Pittsburgh: Shannon Curfman Interview by Monica L. Yasher

Posted on 9/25/2009 by Monica Yasher

Shannon Curfman is an artist who is young and full of life. She means it when she laughs, and has quite a sense of humor when she thinks of some of the events in her life. I met up with Shannon this summer at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival. She was quite popular with signing many autographs and meeting her fans. As we walked to our interview spot, the fans still pursued her. And, at one point someone actually interrupted the interview. We talked about Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, and her Mom and Dad as she had her BBQ just waiting to be eaten in front of her. Blues, BBQ, and me talking to Shannon. Here’s how the conversation went.

Monica: I’m with Shannon Curfman today. Shannon, Why the blues?

Shannon: Why the blues?

Monica: Why the blues?

Shannon: Originally I got into the blues through Jonny Lang. We are both from Fargo, North Dakota and our families grew up together. So when we both started playing… right around the same time… we both started playing guitar… and …when he started his band and got to the big bang… I guess at that point… I knew that it was possible to actually pursue something like he did at a younger age. The cycle was to always finish high school and during that time save up enough money to book a band with and start playing across the charts thing. You know that kind of thing. And then I found out the older musicians would play with people our age. So I started going out to Jonny’s shows and playing them. We both had fun discovering the different blues musicians. You know, like Robert Johnson to Albert Collins to Albert King, Luther Allison and you know we both really loved to sing kinda blues guitar. So it was actually neat to have someone… that starting at the same point…as myself. Because we were able to discover things together, and at the same time we were both a before and after. He is older than me. So you know at that age it is a pretty big age difference.

Monica: Not now, right?

Shannon: No. But, he humored me pretty well. (Shannon laughed)

Monica: Did he? Of your influences have you played with any of them?

Shannon: ½ of them are dead. Most of them are dead. (Shannon laughed).

Monica: What about like Robert Cray coming here here to the Pittsburgh Blues Festival this weekend?

Shannon: I pretty much played with all of them. I played with Buddy and BB and...

Monica: I saw some pictures of you and Buddy Guy out there. I went through your slide show.

Shannon: He says that he’s my Grandpa! (She laughs)

Monica: He’s your Grandpa!?

Shannon: He’s clearly not! (She laughs)

Monica: (I laugh) Uh oh.....I’m not asking!(we both laugh). You started off with Artista records correct? How hard was that to obtain? Was that cool? That’s huge at such a young age.

Shannon: It wasn’t something we actually ever shot for. I never even thought about being signed. Ah, it wasn’t something that we, you know, thought out. What happened is I recorded an album. ......ah from that, that’s when we decided it was time to move from Fargo to Minneapolis..just so there wasn’t so much travel and all of that.

Monica: And, your parents did that for you?

Shannon: Yeah

Monica: That’s awesome.

Shannon: Yeah. My Dad worked on the railroad and he worked from Vicksburg to Minneapolis anyway. So it was starting at one point rather than another. My Mom worked for the IRS. (Chuckles) She was ready to quit THAT. (She laughs) So, it was, you know, an easy move. My oldest sister lived there already. So we moved to Minneapolis and started playing around in town quite a bit, and that was part of it. It was too much travel. We did Loud guitars. Released Loud Guitars independently. It kinda exploded! We really had no intention, no idea of what was really going on. We started selling like 5000 albums a week. And now at this point we started to record the ....tracks..

Fan tells her she is great here.

Shannon: Thanks for coming man! Unbeknownst to us, I guess. The labels….that’s the way they find acts apparently. We were selling 5000 copies a week (she laughs), which we didn’t even HAVE in our hands. But, they tracked us down that way. And, we were just playing our normal bar gigs.. and people.. you know literally in suits, town cars, limos would come out and see us. We were like ooooohhh. And, here there were all these executives. Laughs. That’s when it started. No one ever asked. I had a manager, just a guy in Minneapolis. He never asked is this what you guys want? It was just who do you want to sign with? We never really thought about what we were doing. People just told us what to do, so we did it. I didn’t mind it.

Monica: Is there a lesson learned for a younger artist or was this a good thing?

Shannon: There is no way that I could have gotten the exposure that I got without being on a label. At least back then. Now people will actually put indie artists on their show. I never would have gotten Good Morning America, Letterman, Leno or things like that without a major. But at a certain point it ended up hindering what I wanted to do. I wanted to continue to be a blues artist or even just roots music in general. They weren’t quite for that. So that’s when I kinda disappeared for a few years and…because I was under contract, they controlled whether I toured, whether I put out music, what I put out, what kind of music they would let me record… and …so… I went to my cave. They had to let me go. There was no reason to keep me on their label, if I wasn’t going to work with them.

Monica: Let’s talk about your label now. It’s yours right?

Shannon: I started purdy records a few years ago. I don’t have arguments with the president anymore (laughs). There is just me and a few people who do everything. And, it’s been great, awesome. I love my work obviously. It’s a much smaller team. I know where everything is. I know where the money goes. I know where it’s all coming from. I can do whatever music I want to do.

Monica: Are there other artists on your label?

Shannon: No. Actually in 2007 we decided we could take on other artists or have a kid. So, we had a kid. I would never do to another artist what kinda happened to me. I would sign someone with giving them every opportunity they deserve. Just let them be themselves.

Monica: Let’s talk about your songwriting. What inspires you how do you go about it? Do you start with the lyrics first or the music? Or vice versa? Or, It’s just a song and it comes in many different ways? What works for you?

Big pause.

Monica: I know you write a lot.

Shannon: This is going to be a pretty boring answer. I write in all different ways. I guess because I play an instrument as well you know, sometimes it’s a guitar riff that I hear, sometimes it’s a piano, sometimes it’s drums. A lot of times actually it’s the drums which is kinda strange but…

Monica: No, that’s how Michael Jackson…I watched TV the other night and there was a clip of Michael and he said he started a lot of his songs with the drums-the beat.

Shannon: Really?

Monica: Yeah.

Shannon: That makes so much sense, especially being a dancer and was so percussive with his melodies.

Monica: Yeah. Not weird at all. If you made your debut at age 14 what age did you really start on your guitar?

Shannon: Ten.

Monica: So four years?

Shannon: Yep. I started play guitar at ten. A band at eleven and that was actually a pretty cool thing too. I never actually thought I would have a band. My guitar teacher at the time had a band but needed a singer. And I was a singer that loved to have a band! So we started playing together and that was kinda that.

Monica: What is the best advice you can give to someone starting out young?

Shannon: I’ll tell you what...the most important thing.. you can only say so much to a kid. But what it really comes down to is.. what will the parents...will let them do. What their parents will have them do. I have been doing first paying gig I was seven but I was just singing at that point. Since then, it’s been about 15 years or so…I met a lot of kids and their parents. And the worse thing..And, it happens all the time. I sign autographs after every show and I get all these parents bringing their kid up and going this is my daughter, this is my daughter. You know they play guitar and could you tell them they need to practice more and the need to blah blah. And, I’m looking at the kid thinking are you kidding? This kid clearly doesn’t want to do what you want them to do. You know. It’s sad and the worse thing….

Monica: You loved it from the very beginning?

Shannon: I loved it! My parents didn’t really have a choice. They supported whatever my sister and I were into and I happened to be into guitar. They supported me in doing Taekwondo and all that stuff, just as much as music. But yeah. I’ll tell you what…for me. I’d rather say to the parent that don’t put out that fire in your kids. Don’t push them. That’s…I’m telling you…I don’t think ½ of these people even know they are doing it. They think they are doing something great for their kids and you know try to kill them in all that structure. They are taking that flame away from them and they will just rebel. I mean the label did that with me and I quit playing for years.

Monica: My son’s eleven and I couldn’t get him to practice. You know. He took his guitar in school for some music thing and played Ironman.

Shannon: Yeah yeah. Alright

Monica: He comes home and I asked him how did it go. And, he goes, well mom at recess all the girls wanted to be on my kickball team! (we laughed) He practices NOW. He just needed that extra spark.

Shannon: There is a certain thing. I can see now the parent side of it. A kid asks for guitar lessons and they’re paying for guitar lessons. They should be expected to practice their guitar ½ hr a day. Just don’t kill the passion. Any passion a kid has…you can put that out so fast in a kid.

Monica: What’s next for you? Another CD?

Shannon: Yeah, another CD. We’ve been taking it pretty easy on touring this year. This summer. We do tour but do maybe three shows a week or so. Then during the weekdays, I’m home finishing the album. Once that’s done…it’s more rockin’ blues. It’s not real produced or anything like that. A couple guitars drums, bass, keyboards…and keyboards are only on a couple of the songs. It’s more stripped down. Should be out in October. Once I’m done with recording. I will start really focusing on the next tour and we’ll be out all over after that.

Monica: I also hear your songwriting hits you up with other artists. You are having some success in that arena?

Shannon: That’s really what I did when I wasn’t touring. Writing for other artists. And writing for specific movies, television, networks. For television it was mostly HBO or the WB and movie stuff-any of the different studios. I did a lot of pop stuff. Some blues. I don’t know..Ana Popovich. I don’t really pitch my songs…But if people ask for them I have them. I write all the time so I have a million songs that I don’t use. I’ll use them at some point but it’s just a matter… I can’t just throw 11 songs on an album and they don’t fit together. We try to get it so they at least make a little bit of sense.

Monica: Well Shannon I’m sure it will make sense. Thank you for your time.

Shannon: Thanks for your patience.

You may also like to read about another great female guitarist: Ana Popovich

Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved

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