May 2010

Tête-à-Tête Shelby Lynne

Plus Broadcast, the Black Hollies, the Courteneers and more

shelby lynne, turn it up Photograph by Alex Hoerner

The irony of winning a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2001 is not lost on Shelby Lynne. After all, she'd been making records for a decade. The music-industry establishment minted her as a “hot new star,” and even though her fiercely independent stance in recent years has led to critical acclaim, it appears superstardom was never in the cards.

Lynne’s music explores a diverse range of genres and sounds. In a business that prefers its artists be a ready fit for categorization—all the better to secure airplay—Lynne doesn’t fit the mold. But her fans hardly care. Her latest release, Tears Lies and Alibis, is on her newly founded label, Everso Records, and will certainly not disappoint.

Nic Harcourt: You’ve made 10 records over the past 20 years. That’s quite a prodigious output for any artist. Are you writing constantly?
Shelby Lynne: I’d say I probably write half the time and think about writing the other half.

If you compare your first album to this new one, what do you see as the biggest difference in you as both an artist and a woman?
Well, I write all my own songs now, which is a definite pleasure. I love singing other people’s songs, but it’s different when it’s your whole self—your whole being—on the line, and you are able to put something out no one has ever heard before. As a woman, I’m older, wiser, probably a little more calm. And yet I feel in a lot of ways younger. When I was 18 in the business, I had already lived the life of a 45-year-old woman. Now I feel like I’m finally able to be young.

Your last few releases have been sparser, more stripped down. Is it a case of less is more?
Yeah, and that I like making records now. I know how to operate the equipment and do the studio thing, and I can handpick who I want to work with. Also, I like to have the song do the work—much better than a bunch of noise.

Artists often start an album with one big idea. Was that the case with Tears, Lies and Alibis?
For me, every song is so individual. When you believe in the content of each one and where you’re going with it, you tend not to worry and analyze too much—that’s not fun. Music is supposed to be fun.

You’ve talked about drinking whiskey as a starting point. Is that a cliché? I get the feeling there wouldn’t be any country songs if there weren’t whiskey.
Well, I don’t write what I don’t know. Anything you hear is factual s--t.

  • Broadcast
  • The Black Hollies
  • The Courteeners
  • Califone
  • Greg Laswell

“The Be Colony”
Broadcast & the Focus Group

Birmingham’s Broadcast joins with Julian House (aka the Focus Group) for a collection of eerie soundscape sketches. This track features Trish Keenan’s haunting, distant vocals and James Cargill’s jangly guitars.


The Black Hollies
“Gloomy Monday Morning”
Softly Towards the Light EP

This Jersey City band puts out groovy psychedelic garage pop. I played this track on my KCRW Sunday show and followed it with “Stop, Stop, Stop” from the Hollies, and the 45 years between these two recordings vanished.


The Courteeners
“The Opener”
Falcon EP

I did an interview/guest deejay thing with Morrissey in 2008, and his favorite new band was Manchester’s Courteeners. This song starts with a simple acoustic riff and builds into a gloriously layered love song.


All My Friends Are Funeral Singers

With an understated beat and fractured textures, these guys from Chicago are ripe for some indie-slacker kid’s farewell party. They continue to carve out a unique space in today’s rock terrain.


Greg Laswell
Take a Bow EP

Long Beach native Laswell writes of truth, lies and everything in between—aka relationships gone south. The lyric on the opener—“It was really nice to meet you goodbye”—perfectly sums up that dreaded moment.


You’ve lived in Southern California for, what, 11 years? Do you miss the Alabama rain?
I do miss the rain, but I get my fill. Last month, we had two straight weeks of rain here, so that gave me a little fix. Out in this beautiful desert, I’m able to completely enjoy my surroundings.

I know you value the tranquillity of home. How drastically does your life change when you hit the road on tour?
It’s another animal. You get in the van and drive a long way—but you share it with your dearest friends. You feel privileged. Everyone’s on the road trying to make a living, and I’m glad to be one of them.

You played Carrie in Walk the Line, and you recently did in an episode of the Lifetime series Army Wives. Will you do more acting?
Only if it’s the right thing—that’s why you don’t see me doing a whole lot of it. If I can bring potency to a role, then I enjoy it. It’s such a different animal than music, but if a good part comes along, then yeah, I’ll do it.

You’ve recorded for a number of labels. This time out, you’re on your own. Why?
Because it’s time. I’ve had it with the labels. I’m better off doing my small thing than going round and round again. It’s time for artists to take back their music.