Singer-songwriter Shalo Lee recently released her debut album, Hometown Girl, which is an emotional collection that blends Americana, Folk, and Country through stories of personal, yet relatable, life experiences. Displaying a firm grasp on the ups and downs of road life, chasing dreams and relationships, the Minneapolis-based Lee graciously took the time to discuss the album, the stories behind the songs and more.
You started singing at a very early age. Was music something that you always wanted to pursue?
My sister started teaching me to sing around eighteen months old - before I could talk. I was reading early too and was always writing stories and poetry, but kept them to myself. I initially went to school for the visual arts, but the music was pulling me harder, so I ended up giving up the visual arts and pursuing music.
I was painfully shy as a kid, and still am, but I've gotten a lot better with time. I purposefully put myself in situations that were uncomfortable - kind of like a social boot camp - to get myself out of that shyness because I knew I would never do well unless I got over it. It was really hard to get up in front of people and sing at first, but I felt like a better version of myself on stage. I could express how I felt about things and release emotions, whether it was frustration or happiness or whatever I was feeling that day. Performing and songwriting became great outlets for me
You mentioned that you kept a lot of your writings to yourself. What finally spurred you to make the record?
I had always written poetry and stories, but I never really put them to music because I was scared. It was something I always wanted to do, but I was shy, afraid of criticism and didn’t really know how to attack the process. When I met Owen [Satori, writer/co-producer] and Ken [Valdez, singer/songwriter/guitarist], we immediately bonded. They recognized my abilities and helped me create the songs. They got that fear out of me which was an unlocking that needed to happen. And once that happened, all of the stories I had built up started coming and once I got started, I couldn’t stop. (laughing) I write all the time now with and without them.
Being that you had some things written, were the songs on Hometown Girl all new?
Some were newer and some were ideas I had rolling around. It took six years to write this record. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Ok, today I am going to write a record.’ It was a very organic process. Anytime something would happen or I would think about something, I would write it down. Other times, Owen, Ken and I would play guitar and they would get an idea for a melody and I’d write the lyrics. Or I would have the lyrics and we would figure out the melodic backdrop for it. Every song was created in its own organic process, there was no set template.
And you know, I wasn’t concerned with it being commercially viable; when I wrote it I knew that if I made one record in my whole life I wanted to make sure that I meant every word and that it mattered to me. If people liked it, that would be great, but if they didn’t then at least I knew those were my words and I got to record them with my friends and it’s something I am proud of. I was a little concerned whether or not there was a hit on there, but I don’t know what constitutes a hit anymore, so I was just like, ‘This is how I feel and I hope people like the songs and can relate to them.’ You never know what to expect with your first record, so I’m really happy people are connecting with it and identifying with it. I didn’t expect that and it’s really cool. I know how I feel when I hear a great song so I’m glad I can do that for someone else.
All of the songs seem deeply personal.
Oh yeah. I don’t think you can make it through your adult life without going through the ringer. I’ve got a story behind every single song.
Can you tell me the story behind one, “Feel The Same?”
Oh wow. “Feel The Same,” that’s actually going to get continued on the next record. I dated a guy who was very troubled. He was a beautiful, artistic soul that had problems with alcohol and I needed to break if off with him, even though I was completely in love with him, because I knew he would take me down a very bad road. Basically, I had to break my own heart, and even though time passed, I never got over him. I wrote this song because I wondered if things would be the same if I ever saw him again. At the album release party when I was doing sound check, I found out that he shot himself that week. So, I ended up singing that song with a grapefruit in my throat. It was the best and worst night because we had been apart seven years at that point, yet I still wasn’t over him.
I know I made the right choice, but the song has taken on a whole new meaning, so I am going to write a sequel, not about suicide, but about how people don’t’ leave even when they’re gone. And the thing is, he doesn’t even know the song was about him. I had talked to him via email a few weeks before he passed and I didn’t even know he was contemplating suicide. I thought he was going to be okay, but I didn’t realize he was very good at hiding the fact that he was very troubled. When I think about it, it was amazing to have spent that time with him and I feel blessed to have been able to do that.
That’s an incredibly heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing it.
Not sure how to rebound from that, but you close the record with “Copperhead Road.” Why did you choose that iconic song to round out the album?
My mom had a really cool record collection that included Steve Earle and I just loved that song. My family history is a bit rough and tumble with people involved in Prohibition, and poverty and I just identified with the badassery of that song. Also, I wanted to find a way when I was writing these songs, to bridge a gap with my fans. They know me as a cover girl and now that I’m morphing into an original artist I didn’t want to alienate them. They already knew that song and the way we do it with the Irish beginning, so I wanted to give them something they’re familiar with along with the new things they’re going to have to digest. The fans have been so loyal and I wanted to give them something comfortable and familiar to say thanks for taking a chance on me.
How did you choose the title of the album, Hometown Girl, which is also a track on the record?
I wrote that song really fast, in like thirty minutes. I had a real love-hate relationship with my hometown. It’s a beautiful place, but at the same time being a shy and poor kid, I got bullied something fierce. So there’s a lot of past stuff that I had to go through which is why the song is part love song and part angry song – it sums up my complicated relationship with my hometown. Eventually, I made peace with it all and everything is good now. I feel very connected to where I am and am grateful to have the support in the Twin Cities. I feel like “Hometown Girl” is a thing I want to belong to….and that’s a good thing.
Circling back for a minute. Are there any particular influences you look up to in either writing, playing or performing?
Many. I’m a huge Springsteen fan and obviously a fan of the country greats like Patsy Cline, Merle, Willie, and George Strait. I grew up on Elvis, U2, and Dylan. I’m constantly inspired by other artists, but am always drawn to a real lyricist like Dylan, Springsteen and Lucinda Williams. I really love melody too and if you can bring those two things together – which is a hard combination to strike - and be great at both, that’s always amazing to me. Isbell and Stapleton are current artists who do those things well.
Do you have plans to play further across the US?
I pretty much gig in the five-state area playing fairs, festivals, and casinos. But, I was just in Fairfield [CT] with Highland Rover and anytime I am in the same room with the Marshall Tucker Band, they let me come up and play with them. I love those guys.
There are about thirty-five to fifty stations playing my music, which is something I never expected and am super grateful for. So we’re thinking about doing a radio tour and maybe playing some acoustic shows around that. I would love to meet and talk with the people who are willing to take a chance on an unsigned artist. I’m open to that and am really excited for whatever comes.
For more information visit her official website
Find her on Facebook & cdbaby
Purchase Hometown Girl here