Eleven years after the release of her debut album, country/soul artist Shelly Fairchild released her sophomore album Buffalo late last year. I was recently able to catch up with Shelly and ask her some questions....
What was your first experience of country music?
Like as a child? I grew up in Mississippi. I was born in Jackson Mississippi and my dad is a firefighter but he loved to sing. His daddy was in a gospel band when he was an old man so they used to sit around and play guitars and I remember there's a picture of me back when I first had a record that had me sat playing ukulele with my grandfather and guitar. I was introduced to Willie Nelson and Hank Jr and Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, all that, when I was a little kid so as well as gospel music - that was a big part of my family - country music was the only other thing I really listened to. That was life until I got into middle school and high school and listened to pop. My mother always loved James Taylor and The Beatles and all that so I had a pretty vast group of influential musicians in my life but definitely my dad's side of the family was all country music - that's still all he listens to in his truck.
How did that lead to where you are today?
Well like I said I have a lot of different musical influences but that was definitely my foundation. I feel like being from Mississippi - that's the home of the blues - I've got that swampy, southern kind of piece in my voice, in my writing, but I never stray too far from the way a country song makes you feel, that's what I want to put across to people so I think that's how it's carried on to today. Songs are really important to me and I think that came out of the birth of me listening to country music.
If you had to describe your sound in three words which would you pick?
Humm country, soul, rock 'n' roll.
It's been twelve years since the release of your debut album, what's changed since then?
A lot has changed since then! So my debut album came out twelve years ago?! I got married to a girl, there you go, just got married. So that's something that's changed. Sound wise, I made a funk record, sort of soul, still very southern but a soulful record in between my first record and this latest record. I've sung backgrounds for different people, there's just go much that's happened so carrying into this record "Buffalo" I feel like finally I made most of the decisions and it was just honest songs and no kind of company was involved and so it was a very independent project. I made the record through PledgeMusic so it was all crowdfunded so I really took in information from fans and friends and family about the songs that I was cutting and everything so I just feel like it's the most honest record I've ever made. From the first one - I was just a baby - it's like I graduated from high school to college and college to real life, that's kind of what I feel like happened, the steps.
You mentioned the album was funded through a PledgeMusic campaign, how did it all come together?
You know I was on the road singing backgrounds with a country artist named Martina McBride and I sort of started seeing a lot of fans that I'd had in 2005 when I came out with my first record, a lot of people were like what you have been doing and I noticed that I still had a fan base. I'd been making records but I'd been touring more locally and I'd kind of felt like I didn't have fans out there anymore and I was like I think I'm going to try this because I really wanted to go in the studio and I didn't have the money to make the record myself and I didn't have a record label. I'd watched a few of my friends do crowdfunding, either Kickstarter or Pledge - my friend Emily West had just made a record through PledgeMusic - and so I contacted them and started it and I reached my goal in two days and then ended up almost doubling it by the time the campaign ended. It was just a super special experience because I got to offer exclusive things to people that were just very much my personality but I also was like oh my goodness the fans that I have paid for this whole thing. So it's crazy to feel like people love and care about your music.
How has the album cycle been? Do you have any plans to work on any new music?
Yeah, I've started writing again for the next record, I think we're going to...this past one "Buffalo" was eleven songs, we're not going to put eleven songs on the next one, I think we're going to try to do more content, just kind of have some more songs out there for people as they come. I've just started writing and thinking about that, honestly this record is still kind of a baby, we put it out last December but it took a minute for people to start hearing it and now that it's on Spotify playlist and the video's been on CMT online there's more attention on it so it's like I'm just now starting to be able to kind of tour it so we're still living with this record, it's still sort of in it's little baby stages. All the while I will be writing so I feel like it'll happen in such a cool way, as I'm on the road I'll have new songs to try out and all that kind of stuff.
You mentioned as well touring with Martina, do you find there's been a difference between your own shows and working with her?
It's really fun to be the lead, of course it's great and I love it but I also really really love being a part of a group so I like being a sideman or a supporting act of whatever. I grew up doing professional theatre so I've always been in a group setting as well as singing in Church or singing at barbecues or for the zoo animals or whatever I did when I was a kid! Once I started writing songs and performing my own it was very different although I felt like that's always what I'd been dreaming of doing, I just found myself working as an actress and as a singer in more of a group setting. I really enjoy both, I love being the lead and taking on all the responsibility and then I like having a break sometime and just learning my music and showing up on time and being responsible and having a schedule for somebody else. I love it, I love both.
How do you find inspiration for song-writing? Do you find it comes naturally?
Yeah, when I first started writing I was really afraid of it. My manager at the time encouraged me, he gave me some books and things like this is how you learn the craft of writing songs. I had always just written poetry, like free-form, my stream of consciousness written in journals and everything but I never really knew how to craft a song. Moving to Nashville, everyone here's a song-writer, just like you move to LA and everyone's an actor. Everybody's a song-writer and I just started paying attention to when they would have song-writing nights and I would go and hear people - like in a round we call it here - so I would hear four songwriters, one would play, the next would play, the next would play and most of them had written songs but they weren't the artist and I was like wow that's the way it works - or they write the songs and their version is so cool as well as Tim McGraw's version or whatever else. I just really...it's like going to school so I kind of schooled myself about it and wrote some really crappy songs and then had some success with some really great song-writers that I started consistently writing with and they taught me more things to pay attention to. Now it's not as hard but it's still you have to be struck with inspiration, it can't just be fake. They tell you to write what you know and sometimes that's hard because you're being really really honest and transparent and it's like therapy sessions or something, you're saying it to the whole world. It's an ongoing thing, I'm still trying to be a good song-writer!
What's your favourite part about working within country music?
I think it's the family that you feel, the family vibe that you feel from fans and the people that you meet along the way - some people are rotten just like any other companies and businesses - but it's like a really big small family. That's what I feel like, any time I see an artist like Keith Urban or Miranda Lambert or Little Big Town or anybody, you just see them and they're like hey, how have you been. Of course it's about ego but it's not necessarily about that, it's kind of about you're all family no matter what level you're at. I feel like that's the biggest difference in country music and why I really love being a part of the country music family. They sort of honour the older artists almost like in the Native American culture or something. They really look up to and honour Haggard and Dolly and Loretta and they should. I feel like in different genres they don't really do that.
What would you say your least favourite part is?
I think sometimes country music gatekeepers can be very small-minded and I think they can be behind as far as social issues and things they're afraid of so I feel like it's a very conservative mindset which is fine, I'm not here to say how anybody should feel, I just feel like sometimes it stifles creativity and it stifles access to some really great music and some really great experiences as far as hearing artists that you might not be able to hear because you don't like the way they live their life or what have you.
Are there any plans to tour the UK and Europe as a whole?
I want to! I've been talking about it for ten years. My manager is sitting right here, we'll make it happen she says. It's one of the top five goals that I have, it's been on the vision board and if it's been on the vision board it's going to happen! You guys love country music and you love soul music which is like the mix of what I do. I'm not really straight ahead country so it's perfect!
Thanks to Shelly for her time! You can find more details about her, her music and any tour dates on her website here.