One of the biggest sources of pop music’s appeal is its immediacy — the way a well-written song can take you on an emotional journey in 3:05, and have you singing along by the time it’s finished. My guest for this edition of A Fine Mess understands the beauty and power of simple pop economy, but he’s also unafraid to trust his audience’s willingness to take it slow — to spend time with a record, really absorbing it, instead of devouring each track in pursuit of a quick three-chord sugar rush.

I first became acquainted with Darden Smith‘s music in 1993, when he was a “new artist” (on his third album) getting a Sony-backed push for his Little Victories LP. While that record contains some of the more radio-friendly tracks in his catalog, he was still an awkward fit — on the Chaos Recordings imprint, where he shared label space with Bacdafucup-era Onyx, as well as on the Top 40 playlists of the era.

Little Victories was right at home in my tape deck, however — it’s a yearning, soul-searching record, and I still remember turning it up loud while zooming across the Utah salt flats, a 19-year-old with a relationship in ruins and no idea of what would come after the beautiful sunset that seemed tailor-made for every song on the album. I’ve followed Smith’s releases with a fan’s ardent fervor ever since, and when I learned he had a new one in the pipeline, I was eager to steal a few moments of his time for a discussion of his songwriting process.

This interview took place quite awhile ago — well before Darden’s new record, Love Calling, arrived in stores on July 2 — and it’s totally my fault that it hasn’t run sooner. (Turns out that publishing a book can really wreak havoc on a person’s free time.) But better late than never, right? Here’s hoping you grab a few pearls of creative wisdom from the talented Mr. Smith — and here’s hoping the next episode of A Fine Mess doesn’t take quite as long to reach the virtual airwaves. Until then…

A Fine Mess, Episode 6: Darden Smith