Perth-based singer-songwriter Helen Shanahan has released her new single Canvas, an emotional and vulnerable track about allowing oneself to be completely taken over by another person. The soulful artist has also released a powerful video to accompany the track, following the life of a young girl as she grows up, learning to lessen herself to suit others, made in collaboration with filmmaker and photographer Jane Tionowidjaja. Canvas is just a taste of what is to come ahead of the release of Helen’s new album of the same name which is out now. Helen will be celebrating the album with a local launch show at Night Owl Studio in Morley, WA tonight. Helen tells Hi Fi Way more about the single and album.
How has the build-up been leading up to the release of your single Canvas?
The build up has been both stressful and exciting! I definitely go on a rollercoaster of “oh no, this is terrible” to “I can’t wait for people to hear!”. It’s always a mammoth task to get the music out there, so in that way it’s always a little overwhelming! I need to take it one day at a time.
Was the process of making your album as challenging as you thought?
I thought it may be more challenging considering I recorded the album remotely (I recorded my guitar and vocals in Perth, then sent the tracks to Nashville to be produced) – however I was working with two long time collaborators who made the process easy. It definitely helps when you trust and respect those you work with – and know they will deliver. The biggest challenge for me was to get my energy levels right in the vocals, as I had to picture what might be behind my voice before it was recorded!
Sonically, how would you describe your music?
My music can be described as “folk music with a pop sensibility” and a focus on acoustic instruments.
Who would you consider to be the biggest influence on your music and why?
Missy Higgins is probably the biggest influence on me musically, her melodies really inspire me. I love the honesty in her lyrics, and the character she brings to each one of her songs.
Best piece of advice you have been given?
Try to be true to yourself and hold your ground – the right audience will find you!
What is the Helen Shanahan life story?
I was born in Perth and grew up with three sisters. My younger brother came along when I was 16 (he’s now nearly 18…oh god I’m getting old!). In high school I was always interested in music, but was not confident in performing my original songs in front of people. I went to Uni and studied Communication and Cultural Studies, but it wasn’t until I entered a university singing competition that it inspired me to do some open mic nights. I then became addicted to open mic nights, and realised I should have been doing music all along. I went to the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) to hone my very raw craft – and upon graduating released my EP Driftwood.
In 2013 I won the national songwriting competition The Telstra Road to Discovery and from then on, I got to travel to Nashville and beyond. In 2015 I embarked on a small national tour to promote my follow up EP Finding Gold. I returned to Nashville in 2016 to record my debut album Every Little Sting and to do some co-writing. I got married in the same year to my husband Matt! We moved to London in 2019 (with our dog Toby) and I recorded a single, played lots of gigs, taught music (and even worked at the Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill). In early 2020 we were forced to come home due to the pandemic, and I was also pregnant. My daughter Bonnie is now 15 months old, and we are happily living in Perth (albeit on the precipice of a rather large COVID outbreak… we lasted pretty long otherwise!).
Are you looking to tour more broadly?
I would love to! There are a few external factors that might stop me this year, but I am going to try my best to get my music out there!
What’s next for Helen Shanahan?
I am going to be promoting my album for the rest of the year, be it through live streams or live shows. I’ve started up a monthly songwriters night called The Songwriters Cafe, which is based on the ‘in the round’ Nashville format, aimed to showcase the best local talent.
Interview By Rob Lyon