by Roman Mitz
Vancouver’s Shawn Austin is an overnight sensation. It’s just that it took him over ten years to become one. Shawn was slugging it out in the city’s bar circuit when a stroke of luck brought him to the attention of country superstar Dallas Smith, who signed him to his Steelhead Music label. Shortly thereafter in 2017 he scored back to back songs on the country charts, “Paradise Found” and “Get Me There”, and landed a spot on Smith’s hugely successful “Side Effects” tour. This past spring, he hit the road for a handful of dates with U.S. country artist Chris Lane and went on an Ontario run with sibling duo High Valley. Shawn has just released his first self-titled EP and he reflected upon the good fortune that brought him to where he is now.
“Having a guy like Dallas in your corner with that kind of experience obviously can’t be beat in terms of mentorship,” he says during an early morning call from Vancouver. “I’d been playing restaurants and bars for around 11 or 12 years when a guy named Barry Jorgens, who’s now my co-manager, took an interest in what I was doing and we ended up working together. He knew Dallas from previous experience as he used to manage a band in Vancouver that did some things with Dallas’ band Default. He went to him for a little advice on what to do with me and Dallas liked what he heard. The rest is kind of history after that. Paradise Found did more than any of us expected and Get Me There did really well as a follow-up. We didn’t include those songs on the EP because we want to get more out there at this stage just to give everyone a good idea of what to expect when we roll it out live in 2019. We’ve already started working on a second EP as well.”
Shawn co-wrote two of the current EP’s six tracks, but it is a non-original called “You Belong”, with its catchy melody and hooky chorus that flew out of the gate as the first single. That song also has a Dallas connection.
“That was actually the last song we added to the EP,” Shawn recalls. “We had it pitched to us about three weeks before we finished the record. It came from Young Gun Publishing which has the guys that wrote Dallas’ “Side Effects’ album. We heard it and it just had this great feeling because it was something that was different. We recorded it and felt right away that it would be something that would be a good start for the EP, just to give everyone a different idea of what I’m about and what the project’s about.”
The EP leans toward new country as it certainly has a rock/pop undertone to it, but the thing that strikes you first is Shawn’s melodic vocals which rise high above the instrumental mix. Perhaps this is most obvious on a couple of emotional numbers, “In Your Dreams” and “All About You”, and the singer gives credit where credit is due in terms of the overall sound.
“I have to acknowledge Scott Cook, one of the partners of Steelhead Music, who produced the EP. He works on Florida-Georgia Line stuff and he also does Jake Owen and a whole bunch of other guys. He’s just got such great ears for keeping the vocals centered like they are on In Your Dreams. He’s been around for so long and he has that ability to keep everything nice and wide, but not lose sight of the individual performance. All About You came from Donovan Woods, who’s another amazing Canadian artist and writer, and he just has a way of building a song and building the lyrics. That song is so catchy and there are lines in it that make it become an instant earworm.”
Shawn describes himself as “a bit of a mutt” when it comes to his musical influences which he says range from Johnny Cash to Nirvana. While the EP has a certain Cobainesque passion, banjos and acoustic guitars are scattered throughout ensuring that the record stays grounded. One thing you won’t find, however, is a traditional cry-in-your beer weeper as all of the tunes can best be described as upbeat love songs.
“Country is evolving so much but you still want to keep the roots in there,” he begins. “My sound is a little more rock influenced but country has been the backbone of everything I’ve ever done I’ve also got that singer-songwriter background, so I need to make sure that I’m paying homage and keeping the roots of country strong through everything that we do.
“There was no conscious decision about not having any heartbreak songs on the EP. I’m lucky enough to have a great girl by my side, but everything we’re doing right now is very organic and we’re not trying to guide anything in any particular direction. If a song happens to have a heartbreak element in it that’s fine, but we’re not going to try and tailor the next EP to be in any particular vein.”
Shawn is thankful that he has a strong team behind him that helped him put the record together and are now taking it to the masses. A good team is very important to the singer and that’s something he first learned on a baseball diamond.
“Yeah, because of my baseball background I’ve always been a real team-oriented person,” he admits. “I got a chance to play at a pretty decent level but an injury ended my career abruptly. In terms of my music career it means everything to have a label behind me and it’s fantastic to have Sony on the distribution end as well. You learn really quickly that it takes a lot of shoulders to be able to take a shot at this level. The collective is always greater than the sum of the parts. I can avoid a lot of pressure and potential mistakes because I have so many people I can rely on and bounce ideas off of.”
As mentioned, Shawn spent a lot of time honing his craft in Vancouver’s bars and restaurants where he became a virtual jukebox, cranking out a wide range of music to appeal to a diverse crowd.
That may be a contributing element to the fact that all of the numbers on the EP are under three-and-a -half minutes, as Shawn quickly hooks the listener with each song, delivers the goods and then moves on.
“There’s always a thing in radio where they like the songs a little bit shorter, but we never thought about that when we were recording,” he says. “The way the songs are built they just go through a lot of stages very quickly. But I’m a huge cover guy so if we ever get a chance to do anything seven or eight minutes long I’ll do it in a heartbeat. If a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody was even remotely possible I’d give it a shot.”
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, look for Shawn on tour and on the festival circuit in 2019.
JUNO Award-winning singer and songwriter Johnny Reid releases his new album, “Revival Live” on November 9. Recorded over the course of Reid’s 47-date national tour earlier this year, the album offers fans the chance to re-live their concert experience. It features 13 tracks including “Whiskey Kisses,” (a duet with singer-songwriter Jessica Mitchell), as well as dynamic performances of some of Reid’s greatest career hits such as “Darlin’,” “Fire It Up” and “A Woman Like You”. Co-produced by Reid along with his live 12-piece touring band, the Soul Providers, the album is a celebration of the special connection Reid has with his audience. “I had the time of my life performing this album, along with the Soul Providers and being able to do it live across Canada. Seeing everyone’s faces in the audience, singing along to the songs is something I’ll never forget. I hope these recordings allow fans to relive the moments we spent together.” Fans hoping to catch Johnny Reid live in concert will have the chance to do so again before the end of the year as he has been invited to join several renowned symphony orchestras on stage for a series of special holiday performances in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa.
Jade Eagleson has released his debut self-titled EP via Universal Music Canada. The four-track EP includes two versions of the Top 15 radio hit “Got Your Name On It”, the breakup song “Count The Ways” and a love song entitled “Still Gonna Be You”. Eagleson has hit the road on his first national tour with Canadian country star Gord Bamford. “It’s hard to believe we’re finally able to release my debut EP,” says Jade. “My co-writers, Todd Clark, Gavin Slate and Travis Wood, and I have been chompin’ at the bit to release these tracks. I sure am proud of these songs and hope everyone loves them as much as I do”.
Much heralded roots performer Colter Wall has a new album out entitled “Songs Of the Plains”. The Saskatchewan born singer and songwriter captures the traditional Americana sound in his work, and his Facebook page suggests he draws his influences from sources as disparate as Townes Van Zandt, The Band and Jack White. He’s currently on a world tour so look for him to pass by your neck of the woods at some point. http://www.colterwall.com/tour/
Montreal native Ilona Pal is back with a striking tribute to James Dean (and equally poignant video) called “A Farm In Indiana”. She was inspired to write the song after watching a movie about friendship, love and loss called “Life”. The film is based upon Dennis Stock’s historic 1955 photo shoot of iconic actor James Dean in Fairmount, Indiana, for that still famous spread in Life Magazine. “The song was a gift,” says Ilona. “I wasn’t looking to write a song about James Dean that day, the song was looking for me”. https://www.facebook.com/roman.mitz