Helen Shanahan - the stunning singer/songwriter from Perth whose honesty, melodies, and generosity, will make your spirit rise
Upon hearing Perth songstress Helen Shanahan's new song I Only Hide, it is easy to be reminded how compelling organic instrumentation, a good recording room, an alluring voice, and a great story or message can be. And so let's digress for a moment to discuss the subject of the genre of the singer/songwriter. Not singer/songwriter as in top-line writer working with a beats producer. Singer/songwriter, full stop. There is certainly an increasing appetite for good songs delivered straight from the songwriter's mouth. Adele has navigated her way through the buzzy, poppy, synthesised tunes we have become accustomed to filling the commercial airwaves. Also from the UK, 24 year old Frances, follows in her wake, this week releasing her debut album Things I've Never Said to much success and great reviews, and we are all reminded how much a great melody is king. Queen? Such is the case for Helen who has been laying down music since 2009 with her debut EP Girl in Love. Since then, she has gone on to record a second EP Finding Gold in 2015 to much acclaim, and to be a recipient of the Telstra Road to Discovery Award. Clare Bowditch, with whom Helen once performed a duet, said, “I did not know Helen before I heard her sing. Once I heard her sing, I couldn't un-hear it: she has such talent, such a beautiful voice. I invited her to sing with me at a concert and once my crowd heard her voice, they were struck as I was... Sincerely, Helen is a great person and has one of the most interesting, actually, captivating, vocal turns of phrase that I have ever heard...” Helen has recently taken herself over to Nashville, and into the talented hands and ears of producer Brad Jones who has worked with Missy Higgins, Bob Evans, and Melody Pool. He and Helen spent ten days working on her debut full length release, Every Little Sting. They have created a wonderful recording in the first single I Only Hide, released a couple of weeks back, which leads to much excited anticipation for the rest of the album due out in the coming months. In the meantime, after you've listened to the new single, do check into Helen's back catalogue and explore her honest songwriting and organic sound, and remind yourself of the power of a good, simple and true song. Her tune Mystery Man is so compelling it is hard to cope. Helen chats to Music Love about her new confessional song I Only Hide, its accompanying video which deals with how her anxiety makes her feel like two people sometimes, her musical pathway so far, and hot chicken in Nashville.
What does music mean to you?
This is a big question to start with haha!! I love it. Music is a place of comfort and joy for me. It is a way for me to communicate, as somehow I am able to write how I’m feeling and convey it through song when speaking seems too hard. When I listen to a song that sums up exactly how I’m feeling at the time, I feel less alone and that’s the power of music. Music is the best way for me to express who I am and how I’m feeling.
What has your musical pathway been like to date?
It took me a while to realise that I could actually try and do music for a living. I always sung and played guitar in the comfort of my own room, but didn’t have the courage for ages to actually get on a stage. It wasn’t 'til I was out of high school and studying at uni, that I realised that I needed to follow my passion. After I took to the stage at an open mic night at a place called ‘Mojos Bar’ in Fremantle, I knew that that was where I wanted to be. Since that open mic night, I played around Perth as much as I could and recorded two EPs. I kept playing and entering things online, and that’s when I stumbled across the ‘Telstra Road to Discovery'. I was lucky enough to win the Songwriting Award in the competition, which led me to record my third EP, travel to Canada and America, and play interstate. I was also signed to Mushroom Music Publishing. Since then I have returned to Nashville to record my debut album with producer Brad Jones (Missy Higgins, Bob Evans) and I’m still writing and gigging around Perth.
Tell us about winning the Telstra Road to Discovery Award
Winning the Telstra Road to Discovery felt like a complete hoax! I had never won anything, and after entering lots of local competitions and not really getting anywhere I couldn’t believe it had happened. The competition scared me, but at the same time it helped me grow. I met so many wonderful people who are still guiding me on my musical path. It was invaluable to meet with artists such as Andy Bull, Josh Pyk,e and Ella Hooper, who were able to give me advice on my songwriting and how to navigate the industry.
Explain your experiences battling anxiety in the performance arena, and how it informed your new single I Only Hide
It is something that I am trying to work on constantly. Music is my passion and I love writing and being able to connect to people, but at the same time, I can be so afraid of people and putting myself out there. It is a double-edged sword. That is what informed my single I Only Hide, as I was thinking about how afraid I was of going to my gig that night, and it just came out. I think it’s the fear of judgement and also the fear of being you, and wondering if that’s good enough. It can be a hard thing to be in the music industry, as you constantly need to sell yourself and promote yourself, which I find difficult. I like the comfort of being away from the spotlight.
Tell us about your upcoming album
The upcoming album is called Every Little Sting and is a collection of songs that I’ve written over the last few years. I often hear that artists can be more sensitive and feel things at more deeply, and that’s definitely what Every Little Sting encompasses – at different times I’ve felt things intensely and the little ‘stings’ or conflicts that I’ve encountered. What seems like nothing for someone else, often feels massive for me, which I guess is part of the anxiety I feel in day-to-day life.
How was it recording in Nashville? Who did you work with?
Recording in Nashville was an experience I will never forget. I worked with Brad Jones who had [produced] one of my favourite albums by Missy Higgins The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle. We completed the twelve track album in ten days, which is a process that was new to me (usually I am a slow mover, haha!). Brad was amazing at composing string arrangements and really encouraged me to put my own imprint on the album. I get pretty self conscious about my guitar playing and vocals, but he encouraged me to play as much as I could and I have never felt so comfortable singing in front of someone I’ve just met. He also gave us the best food tour of Nashville I could have asked for, taking us to the best local joints each day (including hot chicken...and I mean hot!! That is Nashville’s signature food dish!).
Images via Laura Volt
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
Missy Higgins is my number one idol, haha! I have come so close to meeting her but I think if I did I would probably pass out. She inspires me to keep being who I am, she is always one hundred per cent herself in her writing.
There are so many local and interstate Australian artists who amaze me. MEG MAC, Rachel Claudio, Neda, Joni In The Moon, Stella Donnelly, Melody Pool, Mia Wray (there are countless others!!)
Bourby Webster is an inspirational woman from Perth who has done an incredible job developing the Perth music scene by thinking big. She is the director and founder of North Street Music, Perth Symphony Orchestra, and Perth Chamber Orchestra. She has a wealth of industry experience and is generous with sharing her knowledge. She runs a songwriter night once a month, and is encouraging of all different styles. She aims to help people get where they need to go, and it’s people like this that help the industry and inspire others to support local music.
Clare Bowditch is someone down to earth, and her [conference and website] ‘Big Hearted Business’ has inspired all creative people to follow their dreams and back it up with a plan. She has the words of wisdom that “You don’t have to be just one thing, but you have to start with something.” Clare is not only an amazing singer/songwriter, but also a great encouragement to anyone wanting to get somewhere in their creative field.
People should travel to Western Australia because…..
It has an amazing hub of creative people who are able to hone their craft away from the distractions of the busy cities! There are always things going on here if you know where to look. It has a calmness about it which is great for living and being with family and friends.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
I love travelling to Esperance, which is about eight hour drive out of Perth. The beaches are crystal clear and it’s a perfect place to recharge and see some natural beauty.
Who is your favourite non-musical artist?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with photographer Jarrad Seng, who is an amazingly talented photographer/videographer. He is able to capture moments like no one else, and has worked with the likes of Passenger and Ed Sheeran.
Many cups of tea while I prepare to launch my debut album! I’m heading on a small tour to help promote it, and then I’ll be trying to save to keep touring and writing more music.