Stephens grew up in a house filled with music. As an infant, she sat under the piano as her mother rehearsed hymns for the church service. Her father hosted hootenannies in the family home, singing and strumming a sunburst Gibson. Stephens studied both piano and voice as a child and wrote her first song at the age of 7 – a ballad of heartbreak and longing titled “Where Is My Pie?” As a young adult, she delved into poetry and still keeps, hidden well away, a 3-ring binder overflowing with mortifying adolescent poetry. During a particularly boring teenaged summer, she sat on her bed and learned to play the acoustic guitar, starting, as everyone did in those days, with a soulful cover of Extreme’s “More than Words.” She soon ventured into songwriting, and was driven to seek out other musicians to satisfy her urge for musical collaboration.
In 1993 she moved to Michigan where she became the voice of the folk/rock band Marzuki, an ensemble assembled and co-led by Sufjan Stevens. When Marzuki disbanded, Stephens moved to Seattle and embarked on a solo career, recording her self-titled debut LP in 1999. Shortly after its release, Stephens lost her taste for the business side of musicianship and retreated, spending the next eight years focusing on home, family, and the pleasures of an abundant garden. Those years of domesticity gave rise to 2009’s The Breadwinner – an album described by Exclaim! magazine as “intensely relevant, lyrically incisive and richly deserving of your attention.” Jon Pareles of the New York Times said of The Breadwinner “she finds moments of companionship and epiphany, when the commonplace falls away.” Bonnie Prince Billy covered Stephens’ song “I’ll Be Glad” on his 2008 album Lie Down In The Light. In 2010, Asthmatic Kitty Records re-released her debut LP, which was included in the Paste magazine feature “Five Amazing Albums In My iTunes You’ve Never Heard Of”.
Stephens produced Pull It Together, due to be released in May of 2012, with the help of Grammy-award winning engineer Kory Kruckenberg. The album brings together a brilliant cast of musicians, including Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Isobel Campbell) on guitar, James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the Lion) on drums and Steve Moore (Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs) on keyboards. It features a duet with Bonnie Prince Billy, a collaboration with New York songwriter DM Stith, and backing vocals by Galen Disston of Pickwick.
Pull It Together represents a leap in confidence and songcraft for Stephens. Greater maturity has brought a both a looser, louder style and a more sharply focused worldview. Add to this the influence of a burgeoning Seattle scene that sees artists like Allen Stone and Pickwick playing music meant to counteract the gloom of a damp Seattle winter, and you’ve got an album that’s sure to shake the dust from your boots.
Shannon Stephens and her Fabulous Friends – the talented group that backs her on stage – have spent the past couple of years playing out and touring the west coast. They plan to tour nationally with Pull It Together.
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Edited by askitty on 12 Feb 2012, 22:09
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