Almost Famous

My Continuing Adventures As A San Francisco Entertainment Journalist

By Kimberlye Gold

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This month: Interview with Shana Morrison!

Greetings, Heraldonians, long time no connect! Hope the summer is treating you well. Caught Joan Jett at the Marin County Fair – she looked and sounded every bit as good as in her heyday and has a new CD Sinner coming out that rocks as hard as any she’s ever done. Caught jazz diva Sony Holland at the Fillmore Jazz Festival – she just keeps getting better and better. Attended the Best of the Bay Party for San Francisco Magazine - great array of fine food, drink and people watching. Finally saw the delectable Beach Blanket Babylon, a must-see sheer delight for San Francisco natives and tourists for over three decades. They remembered me immediately as “The Auditoner!” (from my “Dog Bites” article in the SF Weekly) when I called and graciously comped me. Hilarious and completely entertaining from start to finish. Emily Baloney has become a bonafide star and the director, Kenny Mazlow was very friendly and even said, “You did the Janis Joplin song!” So where’s MY job??? More about this next time. Until then, get my CD Sycamore Street at cdbaby.com/kimberlye.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting the lovely and talented Shana Morrison, daughter of Van the Man. But the diminutive 29 year-old brunette beauty is no mere spawn of a celebrity, living off her daddy’s legacy. With a versatile, huge voice that defies her petite stature and breezy, down-to-earth demeanor, Shana has amassed an impressive catalogue of four CDs of eclectic, strong material that should be heard all over the radio. From the Sophie B. Hawkins sounding “I Spy” to the rockin’ “Drive”, to the sexy “Cherry on Top”, Ms. Morrison’s soulful, bluesy style refuses to be stuck in a single genre box. It’s probably what has kept her simmering under the radar for 12 years, which is the way she seems to like it. Taking a break from finishing her new CD That’s Who I Am and making tour plans for the Galway Festival in Ireland, the Mill Valley native was kind enough to meet me at the Depot Café to fill us in on her past, present and future…

KG: Where are you from originally?

SM: I grew up half and half between here and Los Angeles. I was born in upstate New York and moved to Marin when I was two years old. I went to Jr. High School, High School and college in LA. I lived in London for a year after school. After that, I came back to Marin for what I thought was going to be a little while and now it’s been 12 years!

KG: What do you think of the music scene here, as opposed to LA?

SM: I like it a lot. It’s a lot smaller definitely. There’s no real music business here, and you do have to travel a lot. Everyone is very supportive and helps each other out; it’s not as competitive as down south. I like the camaraderie, and all the musicians kind of know each other. There’s also a lot of paying gigs here. At first, we started playing Irish pubs for lots of people and it was really fun, but we made no money. Then we started playing places once a month for a small cover for less people. It was hard at first, but you start building a little following and you can start raising ticket prices gradually and work your way up to making some money, whereas in LA there is never any money.

KG: Where do you play in Marin?

SM: The Sweetwater obviously, Rancho Nicasio, Café Amsterdam, 19 Broadway, 142 Throckmorton Theatre, New George’s when that was still there. We’ve made our rounds over the years.

KG: Do you play guitar to write?

SM: I can pick out basic chords on piano, then I hand it to the other musicians to actually play (laughs).

KG: Do you co-write?

SM: Some, I write a lot on my own. When I get tired of 1, 4, 5 chords, then I go to one of the other guys and say, “Hey, you want to write something and add some different chords?” (laughs again) When the band members co-write, we all have a common goal. They’re not necessarily just living my dream. They’re involved in the creative process too.

KG: You basically write all the material yourself and use them as arrangers?

SM: If I co-write, I co-write… they’ll write the music, and I’ll write the words usually. Otherwise, I’ll just write on my own.

KG: Do you write with people outside of the band?

SM: Yes, with both.

KG: I presume you don’t like to be asked about your dad and you would like to keep it separate. Is that standard?

SM: Definitely, I’m here to talk about me, and he doesn’t need any more publicity. (laughs)

KG: I just wanted to get that out of the way because I’m sure everybody wants to ask you about him. Do you ever do any work together? Is that how you got started?

SM: Yeah, we have. I have sung backup on some of his records. He played a harmonica solo on my last record. But I didn’t actually choose to play music professionally until after college. My dad was in a review with a lot of other guest artists. It was about a 2-hour show, my dad was on and off. My friend Brian, this great singer, was one of the guests. I got to sing two duets with him and two duets with my dad, and I did this for about a year. I had always sung in choirs in school, but I didn’t want to do it as a living. I didn’t find it to be an attractive lifestyle, but I really got the performance bug after that year with my dad. Well, I thought, I do write songs and if I’m ever going to get people to hear them, I’d better do it now, rather than waiting till later and wishing I had.

KG: What were you studying in college?

SM: I was studying business and expecting to go to law school afterwards. Most of my friends got their MBA or law degree, so I did the paralegal thing, but it just wasn’t for me. I did the thing with my dad for a year, but after a while it was just very little work, very easy life, very nice hotels, four songs a night. It was like a paid vacation, really. I realized I had to do something else.

KG: Some people would have done that forever (meaning me).

SM: Yeah, I know. Not me. But it was a great learning experience. Every night was different… very impromptu. It was a great education to see how that could all work out.

KG: Tell me about the record deals you’ve had. You were on Vanguard? What happened?

SM: The thing with the record deals is I end up spending a lot of time talking to people like you on the phone, doing photo shoots and interviews, and all that is unpaid work. And I’m giving up being able to play and make an income. So, it’s really tough for me at the level that I’m at. I’ve gone back to doing my own label, and I don’t have any other obligations that are keeping me away from playing.

KG: How often do you play?

SM: As much as we can. When we’re home, I try to play every weekend.

KG: Do you book this all yourself?

SM: No, I have a booking agent who sends me the contracts and I just show up.

KG: Was it easy to find a booking agent?

SM: No, it took me several years in the beginning to find one. Before that it was just me, my friends and any way I could find a gig. After about 2 years, I found who I am working with now, and they have about 12 acts. They are based out of Vancouver, Washington. We all play the same types of venues, so it works out well.

KG: So YOU have to finance all the hotels and airfare when you tour?

SM: That’s all me. Once I get the contract, I contact the travel agent and set it all up. If we are doing a tour, I bring a road manager and they handle day-to-day stuff. But before we go, I do all the set-up as the manager of the band.

KG: Oh my God, that’s a lot of work!

SM: Yeah, it’s very time consuming. When I’m home, I’m in my office. When I’m away, I’m living out of my suitcase. So the tour is set up and my CD is done. I’ve got 5 days in Mill Valley to chill, and it’s nice to be hanging out here with you.

KG: When is your new CD going to be released?

SM: I’m bringing it on my tour with me, but it’s officially released in September. September 9th is our CD release party at the Sweetwater [in Mill Valley].

KG: What new artists do you currently like now? You’re so eclectic. Your sound at times is timeless, others very cutting edge and contemporary.

SM: I love Shelby Lynne… love her new record. Love Joss Stone.

KG: I’m dying to ask you what it was like to be on Howard Stern. Did he give you a hard time?

SM: Howard was pretty good. I have a sense of humor. I understand comedy. I was good natured. He said, “First I’m going to play your record, then I’m going to convince you not be in the music business; you’ll never live up to the legend of your father, whatever.”

KG: Do you think that’s why you got on the show? How did you get on the show in the first place?

SM: Yeah, probably. For the release of this record, we sent it out to all radio stations for the press tour, and this time he said yes. He rewarded me by listening to the record and saying “Hey, I really like your music. Where are you playing?” So, I listed upcoming shows and got ten thousand hits on my website that day.

KG: I love that song “I Spy.” That’s the one he played on the show, right?

SM: Yeah, he started to analyze it, “Let’s listen to the first line. What does that mean? Now, let’s listen to the second line…” (laughs)

KG: That’s funny!

SM: Yeah, he was very nice to me…no regrets.

KG: Did he ask you to take your top off or anything?

SM: He asked me to sit on his lap, but I said no. He said, “I didn’t think so.”

KG: Can you tell me a little bit about your personal life?

SM: I’m in a long distance relationship right now. I’ve never had one before. I’m not really sure, but it’s going pretty well. He lives on the east coast. When we met, he was living here, but he was already moving back. It’s only been since the beginning of the year, so we’ll see.

KG: Do you find that you have a good network of friends here?

SM: Yeah, most of them are in music and they’ve all made the rounds too, so we share experiences. I find that it’s a really great community to be a part of. I’ve worked with Roy Rogers, Pete Sears, a lot of the old guard, the musicians who have been playing here since the 70’s. And then there are the people who are playing the clubs for the past 10 years… Jerry Hannan, Storm and the Balls. Some of the bands have moved away or are no longer together.

KG: That’s awesome. Do you have a following in the UK?

SM: Yeah, we played there a couple of times. We played in Ireland once. We are playing the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland. That’s our anchor date and the main reason why we are going over there. The rest will just be clubs and pubs around that. Last time we played the Korg Jazz Festival. Those are the two main events, so it’s great to have that one big exposure date.

I received a lovely e-mail from Shana that stated: “I’m just listening to your CD (2nd time through now). I really like your style, good hooks, and nice group of players you’ve assembled. Fine work!”

Not only is she a very cool gal, she has great taste – heh heh…See ya next time!###

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney