By Carrie Courogen | June 13, 2016
Who the hell is Shelly Colvin?
It’s a question that a lot of people ask when you mention her, despite making a name for herself both in music, as a singer-songwriter collaborating with music icons like Jackson Browne, JD Souther, and Herb Pedersen, and in fashion, as the artist relations director for designer Billy Reid. So much so, that Colvin went so far as to promote her new album, “Longshot,” with tee shirts that asked the same question. When you see her on stage with artists like Emmylou Harris, Ann Wilson, and Wynonna Judd, or listen to her Sheryl Crow meets Chrissie Hynde voice, you’ll wonder how she could possibly still fly under the radar, how people could still wonder who the hell she is.
Colvin’s music is a blend of unique influences, from her Alabama gospel upbringing to classic Laurel Canyon rock, even more evident on “Longshot” than on her debut “Up the Hickory Down the Pine.” People who get it will love it, but if you don’t, that’s fine, too. Colvin has a bohemian spirit; she isn’t concerned too much about the business of music anymore — if she’s finding joy in creating, and if other people groove to it, then that’s great.
We talked to Colvin in anticipation of her June tour to talk songwriting, inspiration, and doing things on her own terms.
Tell me a little about your background. How did you get started in music?
My parents were both really musical, and I grew singing and playing music with my family and singing in churches. But, I started professionally when I graduated college and moved to California. I started playing in a band, then I got my got my first production deal with [producer] Mike Post, who is mostly known for all of his television theme songs, but he is a very well-known producer in LA and had started a production company and record label in Burbank. That was my first professional deal.
That was such an important time for me. I was in a country duo, and I met [musician] Herb Pedersen at that time, who came in to co-produce that record I made. He’s the reason I met and started working with Chris Hillman, who was one of the founding members of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, one of the fathers of that ‘70s country-rock music period. He’s an amazing musician and inspiration to me. I’m still in very close touch with both of them, and they’ve really inspired me in my career since.
It’s funny that you brought up those classic country-rock icons right away, because one of the biggest feelings your music evokes is a such a nostalgia for the ‘70s Laurel Canyon sound, while still sounding fresh and of this time.
Certainly working with Chris and Herb influenced that. But, I have such a love for that music and I grew up with it. I’m from Alabama, and Emmylou Harris, who’s also from Alabama, is such a hero of mine. So, her music has always been such an influence to me, as well as so many artists that were making music out there at the time — Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, who’s also one of my biggest influences.
When I moved to California in my early 20s, that kind of music was all I wanted to hear and play, so I took nods from all those artists. Certainly my growing up in Alabama with a country and gospel background, I think, was already a part of my natural instincts when it came to writing. But Alabama combined with California really shaped the way I write and how I play.
Aside from those artists, are there any others who have had a big influence on you and inspired you the most?
Jackson Browne is one. He’s a huge, huge influence of mine. And then, female artists, especially on this album, Aimee Mann and her band ‘Til Tuesday. I’ve always loved this specific sound from the ‘80s from women like her and the Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde. Those women really inspired me. I think I began really hearing female voices around those spacey, electric tracks. The way they built those records was really interesting to me, and I know the way I sing and how my voice fits in that vein, so I’ve looked to them and those records a whole lot to find inspiration.
“Longshot” sounds a little different than your first album, “Up the Hickory Down the Pine,” but it feels like a natural progression. How would you describe how your music has evolved?
I think this album is definitely edgier. It’s a little more aggressive, treatment wise, in the way we built the tracks. I spent time on the road with [indie rock band] The Weeks when I was promoting “Up the Hickory,” and that definitely influenced some of it. I’ve always been such a guitar freak — I love guitars, I love rock and roll. And being the daughter of a minister, I always wanted to get that rock out at some point.
This felt like the time, and it felt like the themes and the songs I had written could totally have that edgier treatment behind them. It just led itself there. I listened to a lot of ‘80s records, lots of Chrissie Hynde and Aimee Mann. I don’t know, maybe it was a product of living in Nashville and the music world I live in here, but I hardly wanted to hear any acoustic guitars. I think it’s just that I’ve heard that for so long that my brain just needed to hear something different.
What is your writing and creative process like?
Well, I go through seasons where I just gather ideas. I don’t put pressure on myself to write completed songs all the time. I’m pretty slow with how I work. Right now, I’m in that gathering mode where I’m gathering ideas, which usually lasts several months. Then, I start to go back to them and record some and they keep developing as I keep working on them. At some point, I feel like it’s really time to sit down and start writing and figuring out where those ideas are meant to go. By that point, so much work has already been done sort of subconsciously that it’s always a very natural process for me. I always know. I have an instinct when things are ready and have marinated long enough and when it’s time to push them out.
What inspired the songs on this particular album?
A lot of life experiences. Like, I was spending a lot of time in Ojai, and “Ojai” was one of the first songs I wrote for the record, and that’s one of my favorite songs on it. The time I spent out there was an inspiration. Tony Joe White was an inspiration. “Tony Joe White” was inspired from riding in a car with him when we were both playing at a festival in San Francisco and how I’ve always been a fan of his. “Minimum Wage” had been manifesting for a long time. It’s about being at a point in life where you think how common we are, but how different we are. It was really inspired by walking by this apartment every day in LA and seeing this woman on the bottom floor of the apartment, watching the same soap opera in the same position at the same time, every single day.
Both of your albums were self-released. Was there a reason you chose to put them out yourself instead of through a label?
Well, I’m of the attitude where you don’t sit around and wait for things to happen. When I feel like my music is ready and things are ready and I want people to hear them, I don’t want to shop around forever. That process — shopping at labels and waiting for someone to hopefully feel the same way you do about your music — takes forever, and it’s a hard process and not always positive. I like releasing things on my own. I feel like it’s best to stay in control.
That’s a bold move, and really inspiring for people to see. If you want something, you can make it happen for yourself.
Yeah, I mean, the longer you wait, you don’t know what opportunities you’re missing. Get music out there. A lot of changes can happen once you release a record. You’re much more likely to have more opportunities the sooner you get music out and your songs heard.
Knowing what you do now, if you could tell your 25-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I think when I was 25, I wasn’t always quite living in the moment. I was very ambitious and super naive about the music business at the time. I thought that things would be like, one day, I’m gonna have this great career and all these wonderful things are going to happen. So I would say, just focus only on enjoying playing music and enjoying creating. I think at that time, I was a little more focused on the business side of things. That can crush your spirit in a way. Now, I couldn’t care less about the business side of things. Now, all I want to do is play and write songs, and that totally gives me joy.
And do you have any advice for any young woman in general?
Understand what your true gift is. We’re all blessed with a specific gift. I really believe that. Really dig in your heart and know and understand what that gift is, because you can foster that and share it with the world.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
June 14 — Atlanta, GA — Smith’s Olde Bar
June 15 — Nashville, TN — The Basement
June 16 — Louisville, KY — Zanzabar
June 22 — Chicago, IL — Schubas
June 23 — Minneapolis, MN — 7th Street Entry
June 25 — Kansas City, MO — The Tank Room