Shannon Wright Starts Over as a Solo Performer

Shannon Wright is pretty unforgiving in her opinion about the music industry. Her experience on a major label with her band, Crowsdell, almost kept her from ever recording again.

"I dealt with a label that was really money oriented and was not very creative, or allowed me to be creative. They just wanted me to write music that would sell a lot of records," she says from her home in Atlanta. "I just didn't enjoy playing music anymore. For me that's really detrimental, to have that kind of pressure, because then I just don't want to do it at all.

"It really put me in a depression," she says.

The label dropped her, her band broke up, and the relationship she was in fell apart. So Wright sold most of her belongings and moved to rural North Carolina.

"Everything in my life was ending," she says of the time. "I just needed a fresh start. I was kind of like starting over. I took some time off and realized that I couldn't quit writing music."

On a friend's piano and with her guitar, she recorded 1999's flightsafety, a strong, heartfelt collection of songs that drew comparisons to Elliott Smith and PJ Harvey. Since then, she's followed it with the fierce maps of tacit in 2000 and last year's dyed in the wool, which married the subtlety and rawness of her previous two records.

The comparison to Smith is apt, as both compose complex melodies that aren't immediately evident. But after repeated listenings, that melody creeps into her head.

"The reason [the songs] don't jump out is there's really nothing flashy about them. The kind of music I write is hard to listen to, because the immediacy is not there. It's so kind of honest, that it's different sounding," she says. "I do like the idea that once you understand it, you really like it.

"From what people have told me, people seem to connect with the records over time more and more and it becomes something they really treasure. That's special to me."

Wright is also known for her distinctive guitar playing, percussive and free-flowing—suited both for angry barrages and moody doodling. "When I first started playing guitar, I was really anti-guitar," she says. "I'm very much rhythm oriented. I've always been very much in love with bass and rhythm. Guitar just seems silly. Certain things about it I thought were so cliché. So I tried to be as simplistic as I could. Because I was that way, I think I invented my own way of viewing the guitar. It just developed into its own thing.

"I like it better because I've found a new way to play it," she says. "I really like guitar players that do it that way and don't go for the obvious. There's so many awful ways to play it." Guitar players she admires include John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, and Thurston Moore.

Like those blues and rock avatars, Shannon Wright is pretty unforgiving in her opinion about the music industry. Her experience on a major label with her band, Crowsdell, almost kept her from ever recording again.

"I dealt with a label that was really money oriented and was not very creative, or allowed me to be creative. They just wanted me to write music that would sell a lot of records," she says from her home in Atlanta. "I just didn't enjoy playing music anymore. For me that's really detrimental, to have that kind of pressure, because then I just don't want to do it at all.

"It really put me in a depression," she says.

The label dropped her, her band broke up, and the relationship she was in fell apart. So Wright sold most of her belongings and moved to rural North Carolina.

"Everything in my life was ending," she says of the time. "I just needed a fresh start. I was kind of like starting over. I took some time off and realized that I couldn't quit writing music."

On a friend's piano and with her guitar, she recorded 1999's flightsafety, a strong, heartfelt collection of songs that drew comparisons to Elliott Smith and PJ Harvey. Since then, she's followed it with the fierce maps of tacit in 2000 and last year's dyed in the wool, which married the subtlety and rawness of her previous two records.

The comparison to Smith is apt, as both compose complex melodies that aren't immediately evident. But after repeated listenings, that melody creeps into her head.

"The reason [the songs] don't jump out is there's really nothing flashy about them. The kind of music I write is hard to listen to, because the immediacy is not there. It's so kind of honest, that it's different sounding," she says. "I do like the idea that once you understand it, you really like it.

"From what people have told me, people seem to connect with the records over time more and more and it becomes something they really treasure. That's special to me."

Wright is also known for her distinctive guitar playing, percussive and freeflowing—suited both for angry barrages and moody doodling. "When I first started playing guitar, I was really anti-guitar," she says. "I'm very much rhythm oriented. I've always been very much in love with bass and rhythm. Guitar just seems silly. Certain things about it I thought were so cliché. So I tried to be as simplistic as I could. Because I was that way, I think I invented my own way of viewing the guitar. It just developed into its own thing.

"I like it better because I've found a new way to play it," she says. "I really like guitar players that do it that way and don't go for the obvious. There's so many awful ways to play it." Guitar players she admires include John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix and Thurston Moore.

Like those blues and rock avatars, Wright is a pretty intense performer. She frequently plays solo, although she may have a drummer along on this tour. At times, she'll pound on her keyboards, violently strum her guitar strings, and let out long chilling screams. A show a few years ago at the Tomato Head—accentuated by that restaurant's echoing tin ceiling—left the crowd in stunned silence. Despite these somewhat anguished performances, playing live is something she very much enjoys.

"It's very vulnerable to be on a stage. I think everyone can understand that. A lot of people don't [get on a stage] because it's frightening. To me, it's a very beautiful process. I'm kind of a shy person and for me it's a way to let go of myself and put down the every day barriers."

She says she strives to be honest in her performances—"I try to be very respectful of the things that have touched me over the years." For her, the openness is a matter of being respectful to the audience. "If someone takes the time out to come see you play, I think they should leave with something that's different and they'll remember."

The things that have touched Wright's life have made their own indelible mark on her. The new album is dedicated to a friend who died about 10 years ago. It's where she got the title for her latest CD, dyed in the wool, referring to the effects people have on one another. "That was my best friend and she died of Lupus at a really young age. That was a real shock, because you don't think someone is going to die at that young age....It seems like only yesterday that she was here. She's still a part of my life."

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