Country artist Shelby Lynne became something of a household name in 1999 when her album I Am Shelby Lynne dropped to immediate critical acclaim. That she had already released five albums seemed not matter to Grammy Award voters who gave her the Best New Artist award.
At this stage in her career, Lynne can laugh it off, though she's happy to wear the Grammy-winner badge, and has used that claim to grasp more control over her music, and forming her own label.
Revelation Road, her most recent album, now available as a just-released deluxe edition featuring a live CD and DVD, is her most personal and intimate set of songs to date. She takes that intimacy a step further on the live disc, which features songs from that album and throughout her career, stripped naked as Lynne performs solo. Her concert at the Musical Instrument Museum follows this same pattern.
Up on the Sun caught up with Lynne at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, to discuss her musical vision and growth, how not to make a live album, and why she won't listen to her own music.
Up On the Sun: You have a lot happening all at once: A live album, a deluxe reissue of Revelation Road, plus a concert DVD and documentary--all on your own 2-year-old label. Does it seem a little overwhelming for you?
Shelby Lynne: No, everything seems to be right on schedule. As far as overwhelming, no not at all. It seems like if you're making music you have to get it out there. I assembled a team that helps me keep my vision on the map, so it's good.
What is your vision then?
Which one do you want to hear about? [Laughs] I'm pointed out in a lot of directions all the time, so usually it's me who needs to be wrangled in and concentrate on the matters at hand. I'm kind of off the schedule as my team would say. But I'm learning to be wrangled. It's not easy but that's OK.
Then what's the most important aspect of your career right now and the concurring vision?
Just continuing to do what I do, playing shows and trying to touch people. The people have never changed. The vision is to do music and share with people. Whatever happens, happens.
Same visions you had as a high schooler who headed to Nashville to try and make it as country music star?
It's a little different because I'm 44-years-old now. My dreams and goals at 18 are somewhat similar. I'm still determined to get my music out there and sing for people, which is why I know I'm here on Earth. That hasn't changed. Certainly the business has in 24 years and the things that come along with it. Hopefully you grow, and I know I have, and I just always want to get better.
In terms of your growth, you started off doing traditional country. What was that inner voice that told you that you needed to do something different?
Well, I'd gotten tired of doing the Nashville thing. I had made five albums there and I was ready to branch out and do other things. I wanted to collaborate and really write songs that could stand the test of time. I had already long ago given up the having hit records in Nashville, so I just decided to do what my heart led me to do, write songs with real feelings and emotions and honesty.
And I guess that actually led to the hit record you never thought you'd have with I Am Shelby Lynne.
That wasn't a hit record. It was just a somewhat popular record because of the critical acclaim. To date is my most popular record I guess, but still it had its mountains to climb.
That one did earn you a Grammy Award. Do you find it ironic that you won for Best New Artist despite having made five albums prior?
No, I don't. I find it ironic that I'm still talking about that 14 years later. It's kind of like, Best New Artist is a little strange after you'd already been in the business for 13 years, but it wasn't my decision.
It's like Jethro Tull winning the Grammy over Metallica (for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental). Doesn't always make sense, but it's still nice.
Right, but it's a great thing to have because you can go through your entire career knowing you're a Grammy winner. There's really no reason behind it, especially my Grammy win. But it's like, OK, if that's what you think I need to have, I'll take it.You are releasing your first live album. Many artists are critical of their performances and few release such intimate live concerts. Was there any hesitation in releasing the McCabes show?
Absolutely, I don't believe in live concerts. I put a live concert out because people wanted it. I don't have any intention to listen to it or talk about it. It's for everybody else, not me.
Why won't you listen to it?
I don't make a habit of listening to myself ever. I make my records and move on. I don't get off on my own voice, believe me.
Many artists when they put out a live concert slip in some overdubs or try to clean the recording up. Is this Shelby Lynne live, warts and all?
Yes. I didn't fix up anything because I don't use Pro Tools. I believe in the live moment. If you can't do a live album without doing it live then it's not really live is it? And make sure you put that in there for the artists that go back in there and fix it. It's not really live is it?
That's the thing, in today's world in the music business nobody sells records anymore. We've all come to that agreement. You can't sell records anymore unless you load up your Cadillac and back it up to the gig and say, "Here's some CDs. Ya'll want 'em?" Nobody buys records. It's too easy to steal records. You have to make your living as an artist out on the road to make your peanuts out there. I'm just not real happy about it.
How does your live performance compare with what we find on your albums, for those who buy them, anyway?
It's just me and a guitar and a song. The records, you have that at home. The live shows this year will just be me and a guitar. The songs will be the same, the singer's the same, but it's just me and a guitar. That's what people can expect.
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Shelby Lynne is scheduled to perform Friday, October 12, at the Musical Instrument Museum.