Shelby Lynne has just released a deeply personal album called Revelation Road. Last week I had the opportunity to speak with her about the recording process that found her playing all the instruments on the new album, a stunning song that directly addresses a childhood tragedy, and some of her favorite music, among other things.
When I first heard your new album, and hadn’t read anything about it, it sounded like a few people sitting in a room and playing. I understand that that’s not how it happened at all. Tell me about your recording process.
Most of the time it started out with just me and the guitar, and singing the lead vocal. Some of the time it started out with me just playing drums. Then I would start layering around it. It’s really kind of different every time depending on the song. It sounds funny but I would just stand in the room and allow myself to be drawn to where the music called me to play with it.
Why did you decide to play all the instruments yourself this time out instead of using other musicians?
It’s a real personal record and I did that rather than inviting anyone else to this particular party this time out.
Toward the end of the song “I’ll Hold Your Head,” you blend in the old chestnut “Side By Side.” What gave you the idea to do that?
That’s a song that my mother and sister and I would sing in three-part harmony together when we were growing up. It’s one that was a favorite in our collection of songs that we sang together. So I thought it would be an extra added emotional factor, and it worked to sing it in the key that I had written the other song in.
Some years ago you made a brave decision to break out of the box that the music industry wanted to put you in. In retrospect, how do you feel about that decision?
I could not be happier. I’m liking where I am right now, a lot. I can’t imagine changing anything.
On Revelation Road you’ve decided to address a childhood tragedy in a very direct way. Why did you decide to bring “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road” out at this time?
I don’t know man. I mean the songs just come. The songs come. There’s no real decision to do anything. There was no ‘I’m doing to write a record about this.” It doesn’t happen that way with me. I don’t make those kinds of plans with music. Music is the decider. I’m just the medium and the muse comes to me. It happens day by day. I’m happy that it did. I write songs about it, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to talk about it.
What do you hope that listeners will get out of Revelation Road?
It’s an emotional thing. It’s a journey. Hopefully they can relate to something that’s going on in their own world. I hope that they enjoy the music. It’s pretty personal and I’m sure it’s not for everyone.
A few years ago you made a wonderful album called Just A Little Lovin’ that was a tribute to Dusty Springfield. In listening to this album I can’t help thinking that if she had lived she would have recorded an album of your songs.
In doing Just A Little Lovin‘ you acknowledged Dusty’s influence on you. Tell me about a musician who has inspired you or influenced you that people might be surprised to hear about.
There are so many. I love so many different kinds of music. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular thing because I go from Willie Nelson to Jeff Lynne to Miles Davis. I love listening to all kinds of records so I can figure out how to do that. The record-making process is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love and do in my own way.
On this record I’m really involved it how it sounds, and how it’s recorded, and the particulars about mic placement. You know, the boring, technical geeky stuff that I really get into. Handling it, touching it, doing the studio thing.
As far as this album goes, and me playing everything, it’s the most imperfect record out. Part of the reason that I wanted to do it is because I’m not claiming to be a great musician on every instrument by any means. I kind of kept really safe and played what I knew I would be able to play without hurting myself, if you know what I mean. It was not in any intention to come off like I’m trying to show off or know what I’m doing. I just wanted to do something that felt really good and sounded great, and complimented the lyrics to these songs. It was much easier to do it myself than to try to explain to musicians. I know and have played with the greatest musicians in the world. It has nothing to do with that. It’s just that for this particular record I felt like I could suit the needs for it.
What music have you been listening to recently?
On the drive here yesterday, it was a 12 hour drive, I listened to everything from Vampire Weekend to Count Basie to a band called Other Lives that I like a lot. It’s all over the rainbow. I try to listen to what’s going on currently as much as I can, but I still appreciate so many of the old records. I just love the air and the space that they left on records. There wasn’t something in every little hole. I really love when a record flows and breathes. It allows the listener to get something out it. I just believe in lyrics and telling a story. It seems the older I get the more I appreciate a good story. And when it’s put to music that’s pleasing to the heart, it’s quite rewarding.
Speaking of current stuff, I was wondering if you have tried any of the new subscription streaming services like Spotify or Rdio, and what your thoughts are on them.
No, I haven’t. I know that my own records are on Spotify. I have my people take care of all that stuff for me as an artist. I rely on my friends who are complete and total music nerds to dig around and find that stuff. I’m lucky to have several friends who dig in and find cool, under the radar stuff. So I’m always on the lookout.
I really like to hear how people are making records. We live kind of in a Pro Tools world these days, which makes it a little bit uninteresting. But there are still some cool bands out there. Vampire Weekend has got some cool licks and a good sound. I love Kings of Leon. His voice is great.
Do you get a chance to listen to vinyl? Are you a turntable person?
Oh absolutely. My record is on vinyl first off. I still make records on two-inch tape. I don’t have a computer in my studio so everything’s done organically and in the real world. I don’t use computers and I still listen to vinyl absolutely. My record sounds better on vinyl than it does CD.
You’re currently touring to promote the new album. Any plans beyond that?
No. I don’t have any plans but to work this record and keep working it. After you do a record like this that’s so personal, and you kind of put your ass on the line, you have to start living again in order to have stories to tell. So I’m going to be out there pushing this one as long as I can and do my best not to make any plans. I’m going to go back to the California desert and do my thing there. I’m going to keep writing. I always like to write.