(This feature first appeared in issue #137 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump below.)
The creation of Shana Cleveland's new album was bookended by life-changing experiences. “It's been a wild ride” she tells Duncan Fletcher
“I was into old blues pickers like Geeshie Wiley, Skip James and Lightnin' Hopkins. I’ve always been a big Fahey fan. There’s a guy who played open mics in Seattle when I lived there named Rick Sabo. I never knew when he would show up, but I would go to places I thought he might and wait. Then when he did stumble in, always in an old trench coat and a bit drunk, and he began playing it felt like I had won the night.” So says Shana Cleveland when asked about early influences. Traces of all these players can be heard on Shana's new album Manzanita, but its dominant shaping forces are her life experiences.
“I wrote all the songs on this album while I was pregnant and in the early months of my son’s life. It was such a psychedelic time! My head was in such a weird place, all flooded with hormones and wonder at the mystery of life. I liked where the songs were going so, I figured it would be cool to see what a whole album written in that surreal state would sound like.” With her husband Will and several musician friends from Seattle, Shana recorded Manzanita in less than a week. The unrehearsed, intuitive arrangements blend with Shana's open-tuned guitar to give the songs an otherworldly watercolour-like quality. It reveals a different side to Shana, who readers may know as vocalist/guitarist in surf band La Luz.
Shortly after completing the album Shana received shock news. “It’s been a wild ride. Around this time last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and for a few months following that shocker I really couldn’t create much of anything” she says. Thankfully her treatment proved successful. “This album was done before I got the diagnosis, but I’ve written two albums since then. The intensity and horror of that time led to a lot of contemplation which, in turn, led to a lot of songs.”
While we wait to hear those songs, Manzanita yields an abundance of riches, all imbued with early parenthood's peculiar sense of wonder, and an appreciation of the natural world, inspired in part by Shana and Will moving to rural California. “I write outside most of the time” she says. “I like being immersed in all the little noises - insects, birds, cars, wind, chainsaws ... I feel like I’m able to tap into my subconscious mind without the judgment I might fall into if I was alone with my thoughts in a quiet room. It feels like a collaboration in a way.”
Manzanita is out on March 10 on Hardly Art