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Shannon Stephens goes from the garden back to guitar

cedargrove
Shannon Stephens was
headed for fame when she co-led the band Marzuki along
with famed indie musician Sufjan Stevens, but she quit to
overcome burnout and to start a family. Now she’s back on
the music scene and has released a new album, called Pull
It Together. (Photo courtesy of
Myspace.com/ShannonStephens)

Seattle singer and song-writer Shannon Stephens is the
featured performer this week onSeattle Sounds with co-hosts Chris
Kornelis and Josh Kerns. We talked about her return to
music after nearly a decade off, parenting, and playing in
people’s houses, and she serenaded us with one of the
songs from her new album “Pull it Together.”

Josh Kerns: You’re not originally from here, but
you somehow ended up here after spending a lot of time in
the Midwest. What brought you here?

Shannon Stephens: Just a wild hair. I’d just
graduated from college and I had a few friends out here
that were in music, and they said, ‘Come out for the
summer, we’ll play softball!’ And so I just came out and
stayed. It sounded pretty good.

Chris Kornelis: You were, for a long time, playing
with Sufjan Stevens and a lot of these guys that have gone
on to become big names in the indie rock world, but you
put everything aside for a long time and got your hands in
the soil and did a bunch of gardening, and started a
family and now you’re back to music. What brought you back
to playing music again, and writing music again?

Shannon: I guess what got me
back into it was a really slow untangling of the reasons
why I had quit. And, you know, recovering from the burnout
that I went through regarding music. And a couple years
after my daughter was born, I felt like I needed to do
something that was just for me, and what would that be? I
thought, you know, maybe I should try writing some songs
again. And it snowballed, obviously.

Josh: Did you literally put the guitar in the
closet and not play at all?

Shannon: Yeah, I would bring it out every once in a
while and try to play it, but it was extremely painful.

Chris: Honestly, did you get back into it because
after your daughter was born you would start playing
guitar to her?

Shannon: No.

Chris: How old is your daughter now?

Shannon: She’s seven.

Chris: Is she into it? Does she like it when you
play?

Shannon: She does like it, she’s got most of the
words memorized, although she would never admit that to,
you know. But she can sing along. And she seems less and
less annoyed by my playing as she gets older.

Chris: Have you been able to force-feed some of
your cool music to her, or she really into Miley Cyrus?

Shannon: I don’t think she’s old enough for that
stuff yet. She listens to Strawberry Shortcake. But also,
like, Michael Jackson and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, I
mean… she likes some of the good stuff.

Josh: I found it interesting, you were talking
about going back out on tour for the latter part of the
summer. And you could play bigger venues, you know, places
like the Moore and clubs and places like that, but instead
you’re going a different route and playing in people’s
houses.

Shannon: Yeah. I don’t know if I could play places
like the Moore around the country. I just don’t have that
kind of a draw yet, because this is only my second time
out on the road.

Chris: But most people in your position would
probably hitch onto a bigger tour playing clubs and
what not around the country.

Shannon: Sure, and I’d like to do that down the
road. This is really me establishing a tour history by
just totally guerrilla-booking it and just getting out
there and doing it so that booking agents and other bands
can say, ‘Oh, she’s done some stuff. She knows what
touring is like. Let’s invite her to go on the road.’

Chris: But it’s even proving to be more lucrative
to be playing a basement than it is to play a club. How
does that work?

Shannon: Absolutely. Even if you get 10 or 15
people in a house show at $10 a head, it tends to make
more money than at a venue, especially as an opener. You
know, $50 to open for some big act.

Chris:Is that an indictment of just the way the
clubs are set up, the infrastructure there, or what?

Shannon: I don’t know. I think a lot of it might be
just how expensive gas has become, so the headlining acts
that are touring have to demand a higher amount. I mean,
that’s just my guess. You know, they have to ask for a
guarantee.

Chris: It really puts into perspective, like
stealing a record that costs $10. If the band traveled 300
miles and gets paid $50, the $5 you would make on that
record would actually probably make a difference.

Shannon: Right, absolutely it would. That’s the
thing about house shows, too, is that you sell a lot more
CDs. Because people came to hear the music, they didn’t
come to drink the beer and catch up with their friends
necessarily, as much as they came to hear the music.

Josh: Is it weird doing that? I mean, I understand
that when you’re in your late teens, early 20s going out
on the road, making all those sacrifices, but you’re
leaving your family and this life that you have built
here. Do you feel guilty at all about that?

Shannon: You know, I felt a little guilty on the
first leg of the tour, and I was on the phone with my
husband saying I feel really bad because I’m not homesick
at all. Like, I don’t even know if I’m ready to come home.
He’s like, ‘That’s right, honey! That’s the way it needs
to be!’

Chris: Do you feel guilty about being white? I keep
coming back to your record, and there’s this song Faces
like Ours that I actually think is really gorgeous, but
I’ve got to be honest – the lyrics bum me out. It sounds
like you’re apologizing for being white, and with some
privilege.

Shannon: No, I don’t think I’m apologizing. It’s
not really a song I wrote as a statement. Funny enough to
say, it’s more of a personal reflection of the reasons why
things have been easy for me throughout my life. It’s
always been easy to walk in and get a job somewhere. And
just kind of becoming cognizant of the fact that that’s
not the same way for everybody else. And going through the
‘isms’ and kind of learning about them and what they mean.

Listen to the Seattle Sounds interview with Shannon
Stephens:


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