Tuk Smith has spent much of the last few years picking himself up, dusting himself down and starting over again. First there was the dissolution of his old band, Atlanta rock’n’roll outlaws Biters, ground down by tensions with their label Earache.
Then there was the debut solo album he recorded for new label, Better Noise, only for the record to be shelved and the deal dissolved. Then there was the pandemic-related double cancellation of the Mötley Crüe/Def Leppard tour, which Smith was due to open (he wasn’t on the bill when it finally got going this year).
But he’s bounced back with a brand-new album, Ballad Of A Misspent Youth, credited to Tuk Smith And The Restless Hearts.
“It hasn’t been easy at times,” he says. “But ‘not easy’ is pretty much my life.”
The last couple of years have been a beatdown, mentally and physically.
After Biters split in 2018, Smith wrote 40 songs for his solo debut, signing up big-name producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day/My Chemical Romance) to work on it. And then… nothing. Legal issues mean he can’t go into details of why it was shelved indefinitely, but that turbulent period resulted in Ballad Of A Misspent Youth.
“I was so fucking upset but motivated by the situation,” he says. “I had to prove to myself I could write another record: how much gas is left in the tank?”
He hit his credit card to make the new album.
After one false start, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Smith had been cautious with the follow-up. Not so.
“I was just, like, ‘Fuck labels, fuck everybody – I’m gonna put it all on my credit card,’” he says. “When I wrote it and recorded it, there was no record label, there was no committee, there was no talk of algorithms or playlists.”
The gamble paid off – the album is released on Smith’s own label MRG via Virgin. “Just having the freedom to make the record I wanted to make was awesome. I didn’t have to deal with any bullshit.”
Ballad Of A Misspent Youth isn’t autobiographical. But then again, it kind of is…
“Feelgood, ripping music,” is how Smith describes the songs, but lyrically he was influenced by rock’n’roll’s great storytellers: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger and his all-time hero, Phil Lynott. Growing up in rural Georgia, he had plenty of inspiration to draw on from his own misspent youth.
“It was super fucking crazy,” he says. “I was thrown out of school multiple times, always getting into fights, always on probation.” He moved to Atlanta to immerse himself in the punk rock scene. “It was fucked up. I look back and go, ‘How the fuck am I still alive?’ I was just fearless.”
Smith doesn’t romanticise the dark side of rock’n’roll.
“I sing a lot about cautionary tales,” says Smith. One of these is Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead, an unvarnished commentary on rock’n’roll’s in-built fatalism.
“I haven’t seen the glamorous side of rock’n’roll,” he admits. “I’ve lost quite a few of my friends from overdoses, suicide. It’s not like amovie where there’s people to drive you round and take care of you. I’m not trashing the lifestyle, but it’s not something I want to promote. It’s sad, man.”
Rock’n’roll itself is alive and well, but the music industry doesn’t care.
Back at the start of his solo career, Smith and his manager shopped their demo around to more than 40 labels – none of whom bit. “One major label that shall remain nameless said: ‘How do you feel about putting trap and hip hop beats in the music?’” says Smith, laughing. “I would not know where to fucking start.”
He worries rock’n’roll itself will struggle without label support. “The bands that are big business, like the Stones and whoever, aren’t gonna be around forever, but labels aren’t putting anything in place for the younger generations. If I think about it too much, I’ll lose my fucking mind.”
Quitting isn’t an option for Tuk Smith.
Ballad Of A Misspent Youth isn’t the only thing to emerge from the explosion of frustrated energy that erupted after his first solo album was shelved: he’s already written and demoed another record. “It’s a concept album about redemption, cos that feels like where I’m at.”
Given the bullshit he’s been through, what keeps him going? “I wish you could fucking tell me,” he says. “Some days, I go, ‘Why can’t I just be a normal person and get into fucking tech or coding?’ But I love rock’n’roll so much: the music, the history, the fashion. There’s no way I’m stepping away from this.”
Physical copies of Ballads Of A Restless Heart are available from Merch Mountain.