Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Shawn Colvin, is about to embark on her second tour of Australia, where she will be joining an impressive line-up of local and international artists performing at the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest. Shawn spoke to me recently from her home in Austin, Texas about how excited she was to be touring ‘Down Under’ again. “I toured there once before but only went to Melbourne and Sydney,” she tells me, “so it’s exciting to be going up to the Brisbane area. I’ve not seen that part of the continent before. I’m really looking forward to it. The very first time I came was when I first got a record contract with CBS and it was at a convention in Sydney and then on Hamilton Island and that was about 1990 I think. But then the last time I came was probably ten years ago.”
The Byron Bay Bluesfest is just one of many festivals the singer has performed at over the years and she really enjoys the atmosphere. “There is a lot of great energy at festivals. People go to spend the day and the night. We have one here in Austin that happens every September and there’s music constantly, all day and every night and that’s what people love.”
As well as performing at the Bluesfest, Shawn will also be doing her own solo sideshows on this visit to Australia and will be performing songs from all of her previous albums as well as her latest CD, ‘All Fall Down’, which was produced by Buddy Miller, himself a singer/songwriter/musician with pretty cool credentials, having played with such greats as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. “I’m good friends with Buddy actually,” she explains. “We’ve known each other since the 70s. We met in Texas and in 1980, I moved to New York because Buddy offered me a singing job in New York City. I was in a country band. Buddy left town after about a year but I ended up staying.” Shawn had the utmost confidence in putting her faith in Miller to work his magic on her album. “I trust him. He is just a wizard of a musician and singer.”
And the results speak for themselves. ‘All Fall Down’ is a superb collection of songs, performed beautifully by Colvin and an array of respected musicians, including the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the above mentioned Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, just to name a few; all of whom dropped by Miller’s home studio to add their respective talents to the recording sessions.
The overall theme of the album, by Shawn’s own admission, is one of loss, something she had recently experienced herself. However, she is quick to point out that her songs do not tell specific stories. “My songs are mostly based on life experiences, but they’re not journals. They are not telling a specific story. They’re full of imagery and symbolism and a little poetry. It’s really combining a lot of elements to get the idea across.”
But prior to working on this album, the singer did actually tell her story in a much more direct way when she decided to write a book about her life. ‘’It’s your regular memoir and it spans my life and, mainly, my career. It was an interesting undertaking. I was rather hesitant at first but my manager said ‘You have a story to tell’ and he suggested I write a chapter or two just to see what followed. I enjoyed it so I thought ‘you know what? I might be able to get into this.’ so I wrote the book.”
‘Diamond in the Rough’ is a candid and humorous account of the life experiences behind Colvin’s song writing and her career in music. It is well written and would probably appeal to more than just her fans for its inspirational content and insight into the singer’s creative soul.
I suggest that writing a book about one’s life would be a rather cathartic experience. “It was a cathartic experience just getting it done!” she laughed. So, would she ever think about writing another book? “I don’t know. There’s really no other book to write about my life. I have written a couple of pieces for magazines and stuff and I enjoyed that but as far as writing another book? I’m not thinking about that.”
Shawn’s focus is fairly and squarely on her music, as it has been for most of her life. “It’s something I always wanted to do from a very young age,” she admits. “I not only wanted to do it, I did it. I started singing in the choir at church when I was a teenager. I learned to play the guitar when I was ten and I was playing and singing pretty well by the time I was fourteen or fifteen. I come from a very modest family. No one in my family circle has ever ventured out to become a performer and I wasn’t absolutely convinced that’s what I could do but I didn’t want to do anything else so I stuck with it. And it turned out ok. My dad was a big fan of The Kingston Trio and Pete Seeger. One of the reasons I learned to play the guitar is because my father did and I used to listen to those records. You can only appreciate in retrospect, more and more, how wonderful they were. And then the singer/songwriter thing exploded with people like Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell… so many people that I can’t name them all. It was all acoustic. And then I started to create my own music. It was something that was my own.”
And now, eight albums and a couple of Grammy Awards later, Shawn Colvin is still writing music that is all her own, and continues to weave that imagery and symbolism with a little more poetry to tell her stories of life and love and loss … still tempered with a little laughter.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved.
Shawn Colvin performs at Bluesfest on 28th and 29th March. For more details of this event as well as Shawn’s other shows in Australia, please go to our Touring page.