Interview with Shelby Lynne: On Her Own Terms

Singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne’s life should be made into a movie someday. It has all the Blockbuster themes of heartbreak, violence, female empowerment and, of course, the music. Then there’s her voice. Lynne houses a duality that makes her one of the most unique, quixotic, compelling and dramatic singers of her generation: A resolute toughness combined with a heartbreaking vulnerability. It’s all there, from the pain of a lifetime to the joy of freedom. You don’t fuck with Shelby Lynne. Nashville tried. It lost. Volatile, profane, on-guard, Shelby Lynne is a sexy powder keg with the voice of an angel. As a vocalist, she’s deeply satisfying, and has the extraordinary talent to make you feel she’s singing right to you. And she’ll be bringing her considerable arsenal to New York City on Dec.12.

What can we possibly expect—given your propensity for breaking out into James Brown songs and whatnot—on Dec.12 in Manhattan?

I can tell you what not to expect: I don’t go back to the Nashville days. I start from 1999 and move on, concentrating on the present, the new record, and the stuff that people really recognize me for.

Your last album was a Dusty Springfield tribute, Just A Little Lovin’. What about the new album?

It’s finished. I’m going to put it out in the spring; worked on it all year. I produced it myself. I don’t know, it’s all my songs so, I’m proud of it. It’s pretty good. It’s not fancy, by any means. It’s more or less an acoustic thing. It’s kind of cut ‘n’ dry. What you see is what you get.

That characterizes some of your best recordings.

I would hope so. I worked hard on it. I never really claimed to be a record producer. I don’t really like producing records so I don’t like to even call it that.

You come off best in the studio when it’s relaxed, informal, acoustic, when your personality can come through, when the breathiness of your vocals is accentuated, when the mix is such that it feels like the listener is right in the room with you. Suit Yourself [2005] is like that.

This is even a little more intimate: Just me and my guitar on my own songs and sparse accompaniment. That’s what I like best, when I write what I know, my life, and how I interpret life, with, of course, a few specially chosen musicians. There’s a lot of breathiness goin’ on, Mike.

Your 1989 Sunrise debut has to be one of the all-time great country debuts. It was too painful for country radio. Your voice on that record is heartbreaking. That’s when I first fell in love with you. And, just like k.d. lang done stole ‘Crying’ from Roy Orbison, your rendition of Floyd Tillman’s 1948 ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts Me’ is now the definitive version.

When I did that record I was such a child! Nineteen! It’s hard to explain how I felt. I thought I knew it all. Yet the fact is I didn’t even know enough to be scared! To be in there with [legendary producer] Billy Sherrill, that’s when my world really began. It got good reviews from the critics but then reality set it. Radio wasn’t interested and my saga was set in motion. But I’m still here, aren’t I? Sometimes I wonder if I ever had any real airplay, would I still even be around?

But you showed ‘em, you did it on your terms.

That’s right I did. And I’m still doin’ it on my own terms and very happy about that. Those people who were with me 20 years ago are still with me now.