By Lee Zimmerman
Tough, tenacious and unwavering in her determination, Shelby Lynne doesn’t mince words.
That’s especially true when she’s describing the trajectory that began when she unveiled her new album, “Tears, Lies & Alibis,” to Lost Highway, the record company that she had been contracted to. To her dismay — and disgust — they promptly rejected it, insisting she employ a big-name producer. Lynne responded by giving notice of her intention to release the record on her own, and promptly went about creating her own label, Everso Records, as its springboard.
Sassy and soulful, yet surprisingly introspective, it eschews the fussy arrangements that occasionally cluttered her earlier efforts. The settings are deliberately stripped down, owing more to genuine sentiment than a slicker sound.
Of course, anyone who’s followed Lynne’s career over the past couple of decades knows that she’s never been hesitant to follow her muse, no matter what direction it takes her. Her albums have veered from traditional country and pure pop to Americana, jazz, swing, soul and blues.
Even after her big breakthrough, the aptly titled “I Am Shelby Lynne” released in 2000, she’s never stopped experimenting in her quest to fulfill her own artistic ambitions. At the same time, she’s managed to retain a fierce following and garner the accolades of the industry in general, affirmed by the fact she won the Country Music Association Horizon Award early on, and, somewhat belatedly, a Best New Artist Grammy, as well.
Goldmine had the opportunity to speak with Shelby and elicit her reaction to becoming newly independent.
You’ve always seemed intent on pursuing your own muse.
Shelby Lynne: I haven’t had any choice. If I’m making music, how can I make something I don’t believe in? At the end of the day, I’ve been given the privilege of the greatest thing on Earth. I get to sing for a living, and there are people out there who want to hear it, and by God, I’m going to make the best records I can make and continue to make people happy. That’s the goal. “What is she?” Well, hopefully consistently good. You tell them that.
What was the final straw that made you decide you had no choice other than to sever ties with Lost Highway?
Lynne: As soon as I knew that Lost Highway wasn’t going to put out the record and I was able to walk away with the record, my business partner, manager and I said, “Let’s do this!” I mean, I certainly was not going to have another record deal. I’m over it, and it’s really not that hard.
Did you understand what the label wanted you to do?
Shelby Lynne: When you start thinking about Shelby Lynne singing about Airstream trailers (as referenced in a song on the new album), I guess they may have had a point. But you know, they can kiss my ass; I really don’t care. I have a boatload of people out there who really do want to hear what I have to say about Airstream campers, and I’ve come a long way, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not all about the pretty stuff. We can slick them up and make them pretty, but does that really make you want to drink whiskey and have a cold one and say, “Damn, that makes me feel something?”
So does that mean if a record label came along now and gave you a terrific offer, you wouldn’t even consider it?
Shelby Lynne: Hell no. I don’t give a damn about that. I just want to make money… and for you not to make any! (chuckles) Those days are gone. It’s time for all of us to take the music back and make a living.
It appears you’re really fed up with the record business machine. What’s at the root of your frustration?
Shelby Lynne: It’s the fact that they have all that money and they don’t want to put out records that are good. They want to put out records that will sell. It’s time for me to move on from that big machine, you know?
Nevertheless, aren’t you worried about the difficulties of going it alone?
Lynne: You just hire people to do it, and I’ve hired some good people to do that. I make the decisions, and they do the work. You say, “Well, let’s see who’s the best, let’s ask around, let’s see who so-and-so knows and who does work for them,” and then, all of a sudden, boom, somebody’s right there.
You get a plan, you throw it together and you start working. You have direct communication with everybody, every day, and that’s something you don’t get in a record company… There are a lot of people out there making music in an independent way, and they still have a great following. I’d like to join that club.
What are the advantages for you in this new setup… other than the fact that you control your own destiny?
Lynne: I know exactly what’s going on, who’s doing what, where the money’s going, is it getting in their hot little hands? And it feels great.
It’s impossible to be an artist like me on a major label and ever, ever, ever make a living on making records. You never get a chance to recoup. So that’s why I made this decision. Maybe now I can make a living selling records.
I’ve always made a living on the road and other kinds of things, like movies and licensing. But now my music is actually getting into the hands of someone who actually wants to hear a Shelby Lynne record. I feel better about getting this record heard than any other record I’ve done, because I’m in charge of it. I’m touching on all areas that I’ve never been included in before.
So is all this down to the fact that you’re finally in control of your own destiny?
Lynne: I think I know exactly where I’m going. I’ve taken the trip. It’s just now I’m writing the checks. I’m happy with the decision. I don’t have a problem making all the decisions. The only difference is I don’t have to wait on somebody to return my calls. That is a good thing.
How is it working out so far?
Lynne: You know what’s crazy? Everybody that I’ve met and everybody that’s signed on to do this thing with me, it’s like a whole different animal in just the way you can get things done and not have to go through countless phone calls and e-mails. I can actually get an answer in a day. I say, “I want to do this, so let’s call somebody who can get it done, and how much does it cost, and here we go.” It’s really so much easier!
And you’re not worried that you might have bitten off more than you can chew?
Lynne: I’m not concerned about any of that. No, no, no. I have a consistent career and I’ve worked very hard for my name. I have a loyal base and it grows day by day. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, so it’s time for a break from the corporate machine that can really allow you to be unhappy if you let it.
For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• A great resource for record collecting is Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records, 1950-1975, 6th Edition,” in large paperback and DVD
• Check out an informative read in “The Everything® Rock & Blues Piano Book with CD, Master riffs, licks, and blues styles from New Orleans to New York City”