…I think my taste is much more varied living out here but, at the same time, the American music scene is different from the European music scene,” she adds. “[I feel like] I have to work harder to find music that’s actually interesting and not just popular.”
Smith estimates that she uses the app Shazam two to three times a day because it’s “the easiest way to discover new music as you pass by it.” She also uses Spotify to check out artists but will buy songs off of iTunes so she can own the music and support the artists she likes.
When I FaceTime Smith, she’s in the midst of TV’s busy pilot season and flying just about everywhere to model for her more commercial clients. She makes playlists on her way to gigs and uses music to help get her into whatever mind frame she needs to be in: “whenever I need to get my energy up, music is a good way to do that.” For her Mad Dogs audition, she listened to reggae and dancehall in order to get into her character and become “the Caribbean woman that I am.” And when she’s on set of a shoot, she turns to the likes of Cream, Ike and Tina Turner, Bill Withers—anything funky and upbeat.
Her musical tendencies vary in her day-to-day life. Smith says it’s all about how feels in the moment. She may be listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album, Jill Scott or Little Dragon on any given Sunday.
She reserves the likes of Future for motivation and Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone when she’s feeling soulful. She can jump from folk and semba singer and songwriter Bonga to Depeche Mode, Joy Division and the Smiths if she’s in the mood. Her yoga time is spent in silence, unless it’s one of those intense classes with aerobic elements. For those and other workouts, it’s all about Rihanna and Kanye.
“My taste is so wide and varied. I don’t have a specific kind of direction I need to go on,” Smith says. “It’s just how I feel right now.”