SHELLEY KING: I have been involved with music my whole life. My family is very musical. I always knew that I wanted music to be my path but I never had a clear idea on how to create that path. It took a long time to get there. When I was a teenager I started writing songs but for some reason I never really envisioned myself producing those songs with a band—it just didn’t dawn on me until much later. When I was in my early 20s I saw a band play in Houston called Miss Molly and the Passions and she was so awesome. We were at this packed club and everyone was sweaty and grooving to the music and I was drinking and I had a message from God laid on me that night that that was what I had to do–I had to do it. I walked out of Club Hey Hey in Houston in 1989 in search of how to put a band together. I started working on that and got some gigs in Houston. My drummer now, Perry (Drake) and Kyle Judd, they were in my Houston band in 1990 and 1991.
Everyone started saying that based on the kind of music I was doing I should check out Austin. At the time I just didn’t know what was up. I came to Austin to check it out and happened to come during SXSW and I thought Austin was always like that all the time. And in a lot of ways it is. And I totally fell in love with it and started making Austin my weekend destination for a couple of years until I could make it my home base. I moved here in November of 1992 just to pursue music. I quit my day job in 1998 to pursue music full time. In the beginning I thought that I could have a job and have my music until my music got big enough to take over and then I could quit my job but I just found myself in a situation that I couldn’t get where I wanted to get with either thing—with the day job or with the music–unless I dedicated myself to it 100%. I found that I had little interest in my day job and a whole lot of interest in my music and so I thought to myself on June 15th, 1998 this is it; this is right now. I have to quit my job and dedicate myself to music full time because I cannot live with regrets. I can’t look back in 20 years and say, “I should have done it.” I did it and I’m glad I did it.
It’s been ten years since I made that decision and I feel like the milestones behind me now are because I dedicated myself to it. Dedicating myself to it is what made it happen.
AD: Do you have a process you go through when you write a song and how do you know when you’ve hit on something really special?
SK: A process, no. I probably should have one, but I don’t. I think people who have their special formula that works for them, that’s really good and they can turn out more songs. I’m very emotional and I go with when I’m inspired and when something touches me emotionally. And it could just be a great melody pops in my head, or I’m jamming on my guitar and a cool riff comes up. But mostly for me it’s a lyrical idea that kind of gets me and makes things start turning. I do write with other people and in those situations we may have appointments where we sit down and write a song. And we may sit there and pound on that notebook all day until finally a song happens. I’ve written songs with Sarah Hickman and I’m in the process of writing songs now with Patricia Vaughn. And all of those processes are completely different. None of them are the Shelly King method. My favorite method is when I’m inspired and it all happens at once and writes itself. I wrote a song called, “The Highway”, which was the title track to my second album, and that song completely wrote itself. I was looking at the moon and the moon was just one of those giant moons that come up over the horizon and are red at first until they get up high on the sky and get clearer. And I took off driving following that moon trying to get some lyrics or a song and I finally got it and when I felt like I had it I turned around and went home and I swear when I pulled into my driveway the entire bridge popped into my head, completely all together. I ran inside and got my guitar and it was the whole song. You wait around for divine intervention you might right a song every five years so it’s about sitting down and making myself write.
AD: How does it work when other artists cover your songs? How does it feel to hear your songs coming from someone else?
SK: It’s really cool. I love it. I’ve had my songs covered by a whole lot of artists–a lot of people that nobody has even heard of yet and that’s really neat that artists that are just trying to become known are gravitating to my songs. It’s really nice to hear anybody do a different version. Toni Price has covered several of my songs and she was one of the first people to really do that and there’s nothing like it. One of the greatest feelings I ever heard was to hear Toni Price open her Austin City Limits show with my song called “Call of My Heart”—that blew my mind. She had told me that she had done one my songs on the recording of it but that they had gotten cut and weren’t going to be in the show so I actually didn’t even watch it the night that it aired. I went to a party and my guitarist showed up at the party and said, “Hey congratulations on Toni doing your song on Austin City Limits”. And I said, “No she didn’t do it, it got cut.” And he said, “No, I just saw it on TV. She opened with your song.” I was like, “No way.” He said, “I recorded it for you! I’ll prove it to you.” Her whole Austin City Limits thing opens up with “I’d like to send this out to Shelly King.” It was an awesome experience. Since then, I had a song recorded by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood who just recently passed away. He was the one that wrote “These Boots are Made for Walking” for Nancy Sinatra. They did my song, “Texas Blue Moon” on their last duet album. They did three duet albums in their career. He and his wife were driving through Texas and heard my song, “Texas Blue Moon” on a Texas radio station and thought, That’s a great song for Nancy to sing on this duet record. So they tracked it down on the internet and had it recorded and ready to release internationally before I even knew they were listening to that song. The whole thing came full circle relatively recently when I was invited to a very private birthday celebration for Lee Hazlewood at his home in Las Vegas. It was his 78th birthday and he was dying of cancer and it was just a super close party with his close friends and Nancy Sinatra was there. And he said to his son-in- law to be, “Go put Shelly’s song on the stereo because I want to see her face when she hears us singing it.” I had already heard the version before but not with them in the room—that was something different. So when it came on and he said, “Hey what’s this?” And we all went into the entryway where the stereo was the loudest and we were all standing there listening and the next thing I know I’m standing in between Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra all hugged up in the entryway listening to their version of my song and all their family and friends are taking pictures the whole song–like paparazzi. There is a lyric in the song that goes, “You’re a good girl’s dream come true” and Nancy is whispering to me, “I wish I would have sung, ‘You’re a bad girl’s dream come true’.” It was such an amazing feeling to be there and hear them do my song. It was completely surreal. But it is as an amazing a feeling to hear some young girl singing your song around a campfire at Kerrville as it is to hear Nancy Sinatra singing it. It’s a joy all the way around. When somebody else does it, it takes on a totally different life of its own. It’s very gratifying.
AD: What makes Austin special to you?
SK: I have lived in Austin longer than I have lived anywhere ever. I have always traveled around but I really feel like I have found my home and I have found people that love music and love community and are laid back. This whole connection to everything Austin—the environment, Barton Springs, Mexican food—it’s all a complete vibe and there is nowhere else on the planet that matches it. To me, it is home and community and something I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’ve been to a lot of cool places and met a lot of cool places but not with the kind of concentration that we have right here.
AD: Tell us what Official Texas State Musician is all about.
SK: I’m the Official State Musician for Texas for 2008. I was nominated by the citizens of Texas and I was appointed by the Texas Commission of the Arts and the 88th Texas Legislature in a ceremony at the state capital on April 19th. At the same they also appointed other State artists including the Poet Laureate and State Visual Artist, Painter and Sculptor. They represent the state in the arts and I am the representative for Texas for music. There are a lot of opportunities that come up with that. One of the things that I’m doing is traveling around to different arts festivals and such. One of the key things for the Texas Commission of the Arts in music education and schools so I will be doing some concerts at some schools, I will be representing Texas on several different levels. They even mentioned to me the possibility of traveling to China or Japan as a representative. So I’m sort of an Ambassador. It’s not even my year yet, Dale Watson has 2007, but there have been a lot of opportunities come up just from having the title—a lot of doors have opened up and people are interested. I’m not only the youngest person to have this title but I’m the first woman ever. The previous people were Billy Joe Shaver, the year before, Johnny Gimble, the year before that Ray Benson–it’s just been all these guys. The people that they have had have been legendary so I am really honored to have been in the line up at all. It’s pretty cool.
AD: How did you find out that you were being considered?
SK: I got a letter saying I was in the top 10. I know that they had nearly 1,000 nominations for the music category. This completely blew my mind. I thought right there that’s enough, there is no way with all the legendary people that they could choose from and I’m just a girl. It was pretty amazing to find out that I actually got it. I got the note that said I was the Official Texas State Musician somewhere around April’s Fools Day so I didn’t believe it at first. The girl that sent it was out of town then so I couldn’t get anybody to return a call or an email. I thought, They are just jacking with me; somebody is playing a mean joke. And when I finally got through to her she said, “You said you had some questions” and I said, “Yeah, is this for real?”
It’s very, very exciting and I’ll do my best to represent properly.
AD: Are there any new recordings coming out?
SK: I’m in preproduction on a new record. There are several tracks that I’m going to record with members of the Subdudes and we probably aren’t going to get around to recording those until December or January. In the meantime, I’m recording some other tracks for a new CD and I’m looking to have this out by next spring. It will hopefully coincide with the State Musician 2008. It takes a lot to get a record out and we are working diligently. I have tons and tons of songs, enough songs for two records, so it’s just about making the right choices and getting the right combinations of everything to make a good album.
AD: We love your collaborations with Caroline and Sis Deville, etc. Are there any collaboration recordings in the works?
SK: No. We talk about it and we just haven’t done it. We need to make it happen. We did a couple of shows in May and golly it was so easy. Sis Deville is just so good and the energy is just so fine. We could pretty much just put a microphone up in the middle of the room and record a record. It was just great stuff and there was nothing else like it. We all agree we need to record a record. It is something that will happen we just have to find the time to get us all together.
AD: Tell us your thoughts when you hear, “Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World”.
SK: I believe that completely. What I mean by that is I feel like it is a place where for people, if they want to be a really good live band, it is a great place to learn. It’s a place where you can really hone your skills and your show and play to people who love live music and care about live music. There are so many bands that I see, not here, but on the national scene that are really good, and really good live, but they seem so contrived. They made up every little thing; they are robots basically. I feel like in Austin, we play so much live music that we are very relaxed about our shows and we know how to put on a good live show. There isn’t a band in town that can’t lay down a couple of hours that just blows everybody’s mind. That doesn’t happen everywhere. Some places you go you’re lucky if the band has an hour of material let alone throw down with a two hour headliner show that rocks your socks off. It’s live music boot camp here. The players are so great and the competition is so fierce and I think it just makes everybody so wonderful. We are blessed to have this much live music.
AD: What wisdom would you offer a musician just starting out?
SK: Ok, this is going to be some big, round, random advice. I feel like if it is somebody who doesn’t know how to get their act together and how to get songs and how to get a band and how to get a gig and all of that, it’s a good idea to buy the badge and go to SXSW and go to all the meetings. If you already know all that and you already have a band and are ready to go I would say just book as many gigs as you can possibly play and play them, play them, play them. Try and build your following and make it happen. If you don’t have it together go learn how to get it together and if you got it make it happen by getting out there and work, work, work.
AD: Anything else?
SK: Word. Word to Austin. Happy Holidaze.