The Rocks Off 100: Shellee Coley, Voice of the Northern Woods
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there, too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Who? Shellee Coley is a folk artist formerly signed to Magnolia Red who crafts some of the finest acoustic music in the city. Her first EP, The Girl the Stencil Drew, was a stripped-down, soft piece of poetry that hinted at some really fantastic things to come. This time last year, she let loose with a full-length album, Where It Began, that was one of the best albums of 2012. With a voice like wind through dead trees and some really fantastic Southern-Gothic despair in her approach, she remains one of our treasures.
It's big-folks music that will appeal to the grown-ups. Coley's angsts and desires are not the feelings of teenagers, but the laments of parents and spouses. Good stuff that you won't regret checking out for a second. If nothing else, download her ode to the beautiful insanity of daughters in "Conversations with Z." The song will have you tearing up if you have even only the tiniest sliver of humanity.
Home Base: Most of the time Coley crafts her tunes curled up in bed with her guitar. For performance, she likes Main Street Crossing and Dosey Doe, big venues for other northern acoustic acts like Kathryn Hallberg and Mason Lankford. Coley enjoys the incredible sound engineering and clarity available at the spots, which is important for her as a lyricist.
Good War Story: "Hmm...does sibling war count?" she asks. "My sister and I have had some pretty good knock-down drag-outs. One year at Thanksgiving, there was a lot of wine thrown and people left before pie was served.
"There was no blood, but there could have been if my mother had not threatened us with our lives," she adds. "And yes, we were full-grown adults at the time and I think it had to do with the game 'Catch Phrase.' STUPID GAME!"
Why Do You Stay in Houston? Coley actually headed out to Nashville to make her mark as a musician when she was a teenager. On a trip home one year, she found herself surrounded by people who made art, not just music, in the Houston scene, and it inspired her more than Nashville ever did. She's been here ever since.
Music Scene Pet Peeve: "That point when musicians start to get popular because of what they are doing well and then all the indie people start hating them because they 'sold out' or went mainstream," says Coley. "And the business people want to keep pumping them for more 'hits' or whatever and they start burning out.
"It is so hard as an artist to find the balance," she says. "We all want a certain amount of success, even if that is just having a steady stream of income to keep doing what we do... but nobody wants to be considered a sellout either."
Top Five Desert Island Discs:
Greg Laswell, Three Flights to Alto Nido
Patty Griffin, Flaming Red
Beatles, White Album
Black Keys, Brothers
First Song You Ever Fell in Love With: "[Johnny Lee's] 'Lookin' for Love in all the Wrong Places,'" Coley says of the Urban Cowboy tune. "I had it on a 45 record and would lay on the floor and listen to it over and over again when I was a kid."
Best Concert You Ever Attended: "Rufus Wainwright was the best 'show' I have ever been to," she says. "But I recently got to see Paul McCartney when he came to Houston, and hands down it was the best musical experience OF MY LIFE! Total magic!"
Shellee Coley plays Tuesday, April 2, at La Carafe, 813 Congress.
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.