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Artist Spotlight Q & A

Shannon Hurley

The following QA with Shannon Hurley was conducted in June 2008 by spinmeister.

Having been featured on Rolling Stone Magazine’s declaration of the 25 best bands on MySpace, singer / songwriter Shannon Hurley, based in Los Angeles, California recently uploaded remix packs for several songs from her first full length album “ Ready to Wake Up” to the ccMixter under the moniker shannonsongs, where they were immediately met with the kind of love only the ccMixter community can give: lots of great remixes.

As part of her “ Call for Remixes,” she kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions so the remixers who want to be considered for inclusion on her remix compilation can get to know her.

Some great remixes of Shannon.

spin: First of all, thank you very much, Shannon, for making the the time to talk to us here at ccMixter. You’ve landed with quite the splash at ccMixter, but let’s go back to how things got started in your musical life. When did you first start singing and playing the piano? Was that back home in Indiana?

Shannon: Thanks so much for having me here at ccMixter! You are correct. I got into music while growing up in Indiana. I started playing piano in the third grade, but clearly I was never meant to be the classically trained, concerto-playing prodigy that all parents hope their child to be. The summer I began taking lessons, I was already flipping my piano lesson book upside down to see what the songs sounded like backwards and inverted. I thought the songs sounded more interesting that way. Also, I was already getting into pop music. I was ecstatic when I first learned how to play the chords to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” on the piano. Then, as children do, I began to get restless. I wanted to try a new instrument. You know how musicians come to schools and introduce kids to different instruments? Oh wait, this is 2008, do schools even have music programs anymore? Well, I wanted to play violin, but my mom quickly rejected that idea on the grounds that me practicing a violin would be too wince-inducing. (laughs) I got back at her the next year when I picked up trombone!

spin: (laughs) Note to mothers everywhere: be careful what you reject! So how long did the trombone playing last?

Shannon: I played trombone all throughout college at the University of Colorado and got my music degree.

spin: At what point in your life did it become clear to you, that you were going to become very serious about making music and to start forging a career?

Shannon: When I decided to study music at CU, that’s when I knew I was serious about making it my career. I took an electronic music class and I always skewed it more to the composition angle. I was supposed to be practicing trombone, but I’d lay it down in favor of sitting at the piano and learning a Kate Bush or Tori Amos song. I also studied songwriting with Patrick Leonard, who wrote stuff like “Cherish” and “Like a Prayer” for Madonnna. I’m sure my trombone teacher wished I would have focused my efforts on trombone, but that was really just a vehicle to get to what I really wanted. It was like my heart was forging the way to what I was supposed to be doing.

spin: About when did you first start writing your own songs? Was that a watershed event, or did it sneak up on you?

Shannon: I didn’t start writing until I joined a band in Boulder called Jyemo. The singer and the guitarist wrote most of he songs, but they let me have a crack at one or two of the tunes. I felt the biggest rush in the world when it was time for us to do one of my songs. Of course, I look back, and the songs were not that great! (laughs).

spin: You obviously haven’t heard some of the stuff from my cutting room floor! What is the inspiration for the topics of your songs?

Shannon: From life, from love, and from heartbreak. When my boyfriend, who was also my bass player, left me in 2005, I wrote a tremendous amount. Songs proved to be my therapy, and I wrote at least fifty songs about my very sad and lonely state.

spin: (laughs) Poor you! Good bass players are hard to find!

Shannon: (laughs) By the second month, I was writing happier stuff again. Everything finds its balance! But Ben, boyfriend came back, and now we’re married!

spin: That’s wonderful! Other than heartache, do you have a typical process for writing your songs?

Shannon: I can’t really write away from the piano. So I start noodling around at my keyboard, and I sing over the top of my playing, and I find something that locks in. Usually it’s a nonsense phrase that will get me going, and I have to find words pretty quickly, otherwise it’s a lost cause. When I don’t find the words in a day or two for the musical phrases I have in mind, they can swim around for two years, and it becomes too precious. So when I have the beginnings of a song, I like to work very quickly.

spin: Does song writing come relatively easily to you, or is it a hard undertaking?

Shannon: I usually knock out one to two finished songs a week. Songwriting is relatively easy for me, but I’m pretty sure all writers have those times when they just look at the blank page and feel like weeping like a small child. I know I have! The best songs that I write come very fast, and without effort. Sometimes my brain works out songs faster than I can write them down on paper. Then it becomes a race to simultaneously write those lyrics, get the melody, and the song structure figured out so I don’t lose any of it. These moments don’t come often, but it’s tremendous fun when it does happen! (laughs)

spin: The piano being your home base, do you still play the trombone - or any other instrument?

Shannon: I sold my trombone about five years ago - to a guy who plays in the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Believe me, it’s in a much better home now! Vocals and keyboards are my thing. Maybe someday I’ll try electric guitar, that would be fun! I have an acoustic guitar, but I am not good at playing it. I did write “We Are In Love” on guitar, so I guess it comes in handy as a writing tool once in a blue moon.

spin: Are there any special favorites amongst the musical instruments or gear you use?

Shannon: I own a Yamaha Motif 7, which has great piano and Rhodes settings. Also, I do demos on my mac laptop using Apple’s Garageband. Oh, and I own one dusty acoustic guitar!

spin: On quite a number of your pictures and videos, you are featured singing and playing the piano standing up, facing your audience. Is that your preferred modus? What advantages and disadvantages does that have compared with the more traditional configuration?

Shannon: I stand when I practice, and sometimes I stand when I perform. I actually do sit on many occasions, but there just happens to be videos of the times that I have been standing. Maybe I should make a point to get a recording where I am on a piano bench, and I can title it “Shannon Sits!” Say that one five times fast! (laughs)

spin: (laughs) You’ve had a very successful career as a session singer. If you were forced to choose between singing or songwriting, which one would you rather be known for?

Shannon: No question, I’d rather be known as a songwriter. It means more, because I feel like songs are a truer expression for me. The song is what drives me more than anything. I would love to write for so many artists. That is my dream! I have had the opportunity to hear my songs covered by some very talented artists. For example a girl named Catriona covered “Sunrise” and Libbie Schrader covers “Shame” at her live shows frequently.

spin: Rolling Stone Magazine put you on their list of the 25 best bands on MySpace. How did that come about?

Shannon: In December 2006, Rolling Stone had a contest where they were searching for the best bands on myspace. I came across a bulletin on myspace, so I posted my comment on their blog to come have a listen to my music. They narrowed it down every week, and by the end, 25 bands were left standing. It’s kind of funny, because I’m not even a “band”. It’s really just me and my bass player, Ben Eisen, who is also my husband. We just got lucky I think! But like anything else, it’s just a title. It sounds nice when you say it or put it in a headline. So I thank Rolling Stone for that.

spin: You’ve also co-founded a really interesting musically collaborative project with what appears to be a rather tongue-in-cheek name of “Don’t Call Us Tori”. How was that idea born?

Shannon: I met a producer/musician named Steve Leavitt at the Derby in LA back in 2003. He was playing keys for another artist at that time and we thought of an idea to book a show together: 4 acts that an audience would be interested in hearing live. We decided that we should come up with a name for this event. We tossed around names like “Pianos on Fire” and “Lots of Vaginas.” Thank goodness, we came up with “Don’t Call Us Tori”, because it hit the right chord with other artists. Suddenly, we had artists contacting us about playing “Don’t Call Us Tori” and I became the booker for the showcase. This was supposed to be a one time event, but now we’ve been doing it for over four years.

spin: What do you think attracted the other artists to that concept?

Shannon: I think artists are attracted to this showcase because we highlight and celebrate the differences that make them unique. Not every singer-songwriter sounds like Tori Amos and we want to show people what’s out there. One of the best things is that we connected many artists to each other. In LA, you would think it’s sink or swim, but we found such a tight-knit community that helped support a growing music scene. And you look all around now, many “Don’t Call Us Tori” artists now play Hotel Cafe regularly, where it’s the same deal: you are part of a scene, and that encourages you to meet other friends, artists, collaborators. It helps the music community grow stronger.

spin: What led to you posting your songs to ccMixter allowing the music makers there to “have their way” with your songs? Is this your first foray into remix culture?

Shannon: My first foray into the remix culture was through a “Don’t Call Us Tori” artist named Celeste Lear. She is an electronic artist/DJ/songwriter and I knew she could do something really cool with my music. So I asked her if she’d be interested in remixing a song. Her remix of “Breaking Down” made it onto my album and it sparked the idea of doing an entire album of remixes.

spin: What made you choose ccMixter in particular?

Shannon: I like the community vibe of ccMixter. I had my look around plenty of sites, but this one felt right. In particular, I like the interactiveness of the members, as well as the quality of the work that was being done. I just knew I had to give it a shot and start posting some tracks and see what happened.

spin: Some singers are worried about giving up artistic control, some are plainly intimidated by having their voice out there all alone without the safety net of effects and a full musical production. Did any of those thoughts ever cross your mind?

Shannon: I think Radiohead and NIN did a lot for me in terms of seeing what can happen when an artist breaks free of the normal conventions of how music is being accessed. In order to move into the future, artists need to be willing to take some risks, and maybe that doesn’t feel right for everyone, but it felt right for me. I don’t feel like I am giving up artistic control. I actually feel empowered, because ccMixter is a way to get my music out there. I still feel that songwriting comes first and the beauty of music comes from the essence of feeling. So if someone else is able to take the music that I’ve put out there, and create something new, then that makes me happy.

spin: How does it make you feel hearing remixes, some in rather different genres and musical styles, of your singing and your songs?

Shannon: I have never in my wildest dreams thought I would hear some of the stuff that people have done with my music! It’s amazing! I’ve heard trance, heavy power ballad rock, R&B, drum & bass, you name it. I still haven’t heard any Indonesian rap or Kentucky Bluegrass versions of my songs! (laughs)

spin: (laughs) don’t tempt the ccMixter community like this! (whispers) …just between you and me and the whole Internet: any favorites so far?

Shannon: (whispers) My favorites so far are Loveshadow’s remix of “Overboard”, Sleeperspaceborn’s “Leaves of Autumn”, and Old Dog’s remix of “Shame”(dogmix). (returns to regular voice) But really, I am amazed the amount of wonderful remixes that ccMixters are submitting.

spin: Now that you have gained first-hand experience with Open Music, would you recommend the Creative Commons style licensing and collaboration process to other artists?

Shannon: Absolutely! I am hoping that if other artists, especially singer-songwriters, see that I’ve jumped in and done it, they will see it’s not so bad. See? I didn’t sink. I’ve been swimming along just fine! (laughs)

spin: (laughs) so you’re waiving, not drowning! — So you’ve announced a ‘Call for Remixes’ for your next album, a remix compilation. Can you give the remixes an idea for the kind of thing you’re looking?

Shannon: ccMixter is getting a “jump” on this project because this is the only place that the stems for all of my music will be posted. So anyone wanting to remix my songs on this site will have a shot at being on the compilation. ACID Planet is also hosting a remix contest, but just for “Sunrise.” It all ties in together though. I will be taking submissions on either site as possible candidates for the album. I don’t want to get too specific with what I’m looking for, but I am leaning towards down-tempo, electronica, chill out, and ambient genres. The only real requirement is that all you ccMixters out there have fun, and make it the best that you can - because I will be releasing this album to the whole wide world (laughs).

spin: (laughs) The whole wide world is a mighty big place! Thanks so much for this interview, Shannon! Before I let you go, any parting words for the ccMixter community?

Shannon: Yes THANK YOU! I appreciate the warm welcome into the community. Looking forward to some great musical moments here!