’The Bearable Likeness of Being … Shelby Lynne’
Born Shelby Lynn Moore, 22 October 1968, in Quantico, Virginia, the exceptionally talented Lynne was raised in Jackson, Alabama. When she appeared on the ‘Nashville Now’ talent show at the age of 18, it was evident that she was a very good singer with a rather unusual, deep voice. Billy Sherrill offered to produce her records and her 1989 debut included the standards "I Love You So Much It Hurts" and "I'm Confessin'." Her first single, "If I Could Bottle This Up", was with another of Sherrill's artists, George Jones.
Lynne proved to be a very determined country performer who does not kow-tow to the media by turning on smiles for the photographers, but this reputation made it difficult to obtain a record contract after parting with Epic Records. Temptation was a radical album, employing a full horn section, and sounded closer to Harry Connick Jnr. than country music - the video for "Feelin' Kind Of Lonely Tonight" indicated her wish to tour with an orchestra, and for the first time Lynne contributed her own material. Restless marked something of a return to traditional country, although there were still jazz and R&B overtones.
Despite her talent Lynne has yet to win over US radio stations, a problem highlighted by the fact that the excellent I Am Shelby Lynne, recorded with Bill Bottrell and her first release for Mercury Records, was primarily targeted at the European market. Lynne earned belated recognition in her homeland when she won the Best New Artist Grammy award in February 2001. "Killin' Kind", featured on the ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’ soundtrack, gave a taste of the soulful pop direction of Lynne's new album Love, Shelby. The poor sales of this set hastened the end of her time with Mercury, and in 2003 she signed a new recording contract with Capitol Records.
With a brand new tour hitting the road as we speak, Grammy award winner Lynne brings her critically acclaimed new album, Identity Crisis, to the stage with tour dates scheduled to support the release of the record. A virtual one-woman project, Lynne wrote all the songs and performs all the vocals and guitars with minimal though colorful accompaniment.
Chatting backstage with her a few hours prior to her show here in Michigan at the Tenny St. Roadhouse in Dearborn (www.tennystreet.com) - she with a coffee, me with a triple Jack D. on the rocks - I first asked her to explain her change of both physical appearance and musical direction for Identity Crisis ”I really don’t think anything changed. I mean, I had a friend that was diagnosed with breast cancer and she lost her hair. So, I cut my hair off.”
Were you just not happy with the last album image of you in a tight top and even tighter denim shorts?! ”No, I was very comfortable with it. It was just what I was doing back then and this who I am and what I’m doing now.”
So, I’m assuming that the new album was called Identity Crisis’ for a reason?! ”Well yeah, ‘cause there’s 12 songs on the record and they’re all completely different. It was not my identity crisis it was the album’s identity crisis.”
Who named the album? ”My manager, ‘Betty’ did …”, she answers, turning now to hand the recorder to said manager. ”She turned in 12 songs,” ‘Betty’ continues, ”and she asked me what the name of it should be and I said that with all these different styles of music on here, so many different influences, it sounds like an identity crisis.”
Your songs sound so personal, but do they perhaps reveal things about you that we wouldn’t ordinarily know? ”I don’t know if they reveal anything. They’re just situations. Each song represents a situation in my life that I’ve lived. I still try to write for people to understand and relate, but there’s nothing specific that I’d really wanna talk about.”
What was it like earning yourself a ‘Best New Artist’ Grammy Award for I Am Shelby Lynne … despite having already put out five albums prior? ”I actually appreciated it. It was so good and the reason I got that Best New Artist Grammy is because some people in the industry got together and loved the record … ‘cause the record didn’t sell shit,” she wryly smiles. ”And even after five albums, that being my sixth album, it was the album that got people’s attention about me. So, yeah, it’s a little strange to get Best New Artist after ten or twelve years in the business, but it kinda made sense. A lot of people thought that was my first record.”
And where is the Grammy statue today? ”In my living room right by my record player. I wanna see it every day.”
When you reflect back on all your eight albums, is there one that you have a true sense of pride for? ”Yeah, the first one, the fourth one, the fifth one, the sixth one, and the seventh one!”
So, what was wrong with two and three?! ”Well, I would have to say that that was the time in Nashville before I had taken the reins of my career and I thoroughly enjoyed making the records. It’s just that if somebody hog-tied me and said I had to listen to my albums, I wouldn’t choose those two right off the bat.”
If you weren’t a singer, what would you have been by now? ”Dead,” she replies, coldly and matter-of-factly.
So, there wasn’t ever another occupation that held interest for you? ”Absolutely not.”
When you reflect back on past images/photos of yourself, do you ever cringe and wonder why you allowed someone to present you that way? ”Well, no, I knew exactly what they were doing. They liked to have hits and I wanted to do what it took. But, I never did anything that I didn’t want to do. I may have not been too happy with things. But if you talk about my hairstyles, I grew up in album covers. Since the age of 18 my hair’s been on album covers, whereas most people get to do that in private. So, yeah, some of my bad shit’s on my album covers,” she shrugs her shoulders deflatedly.
What’s the most interesting thing to know about Shelby Lynne that isn’t mentioned in all the interviews? ”That I’m really actually f**kin’ good at it,” she smiles, referring to interviews themselves.
Is there anything you’re NOT good at?! ”Oh God, … well, … OK, I’m not good at faking it! In anything,” she laughs.
If you were locked into a studio and told to make a song with four other musicians, who would they be and what would the name of the song be called?! ”Well, the song would be written on the spot, most likely. I would have Mitch Mitchell on drums [Hendrix], James Jamerson on bass – he played on all the Motown records. I’d have Bill Payne on piano [Little Feat] and on guitar … I’d have Les Paul and Jimmy Hendrix!”
And what would the name of the song be? ”I Can’t Believe I’m Here”, she smiles.
OK, so just who the hell IS Shelby Lynne anyway?! ”Simply, a musician. A musician with passion for anything passionate.”
It’s claimed that Identity Crisis is a ‘one woman project’ that is also a ‘13-year journey of self-discovery’ – explain this some more ”I produced the record, myself. I played guitars on the record. I found a great old school analog engineer who could get what I had in my head on the tape. And so I think this is the record that I’ve been waiting to make for 14 years.”
Lastly, describe yourself in just three words! Sitting there, not uttering a word, her eyes dart around the room. She then turns silently to ‘Betty’ to garner some inspiration, and seeing that ‘Betty’ is trying her hardest to sneak several choices across the room to her artist, I change the rules of the question. Now, I suggest that we each provide one word that sums Shelby up. ”Honest,” ‘Betty’ instantly fires out. ”Passionate” is the word that I provide and after yet another brief moment of silence and thought, Shelby eventually brings her own word to the fore: ”Happy”, she finally admits with a smile slowly creeping across her beautiful face.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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