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How Canaan Smith Transformed from High School Christian Rocker to Cowboy

The Virginia Beach native opens up about his past, present and future – and how he’s never been happier

Virginia Beach native Canaan Smith grew up in a self-proclaimed “sheltered home.” As a young kid, he grew up listening to whatever his dad was playing in the car on the way to and from basketball practice – which was generally the Christian rock station.

“But as I got older, I started listening to Nineties rock,” he tells Rolling Stone.

When Smith lost his brother in a car accident, he picked up the guitar as a “distraction, a way to have something to pick up and take [his] time.” He started teaching himself how to play, and his two best friends at the time were doing the same thing on the drums and bass guitar; before long, they formed a band. Smith and his friends got serious about their music right away, and by the time they were 13, their parents were driving them around to shows they had booked themselves, and they started to pick up a following.

“Those were the formative years for me, musically,” Smith explains. “Today I still take that same live show experience – that feeling that I felt then I still get these days on tour.

“It’s so reminiscent of the days playing gigs with my best friends,” he continues. “Because that’s what it still feels like, I’m still having so much fun with it.”

Between those early days of hometown “touring” and today, it took Smith time to find himself musically.

After being kicked out of his high school Christian rock band for being not quite “Christian” enough, he took a stab at country music, and dove in headfirst.

“I was wearing blue jeans, cowboy hat as big as an umbrella,” Smith remembers. “I looked like someone who’s trying to figure himself out.”

At a certain point, Smith realized he didn’t have to go all out with the cowboy aesthetic – he could stay true to himself and still play country music.

“I settled in and now I’m more settled than ever, actually,” he says. “This is who I always was, who I musically am, what drives me. I’m just writing music the way I’m inspired to write it and it’s fun right now, it’s a blast.

“I don’t feel like I
have a box I’ve been told I have to fit into every day, or have borderlines on
my painting that I can’t go outside of. I feel like I’m finally free.”

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