Shurman: The Artists I Love Transcend Labels

If you weren't able to make it to Circus Mexicus earlier this month you'll have another chance, this week, to catch one of the festival's best acts, Shurman.

Based out of Austin, Shurman spends little time at home--they tour the country relentlessly, spreading their shared love of music to pockets of fans in every small town and big city along the way. The state of Texas seems to breed a rare type of musician; combine that with lifelong influences from Georgia, Los Angeles, and even Phoenix, and the end result is the sound of rock and roll stitched together with acoustic country and blues. Or to sum it up in a single word, Shurman.

You can check them out Tuesday night at Last Exit Live, but first check out Up on the Sun's interview with singer Aaron Beavers as he talks about a new album, his musical direction, and his lifelong process of assembling the perfect band.

Shurman is scheduled to perform Tuesday, June 18 at Last Exit Live.

Describe what an audience can expect to see at one of your shows

Well, a lot of sweat and a lot of smiling and a lot of rock and roll. The interaction between our band and the audience is really paramount to us. We're not the kind of band who's shoegazers; we enjoy watching people react and seeing the crowd get off on what it is we're doing. It's really important to us and we take it into consideration before we even write up a set list.

It sounds like the entire band works well together.

The band has been through a few different lineups in the last 10 years, and it's taken a while to get the right formula. It's like chemistry. Each guy has his own thing that he brings to the potion, if you will, and it's funny how you get that formula of the right guys together.

We get along really well offstage and we spend a hell of a lot of time together with the amount of shows we do each year. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other. Our guitar player, Harley, is one of the best guitar players I've ever heard; our drummer is completely solid; and honestly our bass player Mike is my favorite singer. That's awesome, when your favorite singer is the harmony singer in your band.

That translates to the audience. We're very comfortable around each other and we trust each other. It allows me to take it a little bit further and really lose myself in the music and not worry about hoping if everybody is on point.

So, you've been able to adapt and persevere in spite of the line-up changes.

Absolutely. We started in L.A., and we were one of those bands who had a lot of manager people looking to manage us. At the time we ended up signing to Vanguard Records and we had a lot of things promised to us.

Through no fault of the band or any of the members I've had--it's not like they weren't the right guy or they weren't talented enough or weren't dedicated--we just had a lot of people tell us "this is how it's going to be," and I feel like it brought a little bit of disappointment when it didn't happen as quickly as we were promised.

In a way it was detrimental to the band, because instead of going with the old school approach of winning fans over one at a time and playing shows, it was like we skipped those steps and then we realized we can't skip any of those steps, and we had to win our fans over one at a time.

We're hoping to have [the new album] finished before we head over to Europe in the fall.

I heard you are working on a new album?

Yeah, we've been putting together new material. We're doing about twenty-two shows this month and as soon as we get done we'll be back in the studio recording new material. We're hoping to have it finished before we head over to Europe in the fall.

What direction is the new album heading in?

It's hard to say. The band has always been very hard to pigeonhole, as far as our sound; we've always been country and soul and rock and roll and folk along with acoustic instruments and electric instruments.

We've always prided ourselves with being a band that's very hard to put a moniker on. With this new record, for the first time, we've written more of the songs around a melody instead of sitting down with a bunch of words on a piece of paper and putting music to it.

We've been doing a lot of co-writing, and Mike and I share lead vocals. I'd say the writing is a bit more thoughtful. Songwriting is not something where one day you say, "I get this, I can do this now." It's always a work in progress. I've dedicated more time to writing on this record than any past album and really tried to hone the craft.

Are you playing any of the new stuff live?

Oh yeah, and they seem to fit in seamlessly with the old songs. Seeing people who know the old stuff and when they hear the new songs are singing along with it by the end is the ultimate test to me.

I want to know the story of Shurman.

The band came together in Los Angeles. We got to play the places we'd always wanted to and then it came to a point where we had to go out and really work. We got in the van and toured across the country.

Then we eventually moved to Austin. Everybody that is in the band now is someone who [was friends with Shurman] before. In fact, the bass player I have now I met years ago and told my bass player then that if anything ever happened to him I was going to replace him with that guy. [laughs]

[So] when we moved to Austin my bass player at the time couldn't make the move. After the band was in Texas, I [tracked down current bassist Mike Therieau] and he actually lived a mile from my house. It was like destiny. The four of us together now is kind of like my dream band. It's been the most rewarding and exciting thing I've been through in the last 10 years. If you don't have people to share it with like them it doesn't mean anything.

We opened up for the Refreshments when they were called All You Can Eat, before they changed their name.

What about your influences?

It's so all over the map. One of the first influences I remember was Stevie Wonder. I remember just loving him and his voice and he is still one of the biggest influences in my life as a singer and a performer. When you hear his music or see him play, it transcends all genres. You don't have to be a soul music fan to get what he does.

Those are the people I really like--the ones who transcend labels. It's something I really try to do. Willie Nelson did that and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Neil Young and Bob Dylan, as well, were amazing writers.

I went to school at Arizona State, so there were influences there. I was a youngin' when the Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments were all huge. Dead Hot Workshop was one of my biggest influences ever as a lyricist and a band. They still perform in Phoenix.

I was in a band while at Arizona State and we opened up for The Refreshments when they were called All You Can Eat, before they changed their name. Our very first show was opening up for All You Can Eat and we didn't have a band name.

They asked what our band's name is and I started thinking about the flyer and said, "The name of our band is Free Beer." [laughs] And I pictured the flyer for the show saying All You Can Eat with Free Beer [laughs].

Where did Shurman come from?

I was born is Denison, and Sherman, was a town right next to it, my parents' rival high school. I figured if your band name doesn't piss off your parents, then it's not a good band name.

Then I went to high school in Georgia, and General Sherman was the guy who burned Atlanta down during the Civil War, and I figured I probably shouldn't call it Sherman with an 'E.' So I changed the 'E' to a 'U' and that's how we got Shurman.

How have you grown musically over the years?

I've learned so much about music, and at the same time I've learned that I don't know anything about music. I'm OK with that.

I love it and I'm a huge fan of music and I can't imagine my life without it, but when I think I have a grasp on what it is and why it's so important to me I realize I have no idea. I learned by sitting on the side of the stage and watching other bands do it. I learned that music is something I need in my life like the sun, or water, or food. I've been drawn to it for as long as I can remember.

In 7th grade I had an English teacher who got on me to get into poetry because she saw something in me. I entered contests and won a few of them. It was that time when you're young and you discover girls and stuff. I realized, maybe poetry isn't that cool, but if I pick up a guitar and I sing the girls love it.

What is your favorite instrument to play?

I like playing mandolin and piano and a little bit of bass guitar. Recently, I've been getting into playing percussion. It's kind of a part of my love for music.

For me, my number one instrument is my guitar. I'm playing my dad's old Martin guitar that he had when he was a kid. It's something that was passed down to me and that I'll pass down to my son. I named my two year old son Lennon, after John Lennon, and he's also very into music and very musically inclined already.

It's like a love of music that's been passed down through my whole family.

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When Caleb isn't writing about music for New Times, he turns to cheesy horror movies and Jim Beam to pass the time.
Contact: Caleb Haley