Over the past five years, Corey Smith has been building a life and career for himself  in the country music industry. His name may be new to some, but for much of the south -- including Georgia where Smith resides -- his name is known. On June 21, Smith will release his seventh album, 'The Broken Record,' on his new label home, Average Joe's Entertainment.

The first single from the album is the autobiographical tune 'Twenty-One.' For those who have not yet been schooled on this former teacher, it is our pleasure at Taste of Country to introduce you to Corey Smith.

Talk about your journey in life that led you to Nashville.
I was a high school teacher for four and a half years, starting in 2002. At that point, music was just a hobby that I did to stay healthy. Songwriting was therapeutic, like punching a punching bag or sitting on a shrink's couch or something. It kept me sane. I liked to play the songs whenever I got a chance to. It was nice to go play at bars or I'd play for my students in class, or friends and family. Eventually, I went to this open mic night and won this competition to record an album. So I went into the studio and cut 11 songs, just acoustic guitar and vocals. I put it out, sold it to friends, family and at bar gigs, encouraging people to share it. I picked up extra gigs. More people started coming out, and the music started spreading. The next year I made another CD … spent a little bit more money on it. The following year I made another CD and spent a little bit more money on it than the previous one.

Meanwhile, MySpace was taking off, and at that point when you searched country music on MySpace it listed unsigned, independent and major label artists all on the same screen and it divided them into those categories. When you searched country music, I was the No. 1 unsigned country artist for almost two years. That was cool because A) it put me on a poll and people like seeing polls and B) it put me next to established big time artists like Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney, so people will give you the benefit of the doubt and really listen.

So after four years of teaching, I decided to take a leap and started working with my manager and agent, and we just believed and traveled around, getting in front of fans, encouraging them to share the music. My first albums were made at such a low cost that it was easy to view my records as a marketing tool more than anything. It's great to sell records, and we've sold over 150,000, but more than that, we want to be heard, and we believe that if people hear the record, they are likely to come to a show and it comes back around ... kind of like karma. So we've been touring the last five and a half years, making more records, and now we can sell tickets from Atlanta, where we've sold over 7,000 tickets [at various venues] over the past three years, to a place like Tulsa where we can sell 1,200 tickets or D.C. where we can sell 1,000 tickets. It's really huge to be able to travel so far away from home and have the music spread organically the way it has. It certainly marks a new era for us. We're very excited.

This new album is the first time you’ve had the help from an established label behind you. Talk about that, as well as the song selection on the album.
It's cool because so far we've had a very small independent minded group of people working on it. I’ve never really had a promotion staff or anything. It was pretty simple before, but now the number of people working on it has tripled or quadrupled so that really feels special. Because I'm at the beginning of a new chapter in my life, I wanted to make a statement with this record that addressed the issue of continuity and change. It's called ‘The Broken Record,’ and it's called that because there are really two pieces there: there's older songs -- my ‘greatest hits,’ if you will -- songs that were originally recorded, and organically written down and done acoustic, and we've added some color and new instrumentation to them to make better performances. So we combined those older songs that tend to be youthful and rebellious and nostalgic, with new material I've written over the past couple years that tends to be more mature, refined, philosophical ... hopefully carrying more wisdom. By pairing those two different types of songs, I hope there's a statement that's made over all. That is that we're all a little bit old, always changing but at the core we're the same and we're all a little bit broken.

I wrote [the entire album] all myself. I think that one of the things that sets me apart is that I've written every song on every record, and it's a blessing and a curse in Jefferson, Ga. and Nashville. On one hand, I've had to learn a lot of tough mistakes. In a town like Nashville, you've got seasoned songwriters who help each other and can kind of flatten out the learning curve a little bit. I've learned a lot of mistakes along the way [laughs]. Maybe I didn't learn as fast as I should've, but at the same time I am unique because I've been able to thumb my own way through this.

You recently shot a video for 'Twenty-One.' Was it filmed back home in Georgia?
It's been cool. I've never had a music video before. I've always been nervous about it because the great thing about audio is you don't have to see the person [laughs]! I’m not much of an actor, and I never feel comfortable on camera. I'm shy, so I've never been eager to get on camera, so this has been nerve wracking. It was shot in Athens, Ga. I'm from a little town called Jefferson, which is 20 minutes from Athens, but I went to school at the University of Georgia, so Athens is like home every bit as much as Jefferson, so it was cool to cut the video there.

You’ve obviously played in the Georgia area a lot throughout your career, including a show where the Zac Brown Band opened up for you.
That first show at the Georgia Theater is a night that will always stick out in my mind. It was the night that I decided I was going to step away from teaching. The show sold out in advance, with over 1,000 tickets. I had always wanted to play at that theater because that's where I had always seen bands, and Zac opened the show. It's funny. Zac hadn't played in Athens at all. He and my friend, Brantley Gilbert, also opened that show. That's when Brantley was doing tons of shows with me. So it was cool. I knew it was a special night then, but now looking back and to see what has happened with Zac has been really cool. It's actually been inspiring to me … it’s given me a lot of hope that the format has really expanded and broadened its horizons, because of artists like Zac who brought so much diversity to it.

Will you manage a pretty heavy touring schedule this year after the album’s release?
Touring is a constant thing for us. I've been touring for the past five years since I left teaching. I haven't had a lot of down time. We'll probably do 130-135 dates this year. So we'll continue to do that and look for new opportunities. It's nice to have so many people working on the album, and hopefully new people will be exposed to it. What's important is that we stay focused on what we've been doing. That is to try to reach out to fans, be heard, give them a chance to experience the live show, and hopefully have them spread it.

Watch the Corey Smith 'Twenty-One' Video

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