Born and raised on Long Island, Shannon McNally has called New Orleans, Nashville, and Holly Springs, Mississippi, home. However, it was in Los Angeles that she first came to national attention in the early 2000s with her debut album, Jukebox Sparrows. The collection garnered high profile spotlights from NPR to Rolling Stone, and earned the songstress high-profile slots on Letterman, Leno, and Conan, as well as concert dates with Stevie Nicks, Robert Randolph, and John Mellencamp among others. A restless creative spirit with a magnetic personality, McNally would go on to release a wide range of similarly lauded albums, EPs, and collaborations over the next 15 years, performing on stage and in the studio with the likes of Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Charlie Sexton, Derek Trucks, Terry Allen, and many more. In 2018, she began work on her new album, The Waylon Sessions – a collection of songs from Waylon Jennings and his outlaw cohorts.
What is your own background/ethnic heritage?
I am mostly Irish. The rest of me is northwestern European.
Where do you currently reside?
I live in Nashville, TN these days.
When and why did you start playing music?
My folks always had great records and took me to shows. Most notably, in my youngest days I remember seeing Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt and The Clancy Brothers, who often played on Long Island, NY on my birthday, St. Patrick’s Day. My dad was a stone-cold, third generation New York City Irishman and never missed the Clancys and Tommy Makem when they came to NY. They were all drinking buddies at the White Horse Tavern once upon a time, and he saw them at Carnegie Hall when they recorded that famous record. I heard that record my whole life. All through school, and from a very early age, I played instruments and was in the choir. I started joining bands once I got to college. I knew making music was my destiny after seeing Tom Petty multiple times between 1987-1997.
Are they the same reasons you do it today?
How have you evolved as an artist over that time?
Well, I never really got to be part of a long-term band so I had to figure out how to be a solo artist and have bands. That has really expanded my horizons.
How would you describe your style and sound today?
Right now, I am playing straight classic outlaw country and drawing heavily on the pedal steel. All the grooves remind me of horse gaits; it is all west Texas and Mexican border.
What are the challenges of the vocation?
Fatigue, rejection, and addiction.
What are the rewards?
When it is great it is amazing! You meet people and go places that blow your mind. You are transformed regularly, and it keeps life from truly getting boring.
What went into the new recording?
Everything I have ever learned and know plus a little courage. My goal wasn’t to force anything onto the music that wasn’t there already. There is a feminine perspective hidden somewhere inside each of these songs. My job was to find a way to tap into that and draw it out.
Do you have a favourite track?
What has the response been like so far?
Fantastic. People are connecting and responding with the record. I am greatly relieved.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
It is completely inspirational, though the perspiration is necessary to keep the inspiration coming.
What makes a good song?
A good song does all the work for you, all you have to do is show up.
What’s on your creative agenda for the rest of 2021?
Write a lot of new songs.