Dreaming of Music

Wisconsin-raised guitarist-songwriter Brittany Shane, has opened for veteran rock acts such as Foreigner, Heart, and Peter Frampton. She moved to San Francisco in 2000 to write, sing and perform her brand of 1990s-influenced alternative rock. Shane has worked with Joe Chiccarelli (production work with The White Stripes), Zack Smith (formerly of Scandal), Scrappy Jud Newcomb (of Ian McLagan’s Bump Band), and Dony Wynn (formerly of Robert Palmer?s band). Her music has been featured in the indie film and critical success The Village Barbershop (2008) and on the channels E!, A&E, Oxygen, and even a Hyundai TV commercial. In this interview, Brittany talks about her latest album Loud Nights On A Short String and more.

Jeff Boyce: You discovered that you loved dancing at a very young age. How has this influence made it into your current music?

Brittany Shane: I think I fell in love with the dare to perform on stage at a young age and that’s something I still love to challenge myself with today.

Before going on stage, even today, I get a rush of stage fright, anxiety and excitement all in one. Once on stage, it takes a few minutes, and then turns into relief, a huge sigh and a feeling the stage is safest place on earth. It’s like I’m on an island where I am safe to do what I want. The stage was a great discovery. No one can touch you when you're performing. You're all on your own, doing your own thing. You're in charge, you’re the captain, and able to truly be yourself creatively.

As a young teenager, which musicians did you listen to? And how did these artists shape your music now?

As a teenager, I loved listening to artists who wrote their own lyrics, poetic lyrics and played an instrument. I thought there was nothing cooler. When songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow and Liz Phair were being appreciate for their strong songwriting and turning into rock stars, I was at home in my room writing poetry and short stories. I was so excited to see these girls writing great lyrics and playing an instrument and just rocking out and being strong. After lots of day dreaming of what it would be like to be them (and posing in photos like a rock star with a guitar I couldn’t play), I soon realized I needed to learn how to play an instrument if I was ever going to get my poetry out there. They inspired me to reach further, learn how to play the guitar and want to get better at it over the years.

The title to your current album Loud Nights On A Short String is mentioned in the song “Keep It Down/You Are Loved.” What would you like listeners to know about how this title fits into the themes of your album?

The lyric, "loud nights on a short string" is my way of describing what I think it feels like when a lead guitar player is up on stage, just fighting with a guitar to stay in tune, while the venue is full and the crowd is screaming, everyone is holding on to every single note, and there is just no time to stop. I pictured my co-producer Scrappy Jud Newcomb, up on stage doing just that. Fighting with his guitar to stay in tune so the show could go on. I love seeing that happen on stage, [because] when a musician is just thrown off for a second, looses control, but then gains control and maybe something unexpected happens along the way that makes people scream.  Some kind of freedom happens and maybe a solo that's really creative and just not so perfect and clean. It shows strength just following through and also that you’re just human. It’s how you handle the situation that makes you strong.

I guess I really like the lyric “loud nights on a short string” as theme because it could also apply to life. Are you going to stop when things get tough, or are you going to power through, hold your head high, walk proud and make something cool out it?  

What is your songwriting process like?

Usually I just strum on the guitar until a few chords sound really good and moody and then I just start singing along. Sometimes, in a few minutes I'll have a chorus that I think sounds pretty good. The verse chords have been a little tricky lately, so they might take a week or even months to appear. Sometimes I'll call upon another musician to collaborate with to help write the verse. That worked well for a few songs on the new record. For the song, "Not Hiding", my producer Scrappy Jud Newcomb handed me a verse and I wrote the chorus. It's been fun collaborating more with guitar players on the songwriting. 

How did you feel when you discovered your music was being promoted  through different mediums of entertainment such as films and television commercials?

Very happy and thankful! It's really tough to get your music in films and in commercials when you are self-releasing your own albums. It was very exciting when the movie "The Village Barbershop" started doing well at the independent film festivals. It was the first time I ever had any songs in a movie. 

Which artists would you like to collaborate with?

I'd love to collaborate with Huey Lewis. I just met him last month and he seems like a really nice guy. Maybe sing a duet at the Long Center here in Austin, Texas. Yeah, that would be a nice way to start the week.

Would you like to add anything else to what you have said about your music?

Sometimes it's ok to take a break from your creative passion.  If you love doing something and it gets really tough or you start to not enjoy it as much, just take a break. It will always be there for you when you're ready to return. I used to think you could never take a break and you must keep going always or everyone will pass you up. That never leads to anything but burnout. I remember reading an article that Joni Mitchell would take a break from songwriting just to concentrate on painting only for awhile, no guitar at all. She'd eventually go back to playing again when she was ready. It's ok to stop and take a break. Just don't completely check out. I've seen people sell their guitars as musician, or cameras as photographers because they got burned out. Don't do that. Just put them in a room and come back to them when you are ready and re-energized.

by Jeff Boyce