Hear First: Shannon Shaw’s Shannon in Nashville

Stream the album and read a love letter to it by Seth Bogart (Hunx and His Punx) here.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Shannon Shaw’s (of Shannon and the Clams) Shannon in Nashville—we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Seth Bogart discusses what he loves about Shannon’s newest, which you can listen to right here as you read Seth’s thoughts.
—Amy Rose Spiegel, editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Early this year, I found myself in the dead center of hell. I was devastated by multiple suicides, troubled by addiction, shook from watching people I love and care getting attacked in such public and violent ways, and was sure of the world ending. Shannon sent me her album in the thick of this, and I was so busy and depressed that I didn’t listen to it right away, even though I was dying to hear it. My curiosity level was also dangerously high, because she didn’t tell me much about the album except, “It’s really weird,” and how scared she was. A week or so later I finally had the time to sit down and give it my full attention. Within a minute of listening to it, I collapsed and burst into tears.

During the chorus of “Golden Frames”—the album’s opening track (and also my favorite)—is exactly the moment I lost it.  A heartbreaking song about looking through a box of old love notes and treasures and being terrified to see little tiny framed pictures of a loved one—I’m guessing one of her former loves. When the chorus arrives, her voice explodes and takes off to outer space and blows you into a million tiny little pieces. I’m very lucky to have experienced this feeling so many times in real life (my favorite still being when she does karaoke to “Ben” by Michael Jackson). But very few, if any, recordings have managed to fully capture that feeling her voice evokes when it casts its spell on you live and in person. Not to say all of Shannon’s records aren’t incredible; I just think her voice might be impossible to completely capture through a recording. I remember seeing Shannon and the Clams for the first time in 2009 (I think) at an Oakland house party. Shannon broke down and started crying in the middle of one of her ballads. But she didn’t stop the song—she  belted the lyrics so hard with tears falling down her face. She was clearly troubled and exorcising something serious in front of everyone. My heart broke, and I’m pretty sure everyone else’s did too.

Shannon and I met when she came to see my band Hunx and His Punx at the Eagle in San Francisco. We had exchanged a few messages online and I was delighted to meet her. But when I saw her perform for the first time a few weeks later…HOLY SHIT.  I don’t think I had ever heard someone sing like that. Shortly after, Hunx was going on a tour with Jay Reatard and we needed a bass player who could sing backups. Even though I knew I would be upstaged on the regular and barely knew her, I asked Shannon to come on tour with us and play bass. Ever since, she’s always been in the band, and, more importantly, become a very close friend that I will love for the rest of time. We rarely play nowadays cuz I moved to LA and got focused on art. Plus, Shannon and the Clams had become so incredibly busy and unstoppable.

The Clams are such a great and hardworking band—I love them so much. I don’t think there’s any band I’ve seen more in my life (Hunx and the Clams toured together often). This is hard to admit, but, after four or five solid Shannon and the Clams albums, I couldn’t help but yearn to hear Shannon’s voice in a different setting. Shannon and the Clams had perfected Shannon and the Clams. Even though I would be happy with them for the rest of my life, I wanted to hear Shannon’s voice in a different context.

Shannon told me sometime last year she was going to Nashville to record a solo album with Dan from the Black Keys. Although I am not very familiar with Dan’s work, I am a fan of Lana Del Rey and Ultraviolence, which Dan produced. One of my fave stoner records from recent times. The production is gorgeous. Imagining Shannon making an album with that production value…WOW! I was so ready for that. I could barely even think about it because I was scared I would be disappointed if it didn’t live up to my expectations. Would this be the Shannon record I had been dreaming of?

This album sends shivers down my spine and tears rolling down my face. I’ve listened to it over and over for the last few months. And best part is, it takes me out of hell and to a place where everything might be somehow be OK.  It’s the furthest thing from a disappointment. This is truly a classic album.

The album title Shannon in Nashville  is nod to the Dusty Springfield album Dusty in Memphis.  Shannon flew to Nashville to record this album with Dan, who was a fan of Shannon and the Clams. She contacted him to thank him for suggesting her band for a festival in Australia. In return, he asked her to fly out to Nashville and record an album with him. She came in with six songs (yes, she’s also an amazing songwriter) and wrote the others in writing sessions with Dan and a team of older studio musicians—guys who had played on records by Aretha, Dusty, and Elvis. She lights up when she tells me about these guys. She really loves and respects them. Clearly, she also feels uncomfortable looking at this as a solo album as it felt like a true collaboration. It’s really nice to hear that a bunch of old men can listen to a powerful and talented young woman and not only respect her, but help bring out her talents to their fullest and support her vision.

Shannon in Nashville is full of things I absolutely love in music: An updated Wall of Sound, lots of reverb, a powerful female voice, the good things in Christmas music (the bells and jingles). Plus, so much heartbreak. If you played these songs next to Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” or anything by the Ronettes, they would absolutely not feel out of place.  

“Coal on the Fire” is my other favorite song, and what a perfect way to end the album. When the final chorus arrives and she repeats, “Throw another coal on the fire,” over and over, her voice takes off into space one last time in the best possible way—guaranteed to make you start it over again. I remember listening to it for the first time screaming, “YES!” This was the exact Shannon Shaw moment I’ve been waiting for, but so much better than I could have imagined. The rest of the album is great as well, but these are the two songs I can’t get over. Other major highlights for me include “Love I Can’t Explain” and “Cryin’ My Eyes Out,” which is the most Shannon and the Clams–sounding song on here.

I was asked to write an album review, but this is more like a love letter. I think Shannon was scared of this album because it’s on a different level and was worried people wouldn’t like it. She has nothing to be scared of, except maybe that her life is about to change forever. What a treat it will be witnessing someone I love so deeply grow into a true legend. This might sound crazy, but I really believe in the power of Shannon. Plus, she is one of the sweetest, funniest, smartest, most caring, and talented people I have ever known. I could not be more happy for you, Shannon Shaw. I love you and I am so proud, and looking forward to everything that is to come. —Seth Bogart

Shannon Shaw, the daughter of a fire-fighting father and a mother who worked nearly half of her life as a nurse at Napa State, grew up out in the country, avoiding jocks and cops who had nothing better to do than harass local misfits. In high school, Shaw got a bass guitar, the glittery Danelectro she still plays today, as a gift from a boyfriend. Not able to envision herself as a “real” musician at the time, Shaw didn’t actually start playing her bass until about ten years later in response to a particularly rough break up that left her alone in the East Bay and desperate for an outlet. She has since become an expert at examining the detritus of love gone wrong with vocal stylings rivaling the ‘60s girl groups and Dion getting his teeth kicked out.