Shelby Lynne Takes Charge of Her ‘Tears’
Shelby Lynne's seemingly schizophrenic musical journey has kept everyone guessing for the past two decades. Emerging as a torchy country chanteuse while still in her teens, the Alabama native took the ACM's Top New Female Vocalist honor in 1991. A full decade later, she had relocated to the west coast and snagged a Best New Artist Grammy on the strength of the bold and bluesy 'I Am Shelby Lynne.'
On closer inspection, however, with nearly a dozen albums to her credit, the 41-year-old has fearlessly blended musical genres in one way or another on the majority of her projects. No matter the material or the producer, Shelby Lynne can be counted on to deliver soulful, sometimes downright heartbreaking vocals. Such is certainly the case on 'Tears, Lies and Alibis,' the eclectic 10-track disc out this week. Written and produced by the singer herself, it's her first release on her own Everso label.
Just days before she took off on tour, The Boot caught up with the always candid Shelby at her home in the California desert, to talk about the new album, her new role as record-label CEO, and the far from subtle message on one of the disc's tunes, the acerbic 'Family Tree.' She also shares with us her love of vinyl LPs, which not only provide a favorite way to listen to music, but come in handy for other things as well.
How do you like having your own record label?
So far so good. I'm really enjoying being the boss, which everyone kids me about because I'm kind of bossy, anyway. But it's absolutely incredible getting things done fast and not having to go through 40 channels, having to convince a bunch of people that may not be into what you're doing, because all they wanna do is make a bunch of money. The whole thing with labels was something that just wasn't working for me anymore. So I just said, "What the hell, I'm just gonna do this on my own." So I gathered my troops and said, "Come on, let's put our butts on the line and just do this thing. Everybody can put their bet on me and I'll make the best records I can for you."
Where did you come up with the label's name, Everso?
In the fifties, they tossed that around as a little saying. I've seen in a lot of the black-and-white movies of that time. I think I heard Marilyn Monroe say it in 'How to Marry a Millionaire.' My partners and I would be kidding around, saying, "Oh, they're just ever so, that's just so ever so," and while we were sitting around banging our head against the wall trying to come up with a name, we just said, "We don't have to be so 'ever so' about it -- and went, "Boom! Are you kidding? It's right here under our nose."
Did you approach the recording of the album differently from your past albums?
It was pretty different, because I recorded the vocals and the guitar as I wrote the songs. I'm stuck out here in the California desert with my studio. It's not like I can call the boys, get them all together and make a record. I write it, get it done on my own and if I'm happy with the performance originally, I usually stick with it. That's kind of how this happened and then I just put my players around it. It's a different way to make records and it's certainly a tricky way to make records. Because when things are done at different times everything has a new life.
The first song on the album, 'The Rains Came,' is a happy, upbeat tune about something most people would think of as a negative thing.
Well, most people are not in love with the rain like I am. And why I live in the California desert, I do not know, because we don't get rain here very much. One Sunday morning, we got one of those amazing, magical desert rainstorms. It lasts for a really short time but it's really hard rain when it happens. I'm just overjoyed when it happens because I know it's not going to last long. [The song] really just fell out on the page. I was so inspired. My favorite line is "the dark side of me seems to like how I feel when it's pouring." That truly is how I feel in the rain. And being a southerner, I miss those wonderful thunderstorms. I write what I know and that day I knew about the rain.
In terms of writing what you know, do you ever censor yourself because of what you feel comfortable with putting on a record?
So far I haven't. I'm so fortunate in having music to express my feelings and I'm really not afraid to bare it all. I think without the honesty in music there's not much music.
And you get pretty honest with 'Family Tree.'
Every word of it I mean. It's just the way I felt. Family will piss you off.
Is it directed at any particular family member?
I think it started out with me being really mad at one particular family member and then turned into, well, hell, I hate you all, f--- off! Somebody asked me, "What do you think is going to happen when they hear it?" And I said, "I hope they hear it. Maybe it'll make them do some thinking." It's not just about my family, it's about everybody's. Sometimes family can be the most hurtful people in the world. I got lucky enough to write a song about it. I hope that when people hear that song they go, "She knows exactly how I feel. I'm sick of those sons of bitches, too!"
'Something to Be Said,' is all about the Airstream trailer. It's such a visual song and the Airstream is a great visual, anyway.
Isn't it though? They're so romantic. The song, to me, represents how I feel about my country, and the freedom that we have as Americans to get in an Airstream and go wherever the hell we want to go, when we want to go. To say, "See ya," and ride in a silver bullet to get there.
And at the other end of the spectrum, you close the record with a beautiful song called 'Home Sweet Home.'
I've gone the road and I love the road, but it is really hard. I'm one of those people who have a hard time getting out of the house even though I'm an old road dog, and I do love to get out there and sing. I have to leave my dogs and my garden. I've just turned into such a homebody. You do what you have to do, and I love traveling and being on tour out there with the guys and playing. It's hard for me. I'll sit here going, "Oh my god, I've got five more days at home before I leave for 40 days." I'm freaking out.
How many dogs do you have?
Two, but they're my rotten little babies and I can't take them on this trip. But it's OK, I have to go make treat money, that's what I told them.
'Old No. 7,' is about everyone's favorite Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniels. I assume you wrote that one from personal experience.
That's definitely a song you can write unless you've been there. So, yeah, I've been there. I'm kind of off the hard stuff these days.
In your Old No. 7 days what sort of a drunk were you?
Mean as hell! That's why I got off the stuff.
What are some of the best lessons you learned during your time in Nashville?
Never cut songs you don't love. Never let anybody talk you into doing things you don't want to do. That's the greatest lesson I learned.
Many people saw you as Carrie Cash, Johnny Cash's mother in 'Walk the Line,' but probably didn't realize it was you. You've also been in the Lifetime TV series, 'Army Wives.' Have you got any upcoming movie or TV projects?
None right now. Somebody's always asking me to do something but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing. But if the right thing comes along I'll certainly do it. I enjoy it. It's definitely different from rock 'n' roll. It's a challenge and you always meet great people.
Is there anything about doing the acting roles that has informed you as a singer and songwriter or vice versa?
It makes me appreciate what I really do, which is music. I'm not really a natural actor, even though I enjoy it. It's definitely a challenge for me, whereas singing is what I do so naturally. I guess I'm always glad to go back to the singing. I go back saying, "Now you're back where you belong!"
What is it about vinyl LPs that you love so much?
When I'm at home and I don't have to be traveling, I like to hear that damn scratchy vinyl. And the physical part of getting up and turning it over. When you have people over there's nothing more fun. People have forgotten and they get up and say, "Oh, let me pick a record." And I have my sh-- in alphabetical order, and I say, "Help yourself!"
How many LPs do you have?
I probably have 1,000. The word has gotten out how much I love records and people send me great records all the time. Just the other night I pulled out an old Everly Brothers record, a Connie Francis record. I've always thought about doing this, to get some other players to write some cool liner notes on one of my records, you know how they used to put it all on the back of a record and it would be part of the whole experience. While you're putting on side b, you're over there rolling a joint on your record and reading the liner notes. It's all part of the experience for me. One of my favorite lines to use is, "You can't roll a joint on an iPod." On this record, on the vinyl, I've got a double [sleeve], so it opens up really big. I can't wait to roll a joint on my record.