Interview: Shawn Colvin

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 28.03.13 | Issue # 331


Returning to Australia for the third time, and visiting Perth for the first, the award-winning Shawn Colvin chats to Daniel Cribb about fighting depression and alcoholism with music, and writing her first novel.

You don’t take out three Grammy Awards and receive nominations for another seven without a little hard work. Having just returned home to Texas from “working” in Montana, it’s clear folk country singer Shawn Colvin’s Grammy Awards (Best Contemporary Folk Album 1991, Record Of The Year 1998 and Song Of The Year 1998) are testament to how embedded within her livelihood she is.

“It’s pretty much go, go, go all the time. When I’m in Australia, I’m going to try to get out more,” Colvin begins.

Her debut tour of Australia in 1990 was somewhat of a whirlwind visit, with appearances only in Sydney and Hamilton Island, and when she returned in ’97, it was just Melbourne and Sydney that had the pleasure of shows.

Although Colvin is still in the touring cycle of last year’s All Fall Down, her eighth studio album, she won’t be focusing too strongly on new material, and will instead be doing a “retrospective” set for fans that haven’t seen her in over 15 years. She’ll be performing solo and acoustic in Perth, but the latest record sees an impressive backing band, hand-picked by producer Buddy Miller. As a result, it’s one of her most diverse releases to date.

“[Buddy] chose the band, and it was kind of an eclectic mix of players. There’s Buddy on guitar, who’s very blues and country, Bill Frisell [guitar], who’s very jazz, Brian Blade who’s a jazz drummer, and Viktor Krauss on bass who, well, he can just play anything…I was just finishing a book when we started the record, and I said, ‘You know, you go for it. You pick the band out, I want to see what your vision is.”

Travelling the world and doing something that you love, and are great at, isn’t a bad way to make a living, but for Colvin, her writing is a form of expression that has helped her through some rough times. This became clear with the release of last year’s autobiographical book, Diamond In The Rough – an extremely revealing and honest account of her life and career to date. A lot of people struggle to talk about depression or drinking problems, but Colvin put pen to paper and let the whole world in.

“Disclosing personal things, like struggles with alcoholism, depression – things like that, that was not really that tough, to tell you the truth. Writing about people I was close to was hard, because it’s really a commitment to describe your relationship with someone on paper and put it out there to be read, and you want to be fair, and you want the right emotion to come through.

“These are people, you know, that most of whom I’m very close to, so that was probably the hardest part, and I sought help with that, I asked other writers, ‘How do I do this?’ How do I write enough and not be – what’s the word I’m looking for – not be coy, but not be embarrassing to someone?’, I’d say that was most challenging.”

As well as being a sonically diverse record, All Fall Down is one of her more-darker releases. As Colvin dug through her past for Diamond In The Rough, over the good and bad, she stumbled across some unfinished business. “Without sounding kind of artsy fartsy, I think music is a really healing thing. It accompanies you in your celebrations and in your grieving, and there’s just something about music, and I wouldn’t know what it was, whether it was the tone or the vibrations that takes you to another place.

“And lyrically, it’s expression, and that, for me, kind of moves me forward through things to become aware of them, to express them, to feel them. It’s like a companion, the songwriting, it’s kind of like something that holds your hand.”