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Bingham Farms native Yoshi Flower's music career is blooming

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusc on Twit

Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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At some point Yoshi Flower will release his debut album — as he's contractually obligated to do by Interscope Records.

But right now the Bingham Farms-raised singer, songwriter and performer, a graduate of Birmingham Groves High School, is having too much fun just making music.

"Y'know, I didn't grow up saying 'I'm gonna be a musician,' but if anybody asked me 'What would you do if you weren't a musician?' I'd have no idea," says the 26-year-old Flower, real name Joshua Smith, whose current release is a stylistically diverse and lyrically pointed mixtape called "American Raver." "I haven't done anything at all, really, other than just play music, and luckily I figured out a way to start making a career for myself."

Though he's certainly paid dues, both in Detroit and Los Angeles, where he now resides, Flower did have something of a head start in the business.

His father, Rick Smith, is an attorney and artist manager who's worked with acts such as Days of the New, Volbeat, I Prevail and more. Flower's mother, Kate, is a former backup singer and actress who was in the film "Warriors." Seether played at his bar mitzvah, and Flower played guitar with Days of the New frontman Travis Meeks when he was a teenager.

"My parents always held music in high regard," he remembers. "They showed me all sorts of stuff, from, like, late '60s psychedelic rock to Linda Ronstadt. That was always something that was important to us and that we all connected on."

Rick Smith gave Flower his first guitar, which he received in lieu of cash from an artist when his son was 6. And as early as age 12, Dad booked Flower into slots at clubs such as PJ's Lager House whenever the opening act would cancel.

"He grew up on all sorts of music, from Ryan Adams to Jellyfish to Genesis to the Chambers Brothers to John Mayall," remembers Smith, who's still active in the business. "I have 35,000 albums, and once he learned how to handle them, I'd find him down there for hours, just listening, making beats and doing stuff. He shuts his eyes when he hears a great song, and he follows his dreams."

When he was 14, Flower's mother introduced him to local singer-songwriter Stewart Francke, who became a mentor, talking about songwriting and recording craft, even taking the youngster into Tempermill studios in Ferndale. "He was the first person I ever met who had a family and a Jeep and guitars and was writing his own songs and making a living," Flower says. "He told me two things — always write and don't be afraid to hear criticism from people if it's gonna help your song be the best it can be, and the truest."

Taking those words to heart, Flower began writing songs in earnest while he was at Groves. He's friendly with fellow musical alumni Mike Posner and GRiZ (Grant Kwiecinski) and is even featured on a track on Griz's upcoming album "Ride Waves." Flower also played for tips at local Potbelly restaurants and began hanging out in the Detroit music scene, honing his skills as both a rocker and a rapper — even opening shows for Wiz Khalifa and Twista during a short tenure at the University of Michigan.

"He was a really good rapper," Smith says, "but he wanted to play music. He wanted to play guitar and stuff."

Flower wound up living in Detroit — paying $200 a month for what he calls "a mansion" — and working around Assemble Sound in Corktown, including recording with Flint Eastwood. He and friend Josh Freed had local success with their electro project Gosh Pith ("Waves," "Windows"), but when a girlfriend moved to Los Angeles, Flower decided to follow.

"She said, 'If you don't come out, you're a lame and we'll probably break up,'" he says with a laugh. "I was like, 'All right, I'll be there next week...’”

Once there, Flower lived for a time with his older brother, Max, and on "a lot of people's couches" and began networking, eventually hooking up with management (fellow Groves graduate Jake Baltis) and other songwriters and producers, including current collaborators Danny Parra and Adam Comstock. Flowers' own single "Movies" and his duet on singer Elohim's "Panic Attacks," a swell as a support slot on her tour, led to label offers.

Interscope, however, was not one of them.

"I just wanted to sing to Interscope because Eminem was on Interscope," says Flower, who inked with the imprint last summer. "Coming from where I come from, that’s the only massive artist other than Jack White that has real down-home credibility." He and label chief John Janick "bonded over Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy," and that led to a deal Flower describes as ideal. The label, he says, committed to releasing "American Raver" on the date (Oct. 12) Flower requested, without even hearing the music.

And while his debut album was originally to be delivered in September, Interscope "hasn’t even asked me about it."

"They just asked me where I want to work or if I want to work with anybody," he says. "They're really a major source of happiness for me." Flower figures that with "American Raver" he's "bought some time for myself to find out exactly what I'm here to say and why I'm here to sound like I do," and with his wide range of influences he considers any direction to be fair game.

"I'm not a rigid person, so I don't beat myself over it," Flower says. "I don't have some intent to say, 'I'm gonna pick that (sound) and go with it. I've just been trying to make what's honest and feels good. If I eventually end up making a lot of sounds that sound like they're totally the same, then cool. If not, I hope enough people don't mind the scattered nature of it that I can keep making music.

"'Cause that's all I want to do — just keep making music."

Yoshi Flower, KennyHoopla and Material Girl perform Thursday, Feb. 7 at Deluxx Fluxx, 1274 Library St., Detroit. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $10, 313-788-7015 or deluxxfluxx.com.

Web Site: www.deluxxfluxx.com

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