Firefly Pointer Fiberglass Jacket: My first Music Interview (2004) with Shanna Morrison

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My first Music Interview (2004) with Shanna Morrison


 When I first moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area I was blown away by all the culture. All the events, live concerts, protests, there was always something happening in the Bay Area. (Especially compared to where I grew up). One of the early things I did was go to an event called "Oakstock" at the Oakland Museum in 2004. It featured an exhibit from the Vietnam War along with an after live show with Country Joe MacDonald and Shanna Morrison. At the time I had also just started college courses up here and was taking a music history course. I LOVED that class, I had a ton of fun and made solid friends. One of my assignments was to write a Band Critique after interviewing the band or a band member. I asked Shanna after she set if she could set aside some time to be interviewed by me, so politely obliged. I loved hearing what she had to say. This would have marked my first Music Interview. I was still getting over my shyness at the time, so I never really did thank her for her time and stories. I always felt bad for that, because I appreciate it when someone opens up like that.
Thank you Shanna Morrison from Becca Jones-Starr. 

Shanna Morrison: Bay Area jewel

 Shana Morrison is a local Bay Area band that’s been playing actively on the music scene since 1996. Their music has been described as “a smooth blend of pop, rock and blues.” Her band was formerly known as “Caledonia” and released one CD released on her own label, Belfast Violet Records in 1998 under that name until they changed it in 2001. The group consists of the lead singer Shana, and her three band mates who play bass, drums and lead guitar. When asked why her band chooses the instruments they do Shana replied “I don’t know how you know, but you know.” They often play as an opening act for bigger bands. They have opened for singers such as Joe Cocker, Lyle Lovett, and Country Joe Macdonald.

 Shana Morrison has been interviewed by several popular music magazines and has even made a guest appearance on Howard Stern. I was privileged enough to get to see them live at Oakstock in Oakland after a Vietnam Museum Exhibit. Not until after the performance and chatting briefly with the band did I realize Shana is the daughter of 60’s pop singer Van Morrison. Shana Morrison sung in choirs growing up and got her start playing with her father and opening for his shows as a guest performer. She took piano lessons as a child but never found the music business to be very enticing. Her father and mother ere both singers and song writers and that foresight helped her get her foot in the door.

 She took business classes while working a little with her father and his music. She began listening to Joni Mitchell, John Lee Hooker, Sister Rosetta and Ray Charles and in conjunction with performing live. After graduating she caught the urge to create her own band. Shana says she gets her inspiration to write songs from conversations with friends and stories that she thinks people can relate to. She considers drums to be the most important element when it comes to recording. “There is no right answer when you’re trying to decide instrumentation for songs” she explains. “It’s just like the rest of the creative process; you come up with ideas, try them, and see if they work.”

 Shana Morrison’s vocal style is very smooth but holds a lot of dynamic. She has a lot of range and can flow easily from a “whining blues tone” to a “fast pop pitch.” What always remains the same is Shana's unique and wide-ranging voice. I describe the band as being classified as popular music with a touch of blues. The tone of her voice emulates blues, but the style they play is not blues. The band likes to test the waters and forever keep evolving “That’s what the fans expect,” replied Shana. Perhaps that’s why the band has been around for ten years; they keep changing and broadening their sound. She has also been known to include other ingredients, like country, r and b, and jazz to the mix. Her material seems to be ever changing, and hard to pin down categorically.

 “Were still here” she explains, “That makes us different from 95% of the bands you will see in the music venues across the country.” She went on to describe the music business as not for those who are faint at heart. Shana now works with Vanguard records and released a CD in 2002 called “7 Wishes.” In 2000 Shana performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival, The Ottawa Blues Festival, and the Edmonton Folk Festival. This year the band has been busy with tours across the US, Germany, and Italy playing clubs, theaters, and festivals. Most notably playing the House Of Blues in Cambridge, the Bottom Line in New York, the Viper Room in LA, Meinisfree Open Air in Germany, and the Arezzo Wave Pop festival in Italy.

When asked about her fan base as a female fronted band she said “There are definitely more males in the audience when you have a ‘chick singer.’ The guys in my band complain that there aren’t enough women staring at them.” I explained to her how I’ve noticed that bands with female lead singers seem fewer and farer between. I also explained how it seems that the media and society are more drawn to female acts because there seems to be less than male acts. “ In a way I feel I have an easier time drawing audiences because the clubs, radio stations, festivals will always have a very small fraction of time allocated to female acts which makes us kind of break from the norm, and therefore we stand out.”

 After seeing Shana Morrison do a full set live on October 1st 2004 I was most impressed by the lyrics they used. The lyrics were about things normal people could relate to (like the blues) but the lyrics weren’t simple but not complex. They seemed more like poetry and more personalized. The drumming as very simple, no complex beats and nothing too off the wall. The guitar solos were exciting however, and made me want to dance. It was very easy to dance to her music (like popular music) even the slow and mellow songs. It was also very easy to clap with and had catchy chorus lines and used the call and response method a few times.

 They were good musical sports, a few times the microphone went out for the vocals but they kept playing and dancing around on stage. They seemed very organized and were quick to set up and were ready to greet fans to sign CDs. The music seemed to be mostly bass oriented complimented by soothing and sharp vocal tones. The lighting they used was another element I noticed. Most of the time there lighting choice tended to be dark colors like blue and purple (which I don’t think was a mistake). When I think of blues I am reminded of those two deep colors and most of there songs had that indescribable touch of blues. For the most part their music type is pop because you can clap and dance to it and sing along with the hook easily.

 But the usage of the drums and guitar remind me of the blues. Her “whinny” voice (they actually did have one genuine original blues song) told of the blues when she sung about her man doing her no good and breaking her heart. Shana Morrison is definitely a jewel of the Bay Area music scene and should be checked out by anyone who likes blues with their pop.

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