The Los Angeles Based DIY Singer Songwriter, Whose
Track “Before The Sun” Appeared On MTV’s “The Hills,”
Racked Up 40,000 Miles On Her 2002 VW Jetta As
She Crossed The Country For 125 Tour Dates In 2008
After releasing two well-received EPs, Boomerangs & Seesaws (2007) and Paris Can’t Have You (2008) on her own independent label Saint Cloud Records, singer-songwriter Shannon Curtis (www.shannoncurtis.net) was starting to live the dream that every DIY artist aspires to.
The multi-talented performer the Los Angeles Times once called “a beautiful piano player who sounds like the love child of Fiona Apple and Norah Jones” had her song “Before The Sun” placed on MTV’s hit show “The Hills.” She was also building an immense following by playing shows all across the U.S. In 2008 alone, she did 125 gigs and racked up 40,000 miles on her VW Jetta.
Without any radio airplay whatsoever, Curtis has become a must see live attraction in cities like L.A., San Francisco, Boulder, Washington, D.C. and her longtime hometown of Sacramento, where she launched her career as the lead singer of the pop group Paradigm, which became a popular band on the college touring market.
No matter how far she had gotten on her own, though, she had visions of finally breaking through to wider scale success when Grammy winning producer Charlie Peacock called her out of the blue and said he wanted to helm her next recording.
The Nashville based Peacock, who has worked with everyone from Switchfoot and Amy Grant to Sixpence None The Richer and Audio Adrenaline, heard her bittersweet ballad “Boomerangs & Seesaws” on Myspace and told her he loved it.
This unexpected connection led to the recording of her latest EP, Why Don’t You Stay? which was produced at Peacock’s studio with some of Music City’s biggest session musicians and mixed in L.A. by renowned mixer Joe Zook (One Republic, Modest Mouse, Katy Perry).
Sounds simple and exciting, right? A top producer recognizes a talented newcomer and before the artist knows it, he or she has hit the big time! But as any hard working artist can attest, nothing works this magically; in fact, it takes a lot of time and money. Peacock promised to produce the recording and bring in his best players at minimal cost—which still left Curtis thousands of dollars short.
Though the five song project, which features a longer, more fully developed and textured version of “Boomerangs & Seesaws,” is being touted as a Peacock production, one of the tracks—the summery, high spirited “Get Outta Town” was actually recorded the way Curtis’ other two EPs were: in her home studio as a co-production with her now fiancée, mix engineer and producer Jamie Hill.
The ever resourceful artist decided to take a bold step and put out the word to her friends, family and finally, her fans (including her 3,000 strong email list) that she needed their help to finance her next project. The singer promised a specially packaged, limited edition single CD of “Get Outta Town” in exchange for every $25 donation she received at her shows and on her website.
“I called it the ‘Get Shannon to Nashville’ fund and when we saw that some fans couldn’t afford the $25, we were happy to accommodate them for less,” Curtis says. “When Charlie first approached me, I told him I would be interested down the line because as great a rate as he was offering, I didn’t have the money to do it. Ultimately, we raised close to $5,000 and it only seemed right to include ‘Get Outta Town,” the song that made it all possible, on the EP. Besides that and ‘Boomerangs,’ which is all about a relationship that’s been crazy but is just not working, another song I love is the title track ‘Why Don’t You Stay?,’ which is about that moment when you ask a new love interest to hang around longer to see what possibilities may develop. When you ask that question, you may get accepted or rejected, but you just have to ask. It’s the perfect metaphor for an independent artist pursuing a career in the music industry.”
Although Why Don’t You Stay is a purely secular project, Curtis’ background growing up in a religious Christian family and listening to many Christian artists makes her right at home working with Peacock, who is one of Contemporary Christian Music’s (CCM) most sought-after producers. She distinctly remembers being nine years old and singing into her hairbrush pretending to be Amy Grant.
Though she was dancing and singing along to her dad playing 40s era standards on her family’s baby grand at age four and was told a few years later by her classical piano teacher that she “played like a boy,” her musical ambitions were always at odds with her conservative background and the traditional role she felt women had to play in the world. She took the first step towards independence from this thinking when she shirked her pre-med biology degree from the University of San Francisco and formed her band Paradigm—shortly after falling in line, falling in love and marrying a man who would eventually become a pastor.
“I always wanted to do the music thing but it was a passion I didn’t know how to express,” she says. “I thought there was this prescribed path in life where you got married, started a family and that was it. But I never felt that was right for me, which is why I started the band and kept putting off having kids with my then-husband. He commuted while studying at the seminary and I could sense we were moving in different directions as he became more committed to the faith and I started having doubts. He started an evangelical covenant church in Sacramento and I was unhappy for many years playing the role of the pastor’s wife, trying to live up to those expectations. I wanted to do a good job for my husband and the church, but I was losing myself in the process.”
“Everything is very different since I moved to L.A., launched my solo career and found love again with Jamie,” Curtis adds. “It was all a matter of getting in tune with who I really was, taking charge of my life and creativity and striking out on my own for the first time. Building the touring schedule started with a lot of open mic shows in L.A. and just being bold enough to call venues around the country to see about bookings. I also started writing a lot of love songs because there was a whole world of emotion that I finally had the chance to experience.”
Curtis will be performing over 30 dates this summer everywhere from L.A. to Nashville, Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago and New York City.
“I love playing for people and it’s very satisfying when fans come up to me telling how much one of my songs means to them,” she says. “But all the recording and touring is gravy because what matters most is that I’m finally content with who I am, at peace with myself and my personal relationships. I’m feeling really good about myself and I couldn’t always say that—and that’s bound to come across in my songs and onstage. People talk about how the music industry is in trouble but I think it will survive for the simple reason that nothing can replace the face to face interaction between artists and their fans, the give and take in that space between them that is just so beautiful and electrifying.”