Rubedo: An Interview with Derek Smith
Welcome! We are joined today by singer-songwriter Derek Smith. Derek has primarily been known as the front-man for Boston based band The Cosmic Vultures. However, with the release of his latest solo album Rubedo, the multi-talented artist is earning quite the reputation in his own right. We’re here to discuss the album with Derek, so let’s get right into it.
You’ve been playing for some time now with your band, The Cosmic Vultures. However, your latest work, Rubedo is only your first solo album released with the label. It has been well and widely received: is this due to the dedication of the band’s fan base, or do you find this album to be reaching a new audience?
DS: You know, I don’t know. I’d like to think that I am attracting new fans. Based off of my Spotify stats it seems I have some people listening around the country as well as Finland and New Zealand, funny enough. One thing people have been asking me is to perform more solo shows. The Cosmic Vultures have a lot of dates ready for 2023, so it really just depends on how much time I have between the band and work. The album seems to be doing decently well and my single Fire in the Forest is about to hit 10,000 streams, which is such a cool thing for me. People are listening and it makes me want to keep releasing more albums!
With over 10,000 streams at the time of this interview, there is clearly something about the album that is resonating with listeners. What is it that keeps Rubedo in people’s listening rotation?
DS: I’d like to think there is something for everyone on Rubedo. I noticed that some of the songs havereached some different Spotify playlists, which is neat. I think people like moody music just as much asupbeat stuff. It’s a very “Derek” album. It’s the only way I can explain this record. Hopefully people keep listening.
Rubedo – Where did the title come from?
DS: I have always been into the thought of alchemy. I remember reading about the Magnum Opus of alchemy and seeing that one of the steps in order to basically create gold out of different chemical compounds was to “redden”. It’s the final step before it becomes gold. I believe it’s a Latin word. As someone who likes to create, there’s this feeling of self-deprecation. So I thought it was kind of funny not calling the record, “The Magnum Opus”, because this might not be my finest work. In fact, I am sure it isn’t. I have a lot more to offer. I want to make the perfect record. So this was just a step toward the Magnum Opus. Just kind of a fun play on, “getting close to something special”. Or maybe this record is already special. Hopefully some day I look back and say, “Yep. Very proud.” I am not saying I am NOT proud…but as someone who creates…I know you catch my drift.
Some of our favorite songs from the album are ‘The Ludwig Bros.’, ‘Hangman’, and ‘Love and War/ All the Fools’. Was the track list compiled after years of writing, or were some of the songs written either for the album, or as a result of its creative energy?
DS: Some of these songs are a few years old, some of them are pretty new. The Cosmic Vultures is what I write for primarily. I write songs for the band and some of the time we collaborate. But when I compose a song, in the past, I was writing for the band. If everyone liked it, we would go ahead and work on it as a band and then eventually record it. I have gotten to the point now where I have realized that myself (solo) and the band are releasing music at a different speed. So now if I write a song I can kind of tell if it would belong on my solo record or a Vultures record. I started recording Rubedo in January 2022 and worked on it for a few months with my close friend, Jonathan Chesbro AKA John Dillon. I took some time off to focus on some Vultures stuff, mostly Psychotherapy, one of our new singles. I jumped back into Rubedo in the Fall of 2022 and got it released in December, so everything fell in line the way I wanted. And those songs you mentioned are some of my favorites as well.
Rubedo is a solo record, but it does contain Cosmic Vultures DNA. Was it business as usual working with your comrades, or is there a different dynamic when doing this work?
DS: It’s different. I am mainly working on everything myself. I track everything myself and when I feel it’s at a point where it needs some other instruments, I will go ahead and send the tracks to whoever I asked to play on the record. Then from there, all the tracks are sent to my producer and he mixes and masters the songs. Sometimes I will send some songs to some band members or my father, just to get their opinion. But, ultimately, if I like it, it’s going on the record. But yeah, the only person I am really collaborating with on these solo songs is Jon Chesbro. But, yeah, there is Vulture DNA because I do tend to write a lot of the Vulture songs. Bringing a song to the band is like bringing a plain cake over someone’s house. Then it gets the frosting, the candies, the flavor. They’re brilliant: Dalton, Dylan, Mike and Steve. Jon is a Vulture too. He is just not an active member as far as live shows go right now. But once and a while he comes back to MA and surprises us. I also really love writing with the band. Those guys bring out the best in me.
The album is a catchy mix of pop and ethereal alternative oriented sounds; it’s unique and immersive. Was it the result of how things came together, or were you intentionally pursuing this sound?
DS: I always write on my acoustic guitar. So that’s the sound. Anything I write usually starts off with a folky kind of sound. Then as I add things, it starts to change or sound MORE folky, haha. It just depends where the song wants to go. I didn’t really intend for any of these songs to sound the way they do. As they develop I started to understand things like, “Oh, The Ludwig Brothers wants to have more of an early 70s classic rock feel” or “Fire in the Forest is moody, how can I make it more moody. Let’s make it the moodiest!”
Did any musical or non-musical influences shape this album’s direction? Were there any overarching themes in mind during it’s creation?
DS: I am always influenced by The Beatles. A lot of people tell me they can hear that influence. Other influences come out of nowhere and end up not even sounding like what I recorded. Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, The Smashing Pumpkins, Neil Young were some influences, whether it be their music or lyrics. Even some movies will have some themes that catch me. The Ludwig Brothers, for me, has a Tarantino feel. Or was meant to. Love and War/All the Fools is just being bitchy about hearing and seeing rich people, haha. Hangman is about someone about to be executed and asks the hangman to hold him before he sees blackness. Orangedream deals with an interesting theme. Who are you when you’re home? Are you the same person in public? Do you wear a mask? What are you hiding? Fire in the Forest was sort of influenced by thinking of my past and my childhood. Those are some of the themes off of the record. I will say – I am working on my next solo record and should have a single or two dropping in the next 2-4 months. 8-10 new songs. I like writing, haha.
Well, there you have it! Check out Rubedo today and follow Derek Smith on social media to stay up to date with this busy guy!