Shelby Lynne is one of country music’s most-venerable stars. Since 1988, she has pushed the genre to its limits—transcending the industry’s mechanical categorization of pop and rock music. Shelby’s musical diversity and internal battle for artistic integrity would bounce her GRAMMY-winning career around several record labels, however: Epic (1988-1992), Morgan Creek/Mercury (1993-1994), Magnatone/Curb (1995-1996), Island (1998-2002), Capitol (2003-2006), and Lost Highway (2007-2009).
Taking full control of her artistic vision, Shelby Lynne founded Everso Records, an imprint distributed by Fontana, and the label’s first release, Tears, Lies & Alibis stands as her eleventh studio album. In the midst of a promotional tour for Everso’s grand debut, Shelby Lynne managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on her departure from Nashville, her new-found independence, and the 10th Anniversary of I Am Shelby Lynne.
You just recently celebrated the close of your second decade in the music business. When you look back over the years, what do you think has allowed you to have such tremendous longevity in the cutthroat music business?
Well, I think it’s just about just being consistent and putting out albums that will last. You know, just not really the hot new thing, but just kind of get with the classics. Good songs and simple production and try to get to the heart of things.
Starting out, I know you had a lot of different hands on your work, especially on the production side. Is there a particular person or is there a particular reason why you stuck to that philosophy, to just make consistent work that you know that you felt would really last? How did you really focus on that as an artist?
I’ve always been at the head of the ship, even though there’s been other people who wanted me to do thing differently through the years. But I kinda just stick with what I know works for me.
This particular album is the first release on your very own label, Everso Records. What particular tasks or challenges have you had to take on this time around that you have not had to handle in the past?
Well, it’s definitely a hands-on thing; I mean, being that it was just—the label is me. I am the label. I’ve been doing a lot of work, basically stuff that I wish I had been doing for ten or twelve years, really. I seem to get things done a lot better, a lot easier, a lot faster. I get a lot of answers quicker without the man in the middle or a B-man at the corporate label. You know, I definitely can see a difference already and my record hasn’t even come out yet. I think that I’ve already been able to get a lot more done than with my experience with the majors.
Is there a particular thing that you think you were able to get done faster? Or done better?
Yeah, all of it! [laughing] I mean, it’s ridiculous, our labels. I mean, I really don’t know what they want. Besides to make money, I don’t know what they want. There’s not a lot that gets done, you know? So I decided to move on. I just can’t do the corporate thing anymore. I’m now willing to step out on my own and take my chances.
That’s definitely very brave. How did you come up with the name for the label – Everso Records?
My partner and I decided he wanted something that was kind of classic and wouldn’t change. It’s all about standing the test of time – based on an old saying from back in the ‘50s. In a lot of the old ‘50s movies, the ladies would say stuff like that, you know, when they were in the bathroom, putting on their lipstick and powdering their nose, and they would say, “Oh, this is ever so.” It’s like an old, old saying.
Okay, that is neat. I noticed that Fontana is actually used for the distribution. Even though you are straying away from the corporate world, why did you think that particular group was going to be the best fit for you?
Well, very simply, they have three of my other catalog records. So when Everso gets ready to put out my old Universal records, I’m one foot already in the door. See what I mean?
That makes perfect sense.
There’s lots of distribution companies out there, but I figured—this is my twelfth record I’ve put out in twenty years, and three of them were with Universal back in the last decade. And so, if Everso wants to put out those records again, well then I’m that much closer to being able to do that.
From the business side, did you have anybody assisting you with this? How did you know to make that kind of arrangement or deal?
Well, you just put your heads together. When you’re doing your own business, you take the experience that you have yourself and then you choose the most trusted individuals around you who have a good head on their shoulders. And then you put it together and you start having common sense. And yeah, just kind of hopefully you make the right decisions. I mean, so far, it’s been smooth sailing with decision making. I’ve got some good people that have been with me a lot of years in business who are involved.
This particular album is your twelfth effort and just looking at the title, Tears, Lies & Alibis, each of those words, if you took them separately, are connected to very strong emotions. What life events served as inspiration for this particular record? And when you put them all together, what comes to your mind?
My music is rooted in day-to-day life experiences. I mean, I think you have to have a certain amount of courage to write about life because we all see it differently. But I just try to write what’s real and you know, what feels good to me. I don’t have any template or anything. I just kind of let it go. I don’t think I’ve ever written songs like this before. It’s all an individual thing each time.
This album, like most of your recent records, has been completely self-produced. You pretty much are a do-it-yourself woman.
Yes, I am! [laughing]
When did you become completely comfortable in your songwriting and production shoes? I know, at least in the past, you said you were not terribly—I guess comfortable is the best word to use. When did you really feel like you needed to really take control of the overall process, the songwriting and the production, as well?
Well the songwriting just kind of, in the last ten years, I just decided that I needed to write my own songs. And then I’ll cut some other songs if it blows my mind. And I have. But I am comfortable with writing songs now and I’m comfortable with knowing where they come from, whether anybody else gets it or not. But I think they do get it. The record producing thing was just out of necessity. When I produced my first record, Identity Crisis, back several years ago—I don’t know how long—I was without a label and without a producer. So I said, “Well, I might as well do it myself.” I know my way around the studio pretty well. I have a studio. And it happens that if I don’t have an engineer that week, I can do what I need to do to get the stuff down. But the producing was out of necessity and I guess writing was, too. When I left Nashville, after making five albums there, I really wanted to start writing. And so far, it’s worked much better.
Now I know you have a home studio in Rancho Mirage, California. Do you find it difficult to separate your personal and professional lives? Or do you find the proximity of the studio to be a beautiful thing where you can kind of sneak away whenever you want?
Sometimes it can be a drag because, you know, you’re just kind of sitting there and nothing’s going on in your head. And other times it’s a beautiful thing, when you can go in there and say, “Oh, yeah, I feel so good. I can do that. I wrote this song today and I can get it down on tape today.” That makes you relieved. It’s about half and half. Sometimes I don’t even want to lay my eyes on it.
Although you are a tremendous singer, when—exactly—did you start playing the guitar? What gravitated you toward this particular instrument?
Well, I learned to play guitar because Elvis played guitar and my daddy played guitar, and there was always a guitar around the house. But I started playing when I was about seven. I just think, for me, I wish I could play the piano but I never really was comfortable with the eighty-eight keys. It wasn’t my thing. I’m more of a guitar player. I like swinging an axe pretty good.
Are there any particular emotions that you can express through the instrument that you cannot express vocally?
Maybe. I mean, I’ve often said I would be a great lead guitar player if I could play what was in my head. I guess that’s what all players think. But, yeah, sometimes you can play a chord and you can hear a part in a guitar chord that you can add to a harmony part later, as you sing it. But it helps. Sometimes you can hear a part that inspires me to sing that note.
My friends and I have always just been very impressed by how you’ve really been able to defy categorization. And ultimately, over the course of your career, I have found inspiration in your “rebellious” and “determined” spirit. That being said, what do you consider to be your greatest contribution to the music industry?
Well, that’s very nice of you to say. It has been sheer determination, Clayton. I mean, come on. It’s twenty years. I’ve never had a hit record and I’m still going strong. I’m stronger than ever. I just started my own label. I was watching Good Morning America the other morning and k.d. lang was on there. And she’s celebrating her twenty-fifth year in the business. Now k.d. has sold a lot of records. She’s got some GRAMMYs and she’s had some hits. And she should have had many, many more. She’s amazing. But, you know, for cats like us who aren’t really mainstream, we just keep plugging away at it because it’s what we’re born to do. I’d never be able to get a waitress job. I suck at that. So it’s all about doing what you’re put here to do, I guess. And I know I’m put here to do music. So when they put me in the ground, I’ll be doing music.
Is there a particular moment when you realized that music was what you were destined to do? I know for a lot of people, as kids, you’re surrounded by it, like you said earlier. But when did you really realize and say, “This is what I want to spend my life doing.”
Well, I mean, I knew when I was a little first grader, second grader that I wanted to be a rock star. So I guess it’s as early as then. I mean, I knew I could sing, then. It was pretty cut and dried for me.
I know that your previous album — [Just A Little Lovin'] — served as a tribute to Dusty Springfield. And I believe I read in an earlier interview that you were introduced to one of her songs through Elvis. As you recorded that album, what did you learn about Dusty that you probably didn’t know beforehand? And moving to the present, did anything from that particular recording experience spill its way into Tears, Lies, And Alibis?
Yes. Not to do it again! [laughing] You see what I mean? [laughing continues] People get stuck. The last record was a big, big, big, big joy. It was wonderful. I enjoyed making it. It was doing cover songs so it was really a no-brainer. You just go in and you interpret this incredible song. When you’re doing your own thing it’s harder because you’re throwing music out there to the world that nobody’s heard before, so there’s a comfort level that doesn’t exist. You don’t know how people are going to react to my song about Airstream campers. They already know “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” by Dusty. So, you know, it’s all about taste. I mean, I wasn’t familiar with Dusty Springfield until, you know, late ‘90s or something like that. I’d heard of her, and the “Son of a Preacher Man,” and all that stuff. But I really got to dig it, after that, and I started enjoying her voice, realizing that she had, pretty much, her life cut short, and still was singing pretty good.
When you cut from that particular album artistically and go into a completely different direction filled with your own original material, did you find that to be a difficult transition?
Well, I’ve done it for so long, Clayton. I mean, for years in Nashville I cut other people’s songs. It was later when I started writing my own. It’s a different transition, but it’s not that hard. It’s just different. Like I say, you can interpret some other writer’s material, which I enjoy doing; but then when you write your own and perform your own, it’s a whole new animal.
Was the move to California difficult? Do you miss Nashville at all?
No, no, no. I spent my time there. I did what I needed to do there. And California is where I want to be.
And what made you decide on California instead of going back home or anywhere else?
Well, because I was making a record at the time, out here. And it just seemed comfortable. And I had done the Nashville thing for ten years. I wanted to do something else. I wanted to get out of that stagnant system that never changes there. So the opportunity to work with different people and write with different people and have a different perspective on the world. I was just ready to move.
Well, change is always good.
Yeah, it is.
As I listened to Tears, Lies & Alibis, I really gravitated towards “Like A Fool.” I could relate to the lyrics on a lot of different levels, because I am going through a similar kind of situation! [laughing] Is there a song that really speaks to your heart?
“Like A Fool” is my favorite on there. I wrote that song so quickly and so fast after a day of writing a whole other song. And then I thought I was finished and “Like A Fool” just kind of fell out on me. Such a simple lyric and I saw it on the paper and I thought, Oh, how sweet. That’s a sweet little thing but I doubt it will ever make the record. And that’s my favorite. I just love the simplicity of it.
Yes, I definitely love the vibe that goes through the whole album. My friend, Josh Hathaway, a fellow writer and fan, wanted me to ask you about your thoughts on the 10th Anniversary of your landmark I Am Shelby Lynne album. After ten years, do you look back on the album fondly? Or do you have a grab bag of emotions?
Well, it was a hard record to make. It was a tumultuous time for everybody involved. I mean, I love the record. It’s such a great record. I’m thinking about putting it out as a twentieth anniversary with a couple of other tracks, but I’m not sure yet.
That was my next question! [laughing]
Yeah, I’m considering it. I’m considering it. We’ll have to see how long the paperwork takes. Because it’s nasty when you start dealing with all of the legal and all of the horses**t that goes with that. But we’ll see. I want to. I have a couple of extra tracks that weren’t on the original record that I might want to put out on Everso. Of course, that would be on Everso Universal. We’d have to see how the paperwork goes. You know what? I’m kinda like this. If it gets too hairy in paperwork and starts feeling like a record label again, forget it. I probably won’t do it. Sort of my thoughts.
There are two tracks that Josh is particularly fond of: “Why Can’t You Be” and “Lookin’ Up.” In fact, he has actually written articles on both of those songs. Looking back, what do those particular songs mean to you?
Well, those were the beginning of my songwriting career, for real. I mean, I had dabbled in writing before I left Nashville with collaborators and it was okay; but when Bill Bottrell and I wrote this song it was a turning point for me as a writer. And I think they’re strong, strong songs and they stand up. And they came from a place of desolate inspiration, sadness; just a whole lot of scary, lonely places. The record, like I say, I like the record. It’s a great record. It got me on the map. But it’s not something I can really sit around and enjoy listening to. It’s a painful, painful reminder of a time that was hard on a lot folks. I’m just being honest, because he wants to know. But that’s what it is.
Looking towards the future, what do you consider to be your short-term plans and your long-term plans, especially when you take the label into consideration?
Well, I plan to go on the road all year. In and out, go out for five and six, come back in, and keep going and touring. I’ve got so many plans I can’t even tell you. My people keep telling me: “You’re going to have to just slow down.” But I finally had to tell them: “I finally have this thing and I can make the decisions and do what I want.” So I want to put out a lot of records and just have a fun time with it.
For more information on Shelby Lynne, visit her official website.