Perth indie-folk talent, Helen Shanahan, has quietly been making noise for a little while now. After winning the Telstra Road to Discovery Songwriter of the Year in 2013, the Fremantle based singer-songwriter has been gigging around Perth and is just back from her east-coast tour of Melbourne and Sydney. The release of her single, Across the Sea, has been well received, and Helen has been soldiering on even though "I've been kind of run down, I got laryngitis which is not good as I teach as well I'm kind of constantly talking or singing!"
Having played with Clare Bowditch, The Basement Birds, Matt Corby, Passenger and Michael Paynter over the last few years she is no stranger to getting on stage with some of Australia's finest independent artists. But amidst all this, there's an ethereal resolve to her music that suits the indie-country-esque-vibe, it is emotionally resplendent, fragile and like a fine, gossamer fabric.
Q: Have you performed in Sydney or Melbourne before? Do the audiences vary much across the states? I imagine you'd have a strong following here in Perth being your hometown?
We just got back from our music tour over east. We did a similar thing about three years ago, we only ever done one or two shows in each place. Slowly tried to build some kind of audience over there, it is very intimate and small at the moment! Through the Telstra Road, I've done a bit more touring. But it hasn't been extensive.
In Melbourne there seems to be more of a kind of singer-songwriter scene over there, in Sydney where I played at The Newsagency, there's always been a kind of loyal singer-songwriter fans as well. I guess it is knowing where to go. There's a lot more gigs available for singer-songwriters (Melbourne) I am sure people in Sydney are just as appreciative though!
A lot of people from Perth say they are going to move to Melbourne, there is that culture there. I am not really an expert that is what I have got from it so far. I'm born in Perth and have just literally been going around and around and around! I started doing Open Mic nights (laughs), ohhh it was horrific. I was such a nervous wreck. It took me so long to get the courage to do one Open Mic night and then I had to force myself to keep doing them. I started at Mojo's Bar and everyone there was so supportive and so encouraging, they were like, "come back next week", so yeah it was a good place to start quite nerve wracking!
Q: You're quite open with your struggles surrounding anxiety, how do you manage this when it comes to live performances? Does it inform a lot of your songwriting?
It is something that just always is with me I suppose. It is something that always makes me want to perform to my best. As much as I wish I didn't have it, at the same time it does make me perform to the best of my ability. I guess when talking though, it doesn't always help me because I am kind of talking awkwardly on stage. It's something I need to do, deal with the nerves. For me, it is very personal because it is me. But when I perform the song, I can go to a different place. Talking to the crowd is a whole different story for me; I think it is something a lot of performers also find because they can be a bit introverted.
Before I did music I did acting and I think I wasn't the best at it, but it helps me get into the role. When I was acting I never had to be me as such and I guess that is why the talking is so nerve wracking. It is definitely stepping into a role, it is still me in a way, but the song carries me I suppose.
Q: Did you have any artistic direction with Across the Sea? It looked very cold!
The producer Brendan Joel was telling me what to do, "look down here, do that there!" which I found very helpful I was myself in it. It was freezing though! It was terrible, because my boots were soaked through and I had to trudge through the water, we had all the elements that day it was pouring with rain I had to dry my hair in the heater in the car! It was all worth it though.
Q: How did the release of the album go? Tell me about the work that went into producing it.
It was fantastic, I actually released it a few months ago, but then I found out about a week later that I was signed to Mushroom Music Publishing. So I had to take it off iTunes and I had to take it off everywhere, as they wanted me to re-release it through MGM, the distribution company and a lot of my family and friends had already bought it! It was good to get it to a different audience. I got reviews for it and took it to people who hadn't heard it before. It was kind of a replay of what I had done a month before.
Basically what it means is that I'd been doing it all independently. I had to collect all my own royalties go knock on Sanity's door "will you stock my CD's?" They wouldn't really do that for me, as I am an unknown. Going through somewhere like MGM they are able to put it in shops like JB Hifi and all those local music shops where I would find it hard to get my name out there and things like that. It helps to have them on board. Mushroom Publishing collect all my royalties and they are now trying to get my music on film and TV. I'm still independent, but now I have these people on board to help me spread the music further.
Q: How did winning Songwriter of the Year changed things for you?
I've been working on it (this release) for nine months. I started writing the songs at the end of 2013, start of 2014. I flew over to Melbourne to work with producer Pip Norman and flew the whole band over from Perth. We had already been workshopping the songs for three months, Pip changed a lot of the arrangements, and we had already been working on a lot of the phases of the songs. I flew to Nashville to record one of the songs and write the title track as well. It kind of happened over nine months all for five songs! It was kind of a real process that I had not been through before. First time working with a producer and Nashville as well.
When I won Telstra Road to Discovery in 2013, part of the prize package was to fly over to Nashville and set up the recording. I had always wanted to go there it is just for me the mecca of songwriting and everywhere you turn there is a musician about, a joyful place for me.
Q: What is your connection with Nashville? Keen to know more about this and how you established it?
It was just kind of a bit surreal; the place is a lot like Perth. It is really quite quiet, it is not a big city like New York it is just kind of laid back. So I didn't really expect that, it made me feel a bit more comfortable, but at the same time I was freaking out all my idols are here! And it was just a very surreal experience.
I am actually writing for an album now, I am hoping to go back to Nashville and do it over there. I just need to get the songs together I'll see how that goes. I do believe though that everything always comes together, I really do. You just need to keep persevering and keep holding onto it, especially in the music industry keep persevering is so important! It's such a hard thing and you get knocked down so many times, you've got to keep going for it. But, the main thing is to keep enjoying it as well.