KIRO Radio's Josh Kerns talks local music
Seattle Sounds

Shannon Stephens goes from the garden back to guitar

shannon stephens seattle sounds
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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

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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Join Josh Kerns and Shawn Stewart every Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 5pm on KIRO Radio.