Austin-based Shelley King has a new record, Welcome Home (recorded with members of the Subdudes) and is keeping busy with various shows around Texas before she’ll embark on a tour of Japan in January.
Recently she sat down and chatted about the album, her musical background and being Texas State Musician 2008.
Q: The new record was recorded with the Subdudes, how did that come about?
A: A couple years ago I was on tour, it was right before Hurricane Katrina, and I had some shows up in Colorado and I had a radio show in Fort Collins. I knew that some Subdudes lived there, the “Three Twins,” and I’ve been friends with them for awhile so I called John (Magnie) and said, “Hey, I’m gonna be on the radio in your town, tune in.” He’s like, “What time?” and I go, “Ten-thirty.” He says, “Great! I’ll bring an accordion and meet you there.”
He came on the show with me and we ended up playing music and talking on the air for an hour and had such a great connection musically. Afterwards we went to lunch and went back to his place, his wife cooked dinner, we went to his studio and listened to a bunch of stuff he’d recorded and that started the ball rolling.
I knew I had a bunch of new songs I wanted to demo and I didn’t really think about it then but I started thinking it’d be really cool to hang out at John’s and demo a few songs.
Q: And then those demos eventually became the record?
A: As the idea progressed, it became that the Three Twins would come over and play, we’ll just have fun. We did that, we had a session and we ended up recording five songs in three days and had the time of our lives, we laughed, cried, it was an amazing time together. And I think a lot of that is captured on the recordings, especially on the song “Welcome Home.”
I sent them off to Muscle Shoals to have them mixed and by the time I got them all back I called up John and said, “This sounds like a record, this isn’t a bunch of demos and with one more session we could have a record.” We went and did one more session and finished it up.
Q: There’s a lot of New Orleans influence, was that from the Subdudes, or Hurricane Katrina or a combination?
A: I think it’s a combination, I was trying to do that music and style anyway and the New Orleans thing, there’s always a New Orleans thread going through my music but much more so with them involved. I wrote several of the songs for the record and then several of them just came about, “Everything’s Alright,” I wrote that with Theresa Andersson from New Orleans. She was actually in Austin seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina and we did some shows together and got together in my living room and wrote a song.
All we could talk about was all the people we hadn’t heard from yet that we were concerned about, that we couldn’t get ahold of. We decided that in times like that we tell ourselves that everything’s alright, it’s a mantra to get us through. That song is based on that and it was written a couple weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
Q: How was working with the guys?
A: First of all, those guys are downright fun. They’re called the Three Twins, their side project. I asked them, “How did y’all get that name?” and they said, “The Three Stooges was already taken.” And having hung out with them, they are so funny and it’s so true, the Three Stooges was already taken. We laughed, we had so much fun and had really emotional moments.
There was a point when those guys were singing the harmonies for “Welcome Home” that I was sitting on the floor of the studio at their feet and they were all gathered around one microphone and I was so moved by what they were doing I had tears pouring from my eyes. I thought the song was done before they put their touch on it, but now I realize that it was just bones and they really put the meat on it and filled it out beyond my wildest dreams.
Those guys are so cool and they made me sound good and we blended so naturally. I really hope we can do more together. They’re creative, but not in the traditional way – they’re obtuse in a lot of ways and it really brought a whole different angle to everything. it was fabulous, dreamy.
Q: You started singing at a young age, when did you decide that music was going to be your career path?
A: I’ve always known that music was what I wanted to do with my life, when I was three-years old and I realized I could sing. I would go around and tug on people’s coats at my mom’s dinner parties and say, “Hey, you want to hear me sing?” I would trap my friends in the bathroom, because the echo’s really good – that’s why everybody likes to sing in the shower, I’d trap my friends and make them listen to me sing.
I always knew I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t know that I would be a songwriter and a band leader and all that. I just didn’t know that path. Being here in austin now, I remember how lost before I moved here, I felt the music business was a mystery and there was no map, no clear ladder to success.
It was a very nebulous business and being in austin and being connected, the network appeared and made me realize that there is a path and there is a way. I quit my day job June 15th, 1998 at 7:30 a.m. I will never forget it, I had a good day job, in professional sales, I was making plenty of money but I was very unfulfilled. I weighed what was important to me and decided if I was ever going to do it, the time was now. It was a huge leap of faith, I had bought a house and a car and had grown-up bills.
I quit my job and I called everybody that I knew in the music business and said that I was doing this full time now so if they had any gigs they could throw my way and it just started happening. It’s a supportive community, everything has been really great and it’s made me know that I’m clearly on the right path.
Q: What was the first concert you attended?
A: The very first one I had to go with chaperones because I wasn’t old enough. I grew up in the country in Arkansas and the nearest concert facility was an hour and a half away in Little Rock. So to go see a big concert was a big event, we had to get somebody’s mom to take us. The very first concert I saw was Hall & Oates.
And then the first concert I saw that I was not chaperoned, I think that was Lover Boy with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts opening. I think I still have that ticket stub… I got to go with a boy I really liked, it was fun.
Q: How about the first show that you played that you felt was a really “big” deal?
A: My little band that I had in Houston, we put a rock opera together. We took all of our songs, which were all original songs – I contributed about half of the songs and there was another writer in the band. We built this rock opera and made it a big deal at this club called Fitzgerald’s in Houston. Back in the day that was the place to play, we played upstairs on the big stage in front of a big crowd and put on this rock opera. Looking back it was pretty bad, but it was a big deal to us at the time.
But over the years there have been so many cool shows, and some of my best memories are opening for the Subdudes. There was one show at the Backyard in Austin and not that long ago I got to sing backup for Willie Nelson, that was pretty awesome.
Q: And the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
A: My first album that came out in ’98, KGSR played a cut called “Driving By Myself” and they played it on “Lone Star State of Mind” program and I was actually driving down the road, by myself, and I heard my song on the radio. I about freaked out, I was going crazy trying to call everybody. It was fabulous.
I’ve always thought that how you know you’ve made it is when you’re sick of hearing your own song on the radio. John Mayer must hear himself all the time, or how about Dave Matthews? Can you imagine being Dave Matthews and turning on the radio anywhere in the united states and hearing yourself?
Q: You were Texas State Musician in 2008, what exactly does that title mean?
A: It’s the highest honor the State of Texas puts on a musician, it’s like the poet laureate, but the musician laureate. It’s a title, the citizens of Texas nominate people for it and the Commission on the Arts appoints a committee to distill the nominations to the top ten and those are sent to the legislature and the governor appoints a panel to choose from this list. I was very lucky to be the state musician, there are a whole lot of people who have been at it longer and are better known.
There’s a lot of people that are due their turn at state musician, I was very lucky, it was a huge honor. it was a great career booster, I got a lot of festivals to represent the state and toured Japan last year and Gibson guitars sponsored me and gave me a beautiful J-200 Elvis Presley model guitar, it’s actually pictured on the album, it has these crown inlays. There’s some good bonuses. It’s not a post-humous thing, they don’t award it to people who have passed, they just want somebody representing.
I started my career in Houston in 1989 but I didn’t know what I was doing. I think in 1996 I started performing as “Shelley King,” rather than a band name. 2008 I was State Musician and 2009 is Willie Nelson, I got to pass the title to Willie. I’m just glad I got to pass anything to Willie.
Q: What other records have you been listening to recently that you would recommend?
A: The new Subdudes album, “Flower Petals,” was recorded right after mine in John Magnie’s studio. That’s the sister album to “Welcome Home,” they recorded my album and the next month they did their album. I’m crazy about that record. Carolyn Wonderland is a good friend of mine and she has a great record out called “Miss Understood.” Theresa Andersson’s record “Hummingbird Go!” is a work of art, and of course Levon Helm, and Marcia Ball’s “Peace, Love and BBQ.”