For years, Jennifer Smestad could only write in the “hypothetical,” pulling more from other people’s stories than personal experience. Years after moving to Nashville in 2016, the Arizona native still held back in sessions, writing from the objective versus something more self revelatory. “Can’t Have Mine” perpetuates a new artist, one pulling from within, rather than looking on the outside to find the song.
Co-written with Shelby Darrall and Noby Sidez, “Can’t Have Mine” explores the give and pull of relationships with Smestad’s vocals lithely moving along her impassioned ballad, singing You can’t take one step forward and 16 back / Have my heart and treat it like that.
“This could be any relationship when someone doesn’t value your time, and they’re just stringing you along and taking advantage of what you have to offer,” says Smestad. “It’s coming from a place where you’re strong enough and realize that you deserve better.”
Revealing her personal battles with mental health, being diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Tourette Syndrome at a young age, Smestad pushed forward—even picking up the title of Miss Arizona in 2013—performing wherever she could before relocating to Nashville. Always struggling to tap into more real-life stories, she eventually broke through her writing block after her sister suffered several miscarriages. Not knowing how to process it all, Smestad decided to do so in song, penning 2019’s “Find Me Here.”’
“It took me seven months to be able to feel strong enough to do it, but eventually, I was like, ‘I’m gonna write how I feel about this,’ but I never thought I would actually release this,” shares Smestad. “I ended up feeling called to release this song, and it was my most personal work yet.”
Transitioning to this more self-reflective state, in the same week Smestad also wrote “Half The Man” with Josh Metheny and Erik Halbeg, a song inspired by her father, Captain Gary Smestad, a longtime pilot for United Airlines, and a follow up to the love-languished “Up Until Now” in 2020.
“When I first moved to Nashville, and basically my whole life, I’ve had a really hard time expressing my emotions,” shares Smestad. “I’m afraid of emotions. I’m afraid of sadness, and anger, so I’ve kind of always avoided it. As a songwriter, it’s really interesting, because I have so much I can write about, but I was too afraid to be vulnerable in writing sessions with other people.”
Born and raised in Arizona, Smestad says there are still elements of the Southwest that permeate her music. “I love lyrics that have to do with the desert or Arizona or the heat in Arizona,” says Smestad. “I do have a few desert-type songs that I would love to release one day, so it definitely comes out, because I love where I’m from. Dierks Bentley is also from there, so we share that.”
Gathering ideas for hooks, titles, and something a person said in passing, is how Smestad begins to process songs. “I can wake up in the middle of night with a dream and write it down,” she says. “Our minds never stop thinking. In the end, a good song depends on how strong you’re connected to that emotion at that time.”
Now, Smestad is open to the world—even pulling in more than 230,000 followers on TikTok—exposing more of herself through each song. Ultimately, there’s a deeper healing in speaking her truths, and every writing session is like a therapy session.
“You’re not talking about your personal life in this much detail at a nine-to-five job,” she says. “It’s funny, because you’re like, ‘hi, nice to meet you. What are you going through? Are you going through trauma? Did you just break up with someone?’” laughs Smestad. “I burst into tears sometimes, going through something, but it gets to a great song.”
Smestad adds, “It’s fun to write a completely made up story, but I was only escaping, and now I get an escape every once in a while. Now that I can get into those deeper songs, I’m actually speaking about my life.”