Shannon Lay's Living Water is an airy glance into the abyss of savory songwriting of the Mare Records pioneer artist.
Living Water was your second record put out in 2017. How are the two records, Living Water and All This Life Going Down, different in terms of their message and how they were written and recorded?
All This Life Going Down was a collection of songs that I had written over the years. It spanned a lot of topics and moments. It was definitely more of me testing the waters and getting used to recording. Living Water I wrote in a shorter time so there was a common theme between most of the songs. I felt more comfortable while recording Living Water and recording with Emmett Kelly allowed me to build on the songs a bit more with the violin and bass. Both records are weary anthems of hope and love. I feel that as a common feel when I write but with each record it becomes more broad. All This Life was about someone, Living Water was about everyone, my next record will be about everything.
You were the first artist to release on Mare Records, Kevin Morby's new Woodsist imprint label. How did you first connect with Morby and what made Living Water a viable initial release? Were there any pressures for you being the debut and only available work of the label for some amount of time?
I met Kevin in LA a few years ago through friends. I've always loved his music and when he came to see me play and said he wanted to do a record I was so excited. Moments like that really turn the tide in terms of motivation. I was very ready for the challenge and I felt good about the songs I had. Kevin was with me every step of the way and with his positive reinforcement about the progress of the record I knew I was doing him proud.
How long have you been writing songs? Has music been something you've been interested in since your youth or was it a way of expression you developed after your formative years?
I started writing songs when I got my first laptop and I was able record. I was about 15 and I just went nuts! I have hours of recordings on my old computer. I've always loved to sing and play guitar but it wasn't till I was able to record that I really developed a deep passion for making music. It was a very cool turning point.
The tone of your solo work couldn't be more opposite than your recordings with Feels, the Los Angeles garagey/punk band you played guitar in. Would you say your personality is more like your slower, calmer, folk identity or the frenetic punk rocker?
I feel a real balance between the two. I think there's a time and place for both settings in my mind and now that I have both, I couldn't live without either.
The first live performances of Living Water were rolled out during your tour with Kevin Morby earlier this year. How did the tour influence your abilities as a performer? Had you toured as a solo artist before then? What were some things musically or otherwise you learned from the trip?
This was my first big solo tour and I learned so much. Playing alone there's not the built-in confidence that comes with playing with your best buds. It's just me and my brain which can be oh so mean sometimes. It was the most fantastic challenge I've faced so far in my life. I learned how to be more present while I was playing, I learned to respect my songs more, I learned to deal with talkative crowds in better ways. And most of all I learned how to have a more genuine form of confidence that can't just fade away as I fall asleep. Don't get me wrong, it's not always easy but I definitely found some solid ground to stand on while traveling with Kevin. I couldn't imagine a better first tour. I wish I could do it again and again.
Many artists find inspiration to write new songs while they're on the road. Did this happen for you? For a carload of folks who are not only playing as a group but also experimenting with solo work (Meg Duffy in Hand Habits, Cyrus Gengras with his solo project), did the van turn into a brainstorming vessel bouncing ideas and melodies off your peers or is the solo writing something more personal and independent?
I write the most when I travel for sure. Mostly poetry and then I'll get home and put a melody to it. We didn't do much bouncing of ideas but there's that unspoken air of inspiration that comes with spending so much time with such beautiful, creative people. I'm such a huge fan of everyone who plays with Kevin. Incredible talent, incredible spirit. It was a fantastic energy.
How do you spend your free time now that you're back home from tour? How much time do you foresee until you're recording more music?
I'm very lucky; for the first time in my life I'm just focusing on music and I've never been happier. I feel such an immense responsibility to my purpose and it's just incredible. I'm half way done with my next record which is proving to be a little weird but I'm excited to see how it shapes up. I have a practice space in the back of my house, you can find me there most days and nights...or I'm just watching Seinfeld haha!