Exclusive Interview: Helen Shanahan & free download
Following the release of her debut album Driftwood in 2012 and her second WAM award nomination, buzz Perth folk-indie singer-songwriter Helen Shanahan scored big winning the Telstra Road to Discovery last year. This WAAPA graduate maps out her year-long mentorship with Mushroom Music to Gabrielle Clark, plus looks to the future.
Exclusive free download of track He Says below, and more on the Telstra Road To Discovery comp here.
Tell us a bit about how the Telstra Road to Discovery program and prizes have helped you grow as an artist?
The Telstra Road to Discovery program has helped me grow as an artist in many ways! It has firstly given me the ability to meet a whole host of artists from all around Australia, who inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing. During the competition they held a series of talks from industry professionals (including Ella Hooper and Andy Bull), and it was great to hear their advice on how to forge a career in this music business. It has helped me have a bit more faith in myself, as everyone is very nurturing and encouraging of your musical endeavors. The people at both Mushroom Music and Telstra have helped me map out a plan for the year, which has so far included a trip to Tamworth -which was very exciting! We played a showcase there and it was a great atmosphere to be a part of.
Part of the prize saw you touring to Canadian Music Week and Nashville tell us about those experiences and how they’ve shaped your future.
I was lucky enough to be accepted into Canadian Music Week, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have. I took the band over and we played to some lovely people and made a new network of friends and fans. We then were lucky enough to play in New York and were asked back to play for a second night at the iconic bar The Bitter End. It was just a wonderful chance to play to a new audience and to get an idea of what it is like to tour internationally. While it wasn’t a full scale ‘tour’ as such, it gave us a window into what it would be like and it has definitely inspired us and given us a strong impetus to go back. The Americana Festival in Nashville is happening this September, so I am really looking forward to going and just being surrounded by songwriters and musicians! I know that will be a very inspiring trip too so I’m looking forward to bringing back that experience and driving me to keep making music.
You’ve mentioned strong female artists such as Missy Higgins and Joni Mitchell as informing your music – what about them inspires you most, and how do you see the place of women in music changing?
Missy Higgins and Joni Mitchell are my all time favorites – because of their ability to tell a story through their melodies and their unique voices. I think the fact that they both stuck to who they were inspires me the most. Its so easy to get caught up in what you think people want you to sound/act but both those artists have maintained their sense of self through their music! I think that there are so many wonderful female artists emerging who are sticking to who they are, so I hope that people continue to connect with that!
Nominated for a WAM Song of the Year last year for Driftwood, do you find such achievements as this and Road To Discovery as a motivating or slightly daunting with expectations to write even more great music?
As a very nervous person, it has taken me a long time to get the courage to perform my original music for people so if I am lucky enough to be recognized for something like a WAM nomination or the Telstra competition, it helps me believe I am on the right path. I find it both daunting and motivating, as I really want to write good songs but at the same time I find it hard to write under pressure. The love of the music helps me push through my nerves and self-doubt, even though its something I think I’ll always have! Having many cups of tea is currently getting me through having to write at the moment.
Having supported the likes of Josh Pyke, Passenger and Matt Corby, what have you learned from those shows?
I must say I am a big fan girl of all the mentioned artists, so unfortunately I was the funny story as I was a blubbering mess in front of them all!! It was a truly awe inspiring moment watching all these artists perform, and to see where they are now is amazing as they are getting the recognition they deserve.
You’ve collaborated in the past with your partner and fellow WAAPA graduate Matt Allen – what have you learned from one another, and how do you think this format will evolve?
I must say I am quite biased, as Matt Allen is also my boyfriend, so it is very good to have him around! He (Matt Allen) helps me with my nerves as when he is singing with me it helps to put me at ease. Matt has not only a natural talent for singing but also an amazing ear for harmonies and he is helping me develop backing vocals for my recordings. I have learned that there is a definite art to singing harmony – one that I am yet to learn! I love having the band but I also love just a guitar and two voices so I think we’ll do more stripped back performances in the future together.
You’re set to record a new EP in July – what evolutions in sound can we expect to hear?
I’m hoping that the new EP will be staying true to my style of ‘acoustic folk’, but with a slight edge to the previous work. I hope that I have matured slightly in my songwriting, and that after working with my band a lot more we will have a much more cohesive sound. We are looking to produce the EP with someone from over East, so I’m looking forward to what ideas they will have. I think you can definitely expect some strong melodies, folk/acoustic sounds and lots of harmonies. I can’t wait to share the finished product!
Helen Shanahan plays Thursday 14 August at the Fly By Night Musicians Club and the Telstra Road to Discovery Showcase at BIGSOUND (QLD) Tuesday 9 September.