“Iím actually enjoying getting into the music!”
Interview with Shannon Callahan
 

Shannon CallahanIn December of 2005 Chris Norman has totally renewed the cast of his band. Shannon Callahan has become one of the “recruits”, in the band she sings and plays guitar. On stage she performs next to Chris, making a lovely duet with him in “StumbliníIn” song. Many of us already have liked her vivid and catchy way of stage behaviour, her nice vocal abilities and, whatís not the least, her very fascinating look. Shortly before the Christmas Shannon Callahan has recorded her solo album called “Nectar”. We have talked with her about that release and about some other things.

 

— Shannon, letís start from the beginning. Tell us, please, where do you come from? Are there musicians or artists in your family? Tell a bit about your career.

— I was born in America, in San Francisco. My parents were political activists and touring musicians. So, I grew up around artists. I began performing in childrenís theater productions at 9 and started studying opera at 11. I got my degree in opera/vocal performance from Mills College and I studied opera in Florence, Italy as well. I came to Europe in 2000 to tour with an opera company. After touring Switzerland I found a manager in Berlin. I have performed over 20 opera roles, and hundreds of recitals. But after receiving work with an opera company outside of Berlin, I realized I could earn much better wages working in musical theater. I was ready for a change, and I was also ready to have a steady income after many years of traveling, organizing concerts and auditions alone.

— What are your musical influences or favourite artists?

— My favourite artists vary. I love Ella Fitzgerald, Renee Fleming, Maria Callas, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Patty Griffith, Sheryl Crow, Annie Lennox, Kate Bush, Bjoerk, Deva Premal, Eva Cassidy, Barbara Streisand, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Dave Mathews, Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly Parton, the list is too longÖ

— Speaking about female singing, have you listened to Loreena McKennit and what is your attitude to such kind of music?

— I like Celtic music very much. Loreena McKennit is especially good. So is Clannad, and Kiela, two other Irish bands. There's so much music in Ireland! Another Irish songwriter you might like is David Gray. He's got great songs!

— What instruments can you play? Which of them do you have at home? Can you play the dobro, by the way?

— I can play a bit of piano and a bit of guitar. I started playing guitar about 5 years ago, but really just to write with. I would never call myself a guitarist. I donít play the dobro, unfortunately. I wish I could REALLY play the guitar! I only have room for my guitar at homeÖ Iíd love to have a Wuerlitzer.

— And what is Wuerlitzer?

— A Wuerlitzer is a type of electronic organ built, I think, in the 60ís. Itís got a lovely, soft sound and doesnít take up much space.

— When did you start to write your own songs?

— I can remember writing songs when I was a little girl. I would write poems and sing melodies into the cassette recorder and hide them where nobody could find them. Itís funny to hear the recordings now!

— How did you manage to join the Chrisís band?

— I was very fortunate that a friend of mine, Christian Steinhauser, who was the string arranger on one of Chrisís albumís, recommended me.

— You probably havenít heard Chris Normanís songs until you came to Germany?

— No, but my parents had.

— What do you like and what you donít like along tours or live concerts?

— I love touring and concerts! I just miss my cat sometimes when Iím away too long.

— It was a time you were working also in musicals in Berlin, do you still continue this job?

— NO. I have no intention of returning to musical theater, though Iím grateful for the work I received through it.

— Some time ago you had your own project “The Shannon Callahan band”, tell a bit about it. Why did you stop that?

— The band was my first try at working with other musicians. This was a scary time for me! I was very critical of myself and afraid to take risks. I just was very insecure with myself and my song writing. But now I feel it was very successful time in that I learned more about myself, what kind of music I want to play and with what kind of people I want to work with. Unfortunately, it ended because I wanted to change my style and needed to take some time off to do this. I think we couldíve continued working together and made some good music. Iím still friends with the former band. Theyíre great! The music was a bit more rock/pop than my music is now. I wanted to go a bit more folk/jazz/Americana.

— Is “The Finest” your actual project? What kind of music you play there?

— “The Finest” is a collaboration I have with guitarist/songwriter Ron Spielman. Itís a fun mix between folk and jazz. Great musicians!

— So in “The Finest” you sing jazz things, you sang in opera, sang in musicals, Chrisís music is more like a soft guitar rock, and your own album is a totally different kind of things. How do you manage to be so versatile and what is really more natural for you? What is your favourite style of singing – folk, country, rock, opera, etc?

— I love music. It doesnít matter what styleÖif it moves me, then I want to be a part of it. There are rap artists I love! Itís not about the style, itís about the honesty. I respond most to this. I have had the great fortune to be able to experiment and do lots of different things. Many people arenít allowed to do this. When I stop learning and trying new things, then itís time to pick a new profession.

In the groove... with Chris Norman

— Audience is always really amazed by your way of performing in such songs as “Sledge Hammer” or “My Sharona”, youíre singing, dancing, scampering along a stage, adding so much energy and action to a show. Where does this style of stage behaviour come of – work in musicals, your feeling of music or something else?

— This behavior is called “HAVING FUN!”. Iím not doing this just for the audience, Iím actually enjoying moving and a getting into the music! Thereís no training involvedÖ :-)

— To that time you were several times in Russia. Though you often haven't much time to see the places you perform in, but anyway, what were your impressions about the country and the people?

— The Russian people are strikingly beautiful to me. My fatherís family came from Odessa and my best friend, while growing up, immigrated from the Ukraine. So, Iím always looking for pieces of my family and people I love in the eyes of those I meet there. From what little I have seen, I see a huge gap between those that have and those that donít. I see years of difficult times that have made for a fierce desire to achieve and be strong. I see tenderness and warmth in the midst of the coldest icy storm. And I see a naivety and eager openness that I want to protect like a small child. I also see a proud, and courageous will that I hope brings better, more prosperous times for all the Russian people, not just the more affluent. Mostly I see a mysterious, gorgeous place that Iíd love to know more about!

Nectar CDNow letís speak about your album “Nectar”.

— What means the name of the album?

— I took Nectar from the Greek meaning:
        Nek – death
        Tar – to overcome
        I liked the idea of Nectar – itís part of what brings the world to life. Itís the sweetness that keeps us bringing new life forth.

— How long did you work over it? Was it a long difficult work or it was done quickly without pauses?

— Some of the songs are several years old. Over half the CD has new songs on it. I was told in the past yearís July that I had to record it in October. So, I had three months to write most of the songs and put a band together. And at the end I had only 9 days to complete the album. I had to finish it before Christmas in order to deliver it to the man that supported the project. It was far too little time. There are many things I would do differently had I had more time. But, Iím still proud of what we accomplished in such a short time.

— You are the author of all the songs, is it right?

— Yes. I received a bit of help on one songÖbut it was mostly just arrangement help.

— Who devised the arrangements? What has predetermined the instruments set that was used? Why you havenít use, for instance, a piano or accordion?

— The band and I did the arrangements. There was no time for piano or accordion! I would have loved to have more time to work those instruments in!

— Have you any favourite or especially dear songs on this album?

— Thatís like asking a mother which of her children she loves best. Of course there are songs I feel are closer to being completeÖbut I love them all for one reason or another.

— “Busy Bee” – is that song about you?

— No. I wrote it for a good friendÖand for the world.

— In acknowledgments among others you thanked your father for believing when you didnít. That sounds very nice. Was it any special story? That also goes to “for meeting me at the river” words.

— The song “Riverís Edge” was written for my father. Sometimes he and I have a difficult time understanding each other. But, I am fortunate that he continues to try and keep the dialogue going. He is willing to talk with me and listen, and agree to disagree. Even in all our disagreements, it remains clear that I have his unconditional support and this is invaluable..

— Have you got any opinions about your album from your colleagues in CN Band?

— All of the band members, and Chris, have been very supportive. Theyíve purchased CDís as gifts for their friends and given me lots of great reviews. It means a lot to me that my colleagueís like my music. I respect them all a great deal, not just as musicians, but as people.

— Will you perform live with these songs? What are your plans for the promotion?

— My record release is Feb.22 in Quasimodo in Berlin. I will also perform in Hamburg at Angies on March 19th. I plan to perform solo at three festivals in England this coming summer, but the plans arenít final. Have no clear plans for promotionÖ since Iím doing it alone, Iím sort of learning as I go and thankful for all the help I can get! People that have heard the CD have been very enthusiastic about it, so I hope the audience reaction on that concerts will be GOOD too!

— What is a cast of the band you play with?

— Me, voice/guitar
        Mat Callahan (my dad), guitar/harmonica
        Ron Spielman, guitar
        Leon Schurtz, contrabass
        Topo Gioia, percussion
        Marc Rossier, dobro
        Michael Kersting, percussion
        Yvonne Moore, backing vocals
        Sarah Schurtz, backing vocals

Dear Shannon, thank you for that answers! We wish you a huge success with your album and live performances! See you on the next Chrisís gig as well!

 

Some of the songs from the album you can hear on the page of Shannon Callahan: http://www.myspace.com/shannoncallahanmusic.
   The page of “The Finest”: http://www.myspace.com/thefinestnet.
 

Thanks to everybody who has sent their questions for Shannon!

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