From Mainstream Country to Mohawks: An Interview with Shelly Fairchild
In 2004, Mississippi native Shelly Fairchild established herself as one of the most promising performers in mainstream country music with her debut album, Ride. The project’s first single, “You Don’t Lie Here Anymore,” was just a small taste of her considerable talents as a singer and songwriter.
Though she would later tour as an opening act for Trace Adkins and Rascal Flatts, the song was her lone success on the Billboard charts. After a few false starts, Fairchild chose to take matters into her own hands. In 2011, she released a new album, Ruby’s Money, on her own label, Revelation Nation Records.
Ruby’s Money was produced by Fairchild’s friend and collaborator Stephony Smith, writer of the award-winning Tim McGraw/Faith Hill duet “It’s Your Love.” Their winning blend of Delta blues and roadhouse funk is a terrific showcase of Fairchild’s powerful soprano.
Fairchild discusses her twin roles—national entertainer and record label owner—with Engine 145.
What are the unique challenges and opportunities when you’re releasing an album independently?
I was really always afraid because I know how important marketing dollars are and how much goes behind a record launch. The album was made on another label (Stroudavarious Records) and was executive produced by James Stroud, and Stephony Smith was also part of the production. It still exists, but they didn’t really have the pop elements that I needed, so I left the label in January 2011 and launched the album on my indie label, Revelation Records. I’m thrilled because now I can make all the decisions. I’m the end-all, be-all. It’s so fantastic. I can make decisions like when I cut my hair off from it being halfway down my back into a mohawk without someone saying, “That’s a terrible mistake.”
I think it can be a great choice. The world is so focused now on this wonderful entrepreneurship. I’m hopeful that it will be a great time. I had a discussion the other day with another indie artist who used to be on Lyric Street Records, and I was saying that you move to this town and you’re the smallest fish in the sea, and not everybody knows who you are. To show up to a restaurant or a venue and people know you and come up and talk to you, that’s all we were asking for and what we were dreaming of as kids. That’s how I go about measuring success. I’m grateful for what I’ve accomplished.
What’s the theme of Ruby’s Money in your mind?
I feel that it’s about love, all-encompassing love. It’s about American soul music and it’s a story that needs to be told. I want to be reigniting a fire in your soul and hooking you in [to the music].
What did you take away from working with an acclaimed writer such as Stephony Smith?
When you find someone that gets you and gets what you’re trying to say and can facilitate any avenue of creativity, it’s so important. I have been able to say exactly what I’ve wanted to say. She doesn’t let me turn in on myself. It’s hard to find someone you trust enough. She’s been so successful and she’s so talented. We started out writing together on the first record with Sony in 2004. She co-wrote four songs with me (“Kiss Me,” “I Wanna Love You,” “Tiny Town,” “Ride”).
How does the recording process for Ruby’s Money compare to making your major-label album?
I was a little kid, well, I wasn’t a little kid, but in terms of when I came into the process. I had not co-written before and I hadn’t been pitched songs from the likes of Hillary Lindsey and Leslie Satcher. All of these songwriters are ones I’d been dying to meet. I was introduced to so many great people and it was not a bad experience at all. That record I definitely went to school and I feel like I graduated, so the EP was kind of like my first job, and this second album I know what I want to say and how I want to approach the world. It took me three years to find out that Music Row is what it is. That was my college, my education, to meet these people and these major players in the business.
It seems like women in country music have a harder time finding success than men.
That’s always been the case. It’s unfortunate that the girls are always having to work harder, but that separates people—those who are real and determined to make it and those that aren’t.
What’s it like interpreting other people’s song as compared with writing your own?
I think with interpreting other people’s songs, I wasn’t the one in the room bleeding. I did co-write four songs on the first record. The difference is I had to learn how to write. I was on a journey. This time I was more in my own body and my own mind. I’ve matured a little. All of the songs are written by me and Stephony, and sometimes we would pull in a third writer like Anthony Smith or Liz Rose, these ridiculously amazing writers. What I really wanted to make was soul music, and I’m so honored they were involved. It really was a labor of love.
The band I play with, and with the help of the musicians, we put together the pre-production during the live shows. I kept booking shows so I could get out in front of everybody. When we went into the studio, we knew every part we wanted to play. Every piece of fabric of this quilt was placed strategically.
If you had it to do all over again, would you have done anything differently?
I can’t say there’s anything I would do differently. All my experience has helped me understand what I’m supposed to do. I had three singles out on country radio and the label put me out on tour. Why didn’t I catapult to superstardom? Because I wasn’t supposed to. I made this record from a different perspective. I needed to get to the pain and the disappointment. If you’re sheltered from the pain, how do you have anything to say? So I wouldn’t do anything differently. There are some characters that I wish I had never met, but now I can look for them in the future and steer very clear. (laughs)
What milestones do you hope to reach in your career within the next few years?
I don’t want to lose my perspective. I would love to be on television and have my music heard all around the world. I just want to play live; people need to see me live so we can have that love connection. If you want to sell a million records, you have to shake a million hands. My agenda is: I want to be doing this in 10, 15, 20 years.
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