Stuffy Shmitt premieres “Mommy and Daddy,” from his first studio release since 2012. The heart-wrenching track grapples with a universal truth that evolution has not yet alleviated. The NYC-bred rock & roller, who has performed and recorded with legends like Levon Helm and Gordan Gano, steps back into his artistry with a harrowing vignette of his once-spirited parents closing in on the end of their lives.
“My mom was a fox. She had long hair and was just a beautiful woman. My dad was a handsome, tall man,” he describes. Shmitt’s mother played the drums and his father played guitar. His sister wrote concertos, wore long black dresses, and conducted orchestras.
“The scene in the house was a lot of noise until very late at night,” he recalls. “It was very musical, which is great. But it was also very drunk and drugged. I would sit in my jammies as a little kid on the stairs listening to them play. They were so cool, running around with legal pads and cocktails, guitars and pianos, recording for echo in the bathroom while my dad ran cables down the hallway from the kitchen—it was crazy. So if I ever got one of them in the daytime, I’d learn from them.”
Shmitt’s mother was a talented lyricist and taught him what he needed to know when she could.
“She was a tough, cold, Irish bitch,” he recalls with affectionate humor. “The only way to please her was to write a good song. One day I had evidently done it, and she said, ‘You’re on your own now.’ It was a very bizarre twist, and it took me quite a while to understand, but now I see that she finally approved—her work with me was done.”
His parents lived out their days in his hometown of Milwaukee. The artist remembers he didn’t get back there much; he didn’t have the money to travel from New York. But his single points to one specific visit home when nature dawned on him.
His father had balded, and his mother had cut her hair. “It was kind of curly and weird, and Dad just looked like an old man,” he says. “I just kind of flipped a bit.”
The lyrics of the song refer to this moment as a chain being pulled. The idea Shmitt had in mind was of an old-fashioned toilet. What he had once known of his parents was flushed. In front of him stood “regular people that push a shopping cart down the aisle.” “They’re wild, crazy drumming, nutty stuff was gone,” he adds.
“The world got strange,” Shmitt says. “All kinds of things changed as they got older. The music was weird, and they couldn’t relate to it. I think they felt alone as a result.”
The single speaks directly to this moment of realization and watching his parents, once fearless steadfast characters, fade away. As a single, “Mommy and Daddy” introduces Shmitt’s perspective on the stable side of a prolonged mental health battle.
From 2000 to 2012, he put out a half-dozen, mostly under-the-radar solo records. Then, about eight years ago, he wandered away from his music, consumed by bipolar disorder. Once he found a successful treatment approach, he considered whether New York was the best place for him to continue making music.
Shmitt compared his relationship to The City as a partner he was once in love with, but came home one day and realized they were no longer the person with whom he fell in love.
After testing out Los Angeles, he concluded they “did not agree,” and so moved back to New York for a bit. He recalls when it all changed. Walking down Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side, where his favorite club once stood, he passed a sign on a new condo building that said, “Party like a rockstar, live like a Rockefeller.”
“That’s when I said, ‘I gotta go. That’s it.’ It just wasn’t the same funky fun New York, and the clubs were going away. It wasn’t cool anymore, man,” remembers Shmitt. Alas, he left his lover for good this time and headed south to Music City.
There was a bit of an adjustment period upon arrival. The artist admits he enjoys his porch more than a stoop, but the passerby’s kindness always stumped him. In the first year and a half, he did not trust anyone who said, “Hello.”
“I remember thinking, what do they want?” Shmitt laughs. “I could tell you a million things I was scolded about because I had my New York head on. But now I dig it.”
One fateful night at The Five Spot, he sat down at the opposite end of the bar from his wife and leaned over to the man in the adjacent barstool.
“I just started to mess with his head because I do stuff like that. I’m bipolar, and sometimes I go really nutty at clubs—which can be really fun or really bad,” he interjected. “But this guy looked like a good target.”
Luckily for Shmitt, there was no harm done. The man turned out to be Brett Ryan Stewart, a producer and engineer at a studio just down the road in Franklin. At the other end, his wife was speaking with his best friend, Chris Tench, who the artist describes as “one of the most talented guitarists and arrangers” he’s ever met.
They decided that night they would start pre-production on Shmitt’s next album, Stuff Happens, on the 28th.
“I was like, ‘Shit, I’ve got to write.’ So I turned off Law & Order, and just like that, I wrote a bunch of songs,” he laughs.
At the studio, Stewart and Tench eased Shmitt back into the recording process, taking cues from the veteran while offering insight. As producer, Tench listened keenly to the stories he wanted to tell, and road mapped a tracklist during pre-production that brought his narrative to life.
“I’ve always produced all my own stuff,” says Shmitt, who co-produced the project with Brett Ryan Stewart. “Don’t get in the way, don’t tell me what to play, don’t say what goes where because I’m the boss. But this time, I did a trust fall. It was the first time I gave up the reins, and I’m glad I did because they’re brilliant. It was magic how we fell in together.”
With the help of bassist Parker Hawkins and drummer Dave Colella, Stuff Happens ties up the loose ends of Shmitt’s bouts of mania and depression over the years with sophisticated cohesion.
“They’re just so good, they really give a shit,” he says. “We went a step further. They got into the songs emotionally and took it inside out. When we get to the studio, we were a family already.”
“Mommy and Daddy” is at the very soul of the record. The single steers Shmitt’s retrospective journey through space and time, reckoning with the poignant irony of life’s relentless cycle.