Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

From time to time, I am asked about local bands and who I would recommend to book for shows. There is a relatively new Louisville group that I saw play earlier this year and I would recommend them: Authentic U. The band came onto the scene in 2006 with their debut album, What You Believe. This past year singer and songwriter Ken Smith and the band worked locally with dozens of churches and planned, hosted and performed a benefit concert called Free To Be. This summer, Authentic U was also featured on The Fox 41 Morning Show and the Peter B and Kelly K show on WDJX 99.7.

Smith recently took some time to answer a few questions.

Louisville Music News: Have you always wanted to be a musician?

Ken Smith: Not exactly. Growing up, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Since the time I was seven. I knew I wanted to pitch for the New York Yankees. I can remember right after my family moved to Indiana, I went to my first little league tryout here. I was going through the drills like everyone else, then I get to the pitching drill. After the first throw it got pretty quiet in the gym. All you could hear was the sound of a ball snapping the catcher's glove. From there, it was All-Conference selections, Pre-Season All-State Honors and various letters from pro scouts. Eventually I ended up at U of L on a scholarship to pitch.

I think I began playing guitar when I was 16. Within a year I had written my first song. I always wanted to sing and write rather than be a great lead guitarist. I played off and on as a hobby until I was about 20. Then I really felt God calling me to do more with the gifts He has given me.

LMN: What is your most memorable gig?

KS: I would have to say opening for Chris Rice and Jars of Clay. It was 2003 at Kentucky Kingdom and I had been asked to lead a worship team called Fusion. There were six members from five different churches to help me form an awesome worship team. We performed in front of more than 4,000 people. It was amazing! I got to share one of my original songs as well and everyone sang along. That definitely left an impression.

LMN: What was your most embarrassing moment?

KS: I've got to go back awhile for this one. I believe it was July of 2000. I had a cover band I put together called Release. We worked with a booking agent based out of Nashville, Tennessee. It was our first official gig and he booked us at a club in Gillette, Wyoming. We drove 24 hours to get there. We were booked to play two weeks. Well, the first night was July 4th and our opening song was "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen. The band started, the music was rocking and when it came time for the vocals I totally choked and forgot the words. I think I made it back in by the pre-chorus. What a way to start a job!

LMN: Who are your influences?

KS: Growing up I was big into Guns N' Roses. As a guitarist I really loved Slash and his style. As a writer, I respected Axl Rose. I was bummed when they disbanded. I was also into Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. In my late teens, I started listening to classic rock more. Led Zeppelin and The Doors were big influences on me. In my twenties was when I really began to write more and polish my skills and techniques. That's when I got more into pop rock like Collective Soul, Matchbox Twenty and Live. I've always been big on great singer/songwriters. I have a huge respect for someone who can go out, command a stage and tell their story through their music.

LMN: You've had a lot of different people in your band...why is that?

KS: You know over the last few years I have come to see it as more of a blessing. Getting to work with so many different musicians and being able to collaborate and learn from them has grown my musicianship. I also believe that God continually brings people into my life in different seasons. As I pray and look to grow this ministry I realize that plans change, God calls and we have to adapt and be flexible to where He needs us. I am grateful for all the friends and musicians that have been a part of Authentic U. There's only a few bands I can think of that have original lineups that have never changed; U2, The Rolling Stones...that's all I can come up with right now. It's just the nature of music, but I also think that is what keeps us fresh and always creating.

LMN: Your sound is reminiscent of Collective Soul. Why (is that) and any band stories?

KS: You know... one of the first songs an instructor tried to teach me was "December." I think I was 16 and remember thinking, "I don't like these guys."

I really got into Collective Soul after I saw them live at The Palace in '99. Their energy was awesome and I thought everything sounded better live than on the CD. You can't say that about very many bands. When people make that comment to me about Authentic U, I am very humbled and honored by it. Not to say that a CD is bad, but a live and energetic performance is a better representation of what an artist is trying to convey. You're able to see them on a personal level. Hopefully hear them discuss some back story and meaning to the music. Most of all, you can see their level of enjoyment in what they have been gifted to do. After the live experience, I went back and started listening to their old albums and kept up with the new stuff. I came to respect and admire Singer/Songwriter Ed Roland. I respected him first for his catchy hooks and melodies and then for how he sang. I appreciate when someone actually sings a clean note and harmonies. Not just screaming or rapping, which you are hearing a lot of today. He also produces all of the albums. I guess just an overall respect as a musician, producer and writer. As far as stories go, I have met the band a couple of times after some shows. They are very laid back and down to earth. They always hang out until they have said hey to all their fans. I believe it is important for a band to connect with their fans and show appreciation.

LMN: What are you listening to today?

KS: Well I teach private guitar lessons, so I hear a little of everything. Honestly, it has been a long time since I bought a CD. There haven't been many new bands that interest me. I find myself waiting for older bands like Pearl Jam, U2 and Matchbox Twenty to put new albums out. I thought I heard Zeppelin may cut some new tracks, which would be sweet.

LMN: What do you want the Authentic U live experience to be like for someone?

KS: Moving and memorable. I want to positively impact people in whatever way God can use me. That may be during the show through a song, through some words or afterwards when we hang out and meet new people. I hope people can take something away from our shows that can benefit them. Something they heard, something they saw or something they felt. God can work in a lot of different ways. Also I want every show to be fun. I really try to get people involved by singing along or clapping. I want them to be as excited about being there as I am. Above all, just that we are everyday people who are grateful to be able to share our gifts and the joy found in Christ with everyone.

LMN: What do your future plans for Authentic U look like?

KS: I have a few goals in mind for 2008. We did a nice job at getting out and developing a strong local fan base this summer. Now I would like to extend that into a regional level. Cincinnati, Lexington, Indianapolis and Chicago are some of the cities I would like to be able to reach out to and do some shows. I would also love to get on college campuses and minister there as well. I hope to finish recording the follow up to What You Believe. It takes a lot of time and money to record an album. Resources are tight right now, but I know God will open some doors and provide the means. My long-term goal and prayer is to write and record an album every two years or so, while touring and ministering to people everywhere. We have found support and success in every venue whether it is a church, a bar or a coffee shop. So I pray God will continue to strengthen me, equip me and guide me each day.

LMN: Have you opened for any national acts?

KS: We played the WDJX Birthday Bash recently, which was headlined by the Jonas Brothers. It is something I am hoping will start to happen more often. There are a few venues in town where national artists play, I'd love to be a part of as many of those as possible.