Shawn Colvin goes back to the drawing board
July 6, 2005
Six albums and 20 years ago, Shawn Colvin was burning to make her name in the music world, and to express herself through song. The Midwestern-born and -bred singer-songwriter had gone from Austin to New York City, from country to folk-rock, looking for her voice. And when she located it, she found it in a big way: Her 1989 debut, “Steady On,” featuring such expressive mood pieces as “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” earned Colvin a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album.After another five albums – including “Cover Girl,” a stylish collection of songs by other writers, and 1996’s massively popular “A Few Small Repairs,” which earned several more Grammys – Colvin took a break from writing. She gave birth, got divorced, toured during the summers – and hardly wrote at all. So when she finally returned to songwriting last year, after a four-year absence, it’s safe to assume she was burning once again to say something, yes?”I can’t say that I did,” said Colvin by phone from her home in Austin. “I have a lot of feeling for music and songwriting. But it’s not the same as 20 years ago, when I felt like I had a lot to say, when I embraced my decision to have this career and wanted to prove myself.”
It is a different sort of songwriting skill Colvin now exercises. Instead of bursting with things to get out, she has become more of an observer. Over the past year, Colvin wrote most of the songs for her next album, which she is almost halfway through recording. Due for release in February, the album reunited Colvin with producer John Leventhal, her collaborator on “Steady On,” “A Few Small Repairs” and Colvin’s last album, 2001’s “Whole New You.” Colvin says she feels she is in a similar stance as she was when she was writing the songs for “A Few Small Repairs.” Not only is there no urgent desire to make a statement, there is an accompanying lack of pressure.”There’s something nice about not being pressured,” said Colvin, who closes the Massive Music & Movies weekend in Snowmass Village with a performance on Saturday, July 9. “I felt it pleasant to go into the songwriting process as a blank canvas, and draw from impressions. I felt the same way going into ‘A Few Small Repairs’ – kind of blank, open to the experience. People called that a breakup record, but it didn’t feel that way to me. It was just looking at the music, how it felt in that moment.”Colvin doesn’t see the latest batch of songs as having a particular theme. At least, not yet.
“I don’t know if I could ever see a particular direction,” she said. “But all records take on that one theme. This might be the midlife crisis record.”Or it might be that the new record, as yet untitled, is the one that boosts her over the crisis. Colvin says that in the last few years of touring, she has been bothered by the fact of not having new material, apart from the occasional cover song, to play.”If you want to consider yourself a vital performing musician, you want to have new stuff,” she said.
The addition of new original material to her repertoire has given her a boost.”I love performing, and as low as I’ve ever been in my life, I can feel enthusiastic and joyful about playing,” she said. “It’s definitely an enlivening experience to have new material that you’re working on. You’ve got that extra sort of buzz to your performing persona.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org