Singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne on tour
We all face our battles and paint our dreams—our failures, our successes, our hopes—yet some of us bottle them up privately. Others among us, artists, let them go, allowing emotions of every density to fill a room no matter who is there or for what reason. Shelby Lynne is such an artist. One has the impression that she sings because she has to. If articles of Shelby are to be believed, this is a complicated woman. She’s been called tempestuous and volatile.
A Grammy Award winner, she has left much of her country music in her past. But that’s simplyfying matters. She sings heart and mind with a stunning confidence that is at times wrapped gently in a vulnerable voice and almost always in revealing lyrics. Take for example “Alibi,” which is posted on YouTube. A simple blue light, acoustic guitar, a mic—but that voice cries. There’s meaning here. Ancient emotion. The walls down. And Shelby shares it and controls it in this stripped-down presentation as if she knows she is safe to share with the audience. Then the walls rise up again. Yet, you take it.
This is not the artist to put in an overly orchestrated video or stage performance. This blend of blues, country and pop—bravery and rebelliousness—claims fans best when on its own. Live, authentically unadorned, and from the complicated distance of the stage—that’s the way to hear Shelby Lynne.
How does where you have lived affect your songwriting?
My environment has everything to do with my writing. But imagination and creativity are most important no matter where you are.
What qualities in music and musicians do you admire?
One expects an openness with a solo acoustic tour and an album that is called revelation road—what was the thinking behind these decisions?
A feeling came over me with these songs as they came alive. I felt like being a lone wolf this time was where I was being guided.
How did you decide to title the album Revelation Road?
I had many revelations making the album. The past is the past and we can’t change it, so it’s best to keep moving forward in our journey through life. This record came out of necessity—it had to happen in order for me to move on.
What motivated you to record a new album so quickly after Tears, Lies and Alibis and Merry Christmas?
One of the great things about having my own record label is the schedule is my own. I can record when I feel I am ready. And I was ready.
When do you know a song is ready for a performance or an album?
There is a feeling of completion in your heart when you are ready to share with the world.
What is different about this album that makes it your most personal record ever?
It’s about my family. It’s a personal, private record. When something is really personal I really like keeping it that way and letting people who hear the songs do their own thinking and deciding what it feels like to them. I don’t really want to talk too much about it. Music is a way to express myself. But it doesn’t mean I know how to talk about it. That’s why I have music.
What’s your biggest challenge in the music industry today—and are new opportunities opening up?
I have more opportunities now than ever. The challenges are exciting.
Do you prefer performing live or recording?
The live performance is intense and such a unique space for the people involved in the moment, so it’s gratifying instantly. The studio allows me to close away and create in order to share. I love both.
Why did you decide to write, perform and produce this album yourself?
I have my own private recording space in Palm Desert. My manager, Elizabeth, has been urging me to do this for some time and I felt now was the time.
Why did you decide to play all the instruments yourself?
They were just sitting there waiting on me to pick them up and play them. It just felt right. It wasn’t really a decision; it was more of an experiment. So when the songs started coming together, I liked the way it sounded and started thinking that way.
Were there instruments you played for the very first time?
Yes. Mandolin, banjo, drums, congas, percussion. Most everything was a new experience for me, except for the guitar. I used about six or seven guitars.
What was your songwriting process like for this record? Do you ususally start a song writing lyrics or does the melody come first?
Usually the words or an idea come first. I’m always writing down little things. Most everything I write comes out as a poem first. Sometimes they’ll turn into a song, sometimes they stay a poem. And sometimes you get lucky, you get on a roll. “Even Angels” was that way—I grabbed a guitar and some paper and the words just dropped onto the paper. I had the hook for some time, but I didn’t know what the song was about. Still don’t. I like to observe life. And people living it. The heartbeat of the song has to come through—lyrics come from feelings.
How have your sound and lyrics changed over the years—do you direct where they’re headed?
I have grown into the sound that I like. It has taken me years to get comfortable with my own space but it sure feels good to be here. I try to let the music lead the way. It cannot be controlled, really. I am only the messenger.