How you got started, influences etc.
I come from a musical family– at our get-togethers we can hardly let an hour–no, ten minutes–go by without one of us breaking into some sort of song or rhythm. We came to South Florida when I was 14 and I had the chance at local music festivals and house concerts to see how exhilarating and intimate it can be to share your original songs with people in that setting, around a campfire or in a small room. I still love doing that. And when I’m in front of a larger audience, the best moments are the ones when it still feels that intimate and connected.
“And you’ve had some chances to perform in front of larger audiences lately! Tell me about that.”
Yeah. In 2011, I had a few milestone performances, including a trip to Guantanamo Bay Cuba to sing for the U.S. troops, and I also sang the national anthem at Dolphin Stadium for two Florida Marlins games. I’ve done a lot of shows that were exciting but those are definitely experiences I will treasure. The trip to Cuba with my percussion player Shaen was so interesting. It was my first time playing on a base, and we got some time to meet a lot of great men and women from the armed forces who really appreciate having live music. When they’re sacrificing so much and being away from home, it’s a huge honor to be able to bring them some fun and normalcy at the end of the day. When I sang the anthem at the stadium a few weeks after getting back, thinking of them made me profoundly more aware of the song’s meaning.
Tell us about your songwriting/recording process and what we can expect on your latest tunes?
Songwriting for me has always been kind of like dreaming. You get all these thoughts and images that swirl around together, in different crazy ways that may or may not make sense. Then you try to piece them together into a cohesive whole. In the last year I’ve definitely been transitioning towards new things musically and personally in my life, so a lot of the songs I’m writing are about changing priorities, holding on to what’s important, and –gasp–becoming a “grown-up”.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
In the immediate future, expect some new song and video releases. I’m really looking forward to more tour dates as well, so in addition to my S. Florida dates in February and March, expect to see some new dates on the calendar, most likely on the east coast U.S. and elsewhere! I am always game to come to a new city, so if someone’s interested in having me in their town, all they have to do is reach out. (email firstname.lastname@example.org) Other projects you might see me on include writing music for movies, collaborations with other artists, and some songwriting workshops for children and teens.
Tell us a few things about yourself that may surprise us?
Let’s see… I have a pet rabbit named Ziggy, whom my friends call the “office manager” because he hops around my house nudging through all my papers and remote controls… Before I ever picked up a guitar, I absolutely loved playing hand drums… I see trees almost every day that I want to climb, but I only do occasionally… I am somewhat obsessed with fruit salad, and I am a fan of the Miami Dolphins, aka, a Dolfan.
What music are you enjoying currently?
I was recently in Nashville and stopped at Grimey’s Music store, where I bought Ryan Adams’ Fire and Ashes. I love most of his stuff, and on this album you can definitely tell he’s settled in a bit– he sounds less frenetic, and warmer, and still raw which is great. The Canadian band STARS put on a great show at the Culture Room, and I’ve been listening to their recordings and live stuff. Also in my ear are Matt Nathanson, Dave Matthews, Brett Dennen, and Sigur Ros.
If you could go back in time what would you do differently in your career?
I could probably regret a couple times of choosing THIS gig over THAT gig, or not being more practiced for a showcase or, once–arriving at a venue and realizing my guitar was at home, 90 minutes away. But I feel like it’s too soon to say if I’d take a mulligan on anything major. One thing I would do differently would be to take more photos, videos, and write more journal entries along the way. I hope that several decades from now I can look back and still remember all these experiences.
If you could play with any musician in history who would it be?
Gotta go with the late-great Michael Jackson. He was such a true artist, from his incredible talent and how hard he worked, to that “sparkle” that people saw in him. I feel like some of that sparkle would leave a little extra shimmer on you after working with him.
Where do you see your career going in the next five years?
To be honest, I’m concentrating on the two-year plan of recording as much as possible and playing a lot more cities across the U.S. But in five years, I’d like to be playing shows here and in some other parts of the world, have some new experiences, and be able to add those sounds into my recordings.
Other than being an artist what did you think about doing as a career when you were a child?
An author, a ballerina, a vet, a journalist, an accountant, a dog trainer, and I think for about two weeks, a real estate agent. But I always, always wanted to be around music.
Biz… What has been your best experience in the business?
Working with venue owners, booking agents, and other musicians who are passionate about what they do and are good at it. (www.shaunasweeney.com/links)
When venue owners or booking agents take those few minutes to consider the artists’ needs and want to make you feel welcome, it makes it easy to focus on having a great show. So the audience has a better time and everybody leaves happier.
What has been your worst experience in the business?
And Why? I have been very fortunate not to have had many bad experiences in this business to speak of. That being said…occasionally I’ll meet people in the industry who just want to exploit musicians, or musicians who might take advantage of a venue’s hospitality. Those things bum me out because they make it harder for the rest of us to keep doing what we’re doing.
What is it you love about what you do?
I love my job almost every single day, and I know how lucky that makes me. The fact that I get to make a living by sharing songs that I love with people who are there to enjoy them and have a good time is a huge blessing. At the end of the song when people are clapping, that just feels like a great bonus.
What is it you hate about what you do?
Ok don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind at all when people make requests for tunes they’d like to hear. But I am NOT a fan of those few random people who mistook me for a human jukebox. Or for a carnival worker. Please don’t come up and wave a five in my face, thinking it buys you three songs, like darts to throw at a wall of water balloons.
How do you feel the Internet has changed the business? If you could make a major change in the business…. What would you like to see?
Well the last decade in the music business HAS been a major change. For it to go from, no one will hear your music unless you have a lucky day while banging on the gates at the Capitol Records building to now literally ANYone can create their own fanbase and be heard around the world is kind of mind-boggling. And any singer can sound passable on a patched-up, overdubbed track put together by a good studio engineer, but sites like YouTube give us access to live performance videos where we can see what an artist is truly capable of. Overall I think these changes were long overdue. I’d like to see the industry stabilize a little bit, so we can know where it’s safe to step. There’s sort of a middle class in the industry that’s been created, which is great–there is a place for artists to flourish, in between the cliches of the multi-platinum label darlings and the “starving artists”.
When I do songwriting workshops or collaborative songs with other musicians, that’s a really special thing. Whether you are picking up a guitar for the first time at the age of 8 or 82, writing your first song, or experiencing a concert for the first time in decades, that can become a great experience that no one can ever take from you. I can’t think of any greater contribution than encouraging people to keep participating in these magical moments.
How can the business side and artists better work together?
Just like in any industry, I think it works best when everyone involved tries to be as fair, considerate and respectful as possible. At the end of the day, the things we want should be the same–put on great shows, get our songs into the hands of people who want to hear them, and make some money in the process so we can all go home happy and satisfied and do it again tomorrow.