Interview: Shane Smith – ‘Writing Music is Something I’m Passionate About’

Interviews

Shane Smith is an artist who is known to create songs that are slices of life with his band The Saints. The previous album Geronimo was a good showcase for that, as is the new album Hail Mary – an album that has been released in a non-traditional way. By phone, Smith discussed releasing the album in chapters, and how producer Mark Needham was instrumental in the sound of Hail Mary.

Americana Highways: You’ve released the album in chapters. Did you record the album with chapters in mind?

Shane Smith: No, I didn’t. The album as a whole talks about a lot of personal stuff that we’ve gone through as a band. It’s what most bands go through when you’ve been together five years plus. I feel like bands go through these different phases. There’s a point in time where I feel like bands go through a very personal phase where everyone’s family and girlfriends have to get truly invested in it because the band is in it for the long haul I guess. It’s a difficult thing to pull off. We’ve gone through a lot of that phase between albums. It was four and a half years since we released Geronimo. During that phase, we’ve spent a lot of time away from home. Because a lot of this music hits hoime lyrically, it made sense to divide it into different chapters and let it tell a story on its own. The other thing was that we had pushed back the release on this several times. It had been such a long time since we put out music, a big part of me wanted to get music out quicker. This was a way of getting music out to our fans faster. They had already waited years.

AH: When did you start to realize that the album could be divided into chapters?

SS: A lot of that was my wife. She’s worked in advertising. Now she works for IBM in the design group. She just always had great ideas when it comes to us with our releases. We’ve always been terrible at rolling stuff out the right way. It’s always been me. It’s never been a team. She was the one that originally came up with that idea of chapters as opposed to just one album. Her reasoning behind a lot of that was from a business and branding standpoint. She just thought it would be cool. Our distributor is not a big fan of it of course. They want to see full album sales. It’s a lot easier to say the album is available August 1. That gives people the summer to pre-order it. At the end of the day it’s cooler and different. From a content perspective, people are just so drowned in content 24/7 these days. If all of a sudden you release a single and one or two months later, there’s the album. What are people going to do now? Primarily for younger people who listen to music digitally, they’re going to get on their phone, see that an album is available, listen through it super quick, save a few of them, and then go about their day. There’s a chance that they’ll listen to the full album later. People are so stimulated by content constantly pouring into their lap with social media and everything else. To us it made more sense doing it this way. It’s easier for people to look at their phones and see that three songs are available and listen to all three songs and download them. A couple weeks later, here’s another three.

AH: Artists are trying to figure out the new normal when it comes to putting music out.

SS: John Mayer did that although I don’t know that it went all that well for him from a CD sales perspective. It can hurt you sometimes. To us as a team we thought it would be cool. A lot of the things that we feel personally are being broken down and titled and themed more. It’s fun and cool and different for us.

AH: How is the new album different from previous albums?

SS: It think that musically it’s way bigger sonically than anything we put out. It’s bigger and sounds so much more similar to our live show. Like I said there’s been a huge gap of time between Geronimo and Hail Mary. During that gap, those were our sweat equity years. We’ve been gone a lot. We spent a lot of grinding years doing a lot of the stuff that is not fun. It’s been a long time between albums. During that time is when we’ve gained the larger amount of fans that we have right now. It’s not through a video or people hearing a song online. It’s almost always – if you go and talk to one of our fans – it’s them coming to one of our live performances. Once they’re at the live performance and experienced it, that’s when we gain new fans. In the past I feel like we’ve never been able to capture that sound that has won people over. I think on this one we’ve come so much closer to capturing something that sounds really big that we’re proud of.

AH: Was [producer] Mark Needham instrumental in bringing that bigger sound?

SS: 100%. He’s such a great producer and person. I loved working with him. It was a pleasure for us to work with such a veteran who’s done this on a larger scale than we’re used to working. We would go into a room at Orb Studios in Austin. His mentality was “We can talk all day, but you’re not going to know anything until you go in there and try it.” Constantly. He was kind of like an old football coach. I love that about him. We’re a scrappy group of guys. Especially going into that album, we were in this old, crappy RV that we bought for 5,000 dollars. It was a 1996 Gulfstream that was completely falling apart. Like every mile, something was falling off. He kind of liked that side of us as well. He saw what we were dealing with. He also worked with bands that show up in three buses, and the lead singer has his own bus. The have to do a half-hour break for every two hours they work. He’s worked a lot of different people. I love how he would tell us to get in there and try it. There was a lot of live tracking, playing the song until we felt like we captured it, which is a very old-school way of recording that is a lot more genuine and raw. That’s 100% what we needed to do as a band. I’m not saying we didn’t do overdubs. We did overdubs on just about everything, but the core of the song with the drums, bass, guitar, a lot of that was tracked completely live. It was like we were playing a show. That’s all due to Mark.

AH: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

SS: Man, I don’t know. It’s a hard question to answer. I could see myself getting into construction or flipping houses. My wife and I recently built our first house. Through that whole process, I spent a lot of time being directly involved in that. A lot of that was sweat labor. Rather than pay someone to do something, I’d go online and figure out how to do it. Then I’m refinishing a floor, stuff like that. As a result of doing a lot of that stuff, I gained an appreciation for it. I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing the progress unfolding right in front of me and being able to walk away from it and have pride in that. I find the same thing in music. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and the things I’ve had to go through. The rest of the guys I’m sure feel the same way. When you go through some difficult times and trying situations to accomplish something, and you come out on the other side, you take a lot of pride in that. That’s the only other thing I can think that I might be doing if I weren’t doing this. I don’t think I could ever let go of this side of me. It’s become such a big part of me: writing music, expressing stories and thoughts through lyrics and melody. It’s something I’m very passionate about.

Hail Mary will be available everywhere in its entirety on June 28. Order your copy here.

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