Shellee Coley Loves Singing Crappy Pop Songs With Her Kids
Adam P. Newton recently became a father for the first time, so he has decided to explain the entirety of post-WWII Western pop music to his new daughter, "Fig"…one genre at a time.
Welcome back, Fig. Then again, you can’t go that far on your own right now, since you’re barely five months old. This week I wanted to chat with Shellee Coley a bit about the intersection of music, parenting and being true to yourself, since she’s released three different records packed with songs discussing those very topics. I used to refer to her style as “kitchen-sink folk,” but I now realize such a description reinforces a negative gender stereotype.
These days, I simply think of her as one of the most sincere and authentic songwriters making music in Houston today.
Houston Press: When did you decide you wanted to play music? To be a musician? To write words set to music for other people to hear?
Shellee Coley: Well, I grew up singing in church, played piano some, and went to college at Belmont for music. I played gigs around Nashville some while I was there, but I quickly lost my desire for the music industry once I got into the thick of it. It wasn't until I moved back to Texas in 2004 that I really began "making music" as a living. I didn't even start playing the guitar (though I tried many times earlier in life) or release my first CD until I was 35.
I did write my first song with my voice teacher when I was 13, though, and I remember it to be the most fulfilling and freeing moment of my life up to that point. That, in a nutshell, is why I work with students on their writing skills. It opened up an entirely new world to me, and I love helping kids discover that.
How would you describe your overall journey as an artist? What have been some of the overt and oh-so-subtle ways your story has influenced who you are as a musician?
I could pick so many things. But honestly, my journey could be described as "late to the party.” I sat on a back porch one day and told my then-husband that I felt lost without music, and I had always wanted to make a CD. We met Jeffery Armstreet of Red Tree Studio shortly after that, and 6 years later, the rest is history. Lots of fast-paced hard work, but totally worth it.
How do you balance being a mom and musician? Or is the idea of balance mythical?
Well, if I boil it down to days and moments vs. the overarching idea of either mom or musician, I guess I can say I have balance. I have a lot of very balanced moments in each day. Motherhood is a constant source of extremes, and the music comes from those moments and soothes, so I guess in that way, the two offer a balance. That being said, I don't think any mom has very much actual “balance,” even if they don't have an outside career.
How did becoming a mom impact who you are as an artist? How does it influence you now in everyday life — especially as your kids enter adolescence?
I was a mom before I was fully engaged in my artistry, so my art definitely imitated my life. Most of my early songs are about the struggles and small celebrations of marriage and parenting. All three of my projects are very much exploring the daily life of a wife and mother. My kids are in full-swing adolescence now, so I've had to hang up using them as too much inspiration. They don't find it near as cool any more :) I did, however, manage to get my preteen daughter to star in a video with me ["Conversations With Z" this past year. That was a feat I don't take lightly and I assume she will need lots of counseling for later in life (haha).
What do you tell your kids about the music industry? Do your kids show any interest in being a musician?
Both of my kids have shown some interest here and there in instruments and the idea of producing music, but I just listen to their ideas as if they were any other conversation. I don't have a concern one way or another of they do or don't choose a career in music. I assume the industry will be so different by the time they decide that it's really not even relevant at this point.
What role does music play around your home? How do you talk to your kids about music?
We listen to a lot of different stuff. I made them listen to Dylan; they make me listen to rap and dubstep and and cheesy pop. And we all take turns being the DJ in the car, so we get a good balance. Someone recently told me that they were surprised I allowed my children to listen to "crappy radio pop," being the kind of artist/writer I am. And here is my response to that: some of my most wonderful moments as a parent have come from "allowing" my children to listen to what I would consider “crappy” and never letting on to them that I think that. I just sing along and act like it's the most wonderful song ever.
Most of the time, they out grow it and naturally grow into more thoughtful and intelligent taste as they enter new phases, but even if they don't, many of those songs are some of our most awesome memories together. You cannot sing along with your daughter to Taylor Swift and not smile....its a FACT. :) Also, a ton of very important conversations about their thoughts on sexuality and drugs and relationships have come from me listening to those songs with them. I wouldn't trade those moments for all the Dylan songs in the world.
What advice do you have for parents whose kids want to be musicians?
Never tell them to get a “Plan B.” Tell them to work their ass off at what they love to do and don't be afraid to have lots of "day jobs.” Have you ever heard a parent tell their kid to have a Plan B in any other career? Nope. Ever industry can be volatile. Every industry can sell you out. Be flexible. Be willing to keep learning. And be willing to have lots of part-time jobs while you get your version of a degree (playing gig after gig).
Notice I didn't say, "Don't go to college!" If you want to or your parents want you to, then go. But don't go as a Plan B. Go because it's a learning experience, and you can't possibly learn too many things!
Do you have any advice for parents on how to introduce your kids to music?
First, you need to lead. Lead with confidence and don't be afraid to challenge them out of what every other kid is listening to. Even if they roll their eyes. Sooner or later, they will be informing you, and that is the most beautiful experience ever. I definitely wouldn't have ever found Mac DeMarco on my own if I hadn't been willing to give up the lead. I see that as a win.
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