Monday, May 20, 2013

Artist Interview: Shenandoah Davis

Shenandoah Davis plays piano and sings duet with Mirah
Fremont Abbey's Cathedrals 5, April 20, 2013
Shenandoah Davis is an incredibly talented musician whose sweet yet strong voice and piano acumen I first became enamored with after seeing her last month at the Fremont Abbey’s Cathedrals 5 show. After sitting transfixed in St. Mark’s Cathedral through her flawless performance I knew I had to hear more, so I picked up her 2011 release, The Company We Keep, on the way out and our Songs We Love post for "Proof" came quickly after that.
If you’ve been paying close attention to Seattle’s mu sic scene there’s little doubt you’ve already heard some project that Shenandoah has touched. The classically-trained opera singer turned singer/songwriter has released two full-length albums (We; Camera being her first in 2008, followed by 2011's The Company We Keep) and a 7" on OffTempo. She’s also played with acts like Grand Hallway, the Portland Cello Project, the Seattle Rock Orchestra, and most recently with her husband, Sean Nelson.

Shenandoah was kind enough to chat with us about performing and writing a new album (which we are very excited about!). 

NGD: St. Mark's is such a different space to play in, and it was pin-drop quiet in there—definitely not the typical bar atmosphere. How did you feel about that show going in?

SD: I always seek out quieter alternative venues to bars...I understand that for some genres of music, people talking and making a ruckus as people often do in bars (myself included) is not a big deal, but if you're playing quiet music in a bar atmosphere, sometimes the noise from the room is so loud that you can't even hear yourself through the monitors.  I don't particularly enjoying playing music in front of rooms of people who aren't paying attention.  St. Marks is such a beautiful room, and the sold-out crowd was almost eerily respectful and attentive.  I wish that musicians could expect that kind of audience at every show, but sadly it's pretty rare.  Mirah has a bit of a reputation for demanding silence from the audience, in addition to being a beautiful and dynamic performer, which I really respect about her, but in most bar situations, to me it's not worth the effort of trying to make a room full of people be quiet and pay attention to you for forty-five minutes...and it often rubs people the wrong way.

Watch the video for "Oh Way Oh" from Shenandoah's last album, 'The Company We Keep'

NGD: In the past you’ve collaborated and/or performed with several other musicians/bands including Grand Hallway, Kaylee Cole, and most recently your husband, Sean Nelson. Do you seek out partners to work with or are your collaborations more often happenstance?

SD: They've mostly been happenstance.  Sean and I met through music, so it only makes sense for us to merge our musical projects the same way we've merged every other aspect of our lives.  I began playing with Grand Hallway after two of the members saw me playing accordion with a country-rock band and had just finished recording an album with a few accordion songs on it, so I came on to help fill out their live sound with the release of their second full-length record.  Kaylee Cole and I met backstage at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle right after we had both had pretty terrible break-ups and we both just wanted to get out of town for awhile, so we went on our first tour.  Right now I have Seth Warren (The Maldives, Sons of Warren Oates, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground) playing with me at live shows from time to time, and that's been really enjoyable.

NGD: I read you’re working on a follow-up to 2011’s The Company We Keep. How is the writing process going? Has your approach to writing a record changed over time? 

SD: I'm not in much of a rush to finish writing this new record.  It's about half-way done right now.  When I began recording 'The Company We Keep', I only had about two songs completely finished and everything else we recorded was missing a bridge or an intro or lyrics or just wasn't really a song.  It took a long time for the songs to form, and they were often formed by the engineer splicing together a lot of separate takes and constantly editing and re-organizing data files into different soundscapes.  I'm really content with the finished product we got, but this time around I'm going to make a less orchestrally lush record with the songwriting, and lyrics especially, at the forefront.  And I want every song on it to be really good, so I'm taking my sweet time.

NGD: Any shows to look forward to in the greater Pacific NW region? Have you considered festivals?

SD: I'm playing with Laura Marling tonight, which I'm really excited about [event occurred May 15th...] I'm going to New York and Colorado for most of the summer, but will be back in August to play at Summer Meltdown Festival in Darrington and am organizing an all-women-songwriter's show which will be held on August 2nd.  I don't particularly enjoy playing my own music at festivals (although I am playing piano with Sean at Sasquatch next weekend, in the rhythm section alongside awesome Seattle band Jenny Invert) because of my preference for a listening environment.  It's pretty much impossible to pay attention to music at a music festival, which is ironic, but it's too overstimulating for anyone to really grasp onto any band for too long.  Everyone has their schedules out and is trying to figure out how they can see eight minutes of every band's set.  I'm not really into treating my performances like big theatrical productions, or feeling like I have to scream on stage or jump around or play really loud just to get the attention of the audience...I just prefer to have their attention already.  That way I can concentrate on just playing my songs.

If you have one of the coveted, sold-out tickets you can catch her playing piano in support of Sean Nelson at Sasquatch! this Memorial Day Weekend. Or, you can wait and catch her at the Summer Meltdown Festival in Darrington (August 9-11).

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