A Fiendish Conversation with Shelby Earl
The singer-songwriter gears up for the vinyl release of Swift Arrows.
Shelby Earl's Swift Arrows mixes shimmering and sorrowful songwriting with a defiant edge. That combination made it one of the best Seattle records released in 2013 (and a Seattle Met Album of the Month). Since the album's debut in July, Earl has been keeping busy playing local gigs, making a music video more shocking than anything Miley Cyrus has put out (see the "Swift Arrows" video below), and even being one of the cultish "sister" singers backing up Damien Jurado (Swift Arrows' producer) at his record release show last weekend. This Saturday, January 25, she'll finally unveil the vinyl version of Swift Arrows (pressed in pink) with a release show at the Tractor Tavern.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Earl about vinyl test pressings, working on the public relations side of the music industry, and the creation of the "Swift Arrows" music video.
Now that Swift Arrows has been out for a while, has your attitude toward the songs changed?
I actually feel more love for them than I did when we first put it out. I think when you make a record you’re just too close to it and so, of course, I could hear all the flaws in what we did. You know, we made it in just eight days, and I still had some peace to make with some of the realness in the tracks. I hadn’t listened to the record for a long time, but I heard it somewhere recently—maybe it was Christmas, I think my family had it on—and I was like “Hey, that’s not half bad! Alright!” A little distance can do you some good.
What are the plans going forward in 2014?
Well, the 25th is the vinyl release show, which is really exciting. It’s my first time ever doing vinyl. Hearing the test pressing, hearing the album on vinyl, was just like a revelation. I mean, I guess I’m slow because I didn’t realize how different and amazing it was gonna sound, but I’m psyched about how these songs sound on vinyl. We sort of made it that way, but then didn’t press vinyl, so it feels like the way it’s supposed to be heard.
Anyway, that’s the 25th, and then I leave the next day to fly to Nashville. From there I’ll meet up with this guy named Aaron Lee Tasjan to do a slew of southern/Midwest shows together. I get back at beginning of February for a couple of weeks and then I’ll go out with Tom Brosseau, I’m really excited about because he’s been a favorite of mine for a long time. He and I will do a stint of West Coast shows, and then we both fly to Austin to do South by Southwest. This summer and into early fall will be festivals and stuff, and then I’m going to start hopefully making another record in the winter.
How did the idea for the "Swift Arrows" video come about?
So my friend Neil (Ferron) who made the video, and he and I actually worked together at a restaurant. I saw a theater piece that he had written and it was so good and so weird and I was like, “Holy crap, this guy is a weird genius.” So then he made the video for Smokey Brights last summer, and I think that was Neil’s first video project, so then I knew he was open to that kind of thing. I just emailed him or texted him and said, “Do you want to make a video for ‘Swift Arrows?’” And he is a serious go-getter so he immediately said let’s meet and talk ideas.
So here’s the sort of funny part of the story: We cracked a bottle of wine, talked about ideas, and I was kinda like “Huh… alright. These are okay. I guess let’s just continue the conversation,” but the ideas were really safe, and I was confused because I knew he was weirder than that. And about ten minutes later he said, “So I do have one other idea…” and threw out this concept and it was, for me, an immediate “Yes, holy smokes. That captures how I felt when I wrote this song.” It’s in no way a literal translation of the song, but it captured this feeling of the most just like outrageous and absurd life events. And he just nailed it.
What’s the best concert you’ve seen in the past year?
Well, Eric Elbogen of Say Hi put down his guitar and set up keyboards and sang like lounge style-y for the Barsuk anniversary shows; that was one of the best things I’ve seen this year. That whole Barsuk weekend was pretty great. Doug Martsch of Built to Spill played acoustic with the string quartet under the tree at Doe Bay. Highlight.
Who are some of the up-and-coming local artists that you think deserve attention?
Cataldo; Eric Anderson. I’ve been a Cataldo fan for years. In fact, when I first heard his stuff—it was probably like five years ago or something—I was trying to get him a booking agent, because this was when I was working on the industry side. I was just like “it’s on” with this guy, so I’m excited he has a new record coming out. Mikey and Matty are doing really cool stuff and they are ones to watch. Who else? I’ve heard a couple things lately that have been really… oh man what are those guys called? Lonesome Shack. Awesome.
If you weren’t a musician is there another line of work you think you might have pursued?
I’ve been pretty singularly minded since I was small that I was going to be a singer, but then I did really enjoy working on the industry side of music. I just found that I couldn’t do both. So I suppose if I was going to stop playing music now, I would probably go back to working in the music industry because I do love promoting bands. That’s not very exciting, it’s still the same industry, but that’s totally where my heart is.
Shelby Earl: Swift Arrows Vinyl Release Show
Jan 25 at 9, Tractor Tavern, $10