This spring, folk singer Joan Shelley released her fifth solo album. For this self-titled effort, the Louisville, Kentucky native enlisted the help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy who produced and recorded the album in his Loft Recording Studio in Chicago.
With those massive resources at her fingertips, one might have expected Shelley to go big with a fuller sound and plenty of bells and whistles. “[It was] a really shocking amount of guitars. Just shocking,” she admitted in our interview. But surprisingly, Shelley doubled down on a minimalist sound that has made her stand out in an increasingly grandiose (and sometimes bombastic) production industry.
“I think we listen to so much loud and complicated music all the time. Pop radio is full of ‘Look what we can do!’ and that’s not new … I’m trying to do something different,” says Shelley. And that was the thought behind her new songs. Even less is more. The result is a sparsely arranged but strikingly beautiful collection of songs that rely heavily on subtle guitar work and deft lyricism.
Recently, Shelley and guitarist Nathan Salsburg performed songs two songs for us on a hiking trail in Portland’s Marquam Nature Park. Shelley also chatted with us about her new album, what it’s like working with Jeff Tweedy, and her moonlighting career in a honky-tonk cover band. Watch video of the performance above and listen to our interview below.