Shane Dwight has been recording and performing for 10 years, but chances are that the singer/songwriter/guitarist slipped under your radar.
As an independent artist, Dwight — who is often categorized as a blues musician but is equally comfortable in the rock and soul genres — has sold more than 60,000 albums and made a name for himself, but certainly not at the level his talent deserves.
That’s likely to change with his new R-Tist Records release, A Hundred White Lies. It features a dozen songs, 11 of them original, that showcase the many sides of Shane Dwight while never straying from a central sound.
Dwight definitely sings and writes the blues, but he also rocks — and rocks hard — on vocals and guitar. The album was produced by his next-door neighbor, Grammy Award winner Kevin McKendree, at his Rock House Studio in Franklin, Tenn. McKendree also played keyboards on the album. Delbert McClinton’s touring band also accompanied Dwight on the album: Rob McNelley - guitar, Lynn Williams – drums and Stephen Mackey - bass. Bekka Bramlett and the McCrary Sisters provided background vocals.
Dwight plans to spend a lot of time on the road promoting the new album. He recently discussed the challenges of being an independent artist, how he learned the ropes about the music industry, the benefits of relocating from California to Nashville and the surprisingly effortless way that his new album came together.
You’ve released seven CDs in 10 years and received airplay on radio stations in 30 countries. Do you sometimes feel like the industry’s best-kept secret? The people who know you, love you, but not enough people know you to love you?
Putting out my own CDs has been a blessing and a curse. I put them out on my own label and sold them through the Internet and at my shows and kind of learned along the way. The first CDs were very traditional blues and that’s a niche in itself. It’s a small niche and a wonderful niche, and I love it. It has provided me with a great forum, but that said, I wasn’t really putting out original music in the beginning. I’m from a small horse-ranching town, Morgan Hills, and I didn’t know anything about a record label.
I was able to make a CD and sell it at my shows and it started selling a bunch, so I was able to make more CDs. I learned about being a label and how to promote and get it on the radio as I went. It’s been a learning curve. I was in a little town and didn’t know what I was doing. I just kept doing it. Now we’ve formed a great team of people that have helped me get heard, and hopefully more people will become aware of it.
How do you adapt to the learning curve when the industry is constantly changing?
I think there are some really great attributes in the way the music industry functions right now in terms of people being able to get their music heard a lot easier. Years back, you were either with a major or you didn’t have anything. Now there’s a way that independent artists can be heard and get their music out there and that part is great. The downside is — yesterday or the day before, I Googled the album to see if there were new reviews, and sure enough, I found free downloads of the whole album.
Somebody’s already found a way to pirate it. That part is inevitable. You find ways to counterbalance and people seem to be OK with it. I’ve had fans ask, “You charge that much for a CD?” And I say, “Yeah, we’re offsetting the cost of the ones we don’t sell, because people will find ways to get it for free.” Most people will fork over the money because of that. If they’re fans, they want to stand by it. You get out there and sell your merch direct and people understand. I have people who have gotten it for free and buy it because they want to hand me the money. It’s a learning curve for everybody.
How did moving to Nashville three years ago help advance your career?
The move to Nashville has been great. I’ve found that there’s a lot of roots music there, and as much as I’m a blues artist, it’s not really a blues record. It crosses a lot of genres. I would call it roots music because if you say blues and then go out and play what I play, people who are accustomed to old blues hear me and say, “That’s not blues at all.” I think the move there, that whole Delbert McClinton crew in the peripheral, all the people and friends that I’ve met — they love roots music and blues music.
Some of those guys are on the most current country records, but what they really love to do is the more bluesy kind of roots music. I think there’s a lot of love for it there. Because I play a variety of music, I’ve always had a lot of work in venues outside of blues venues, bigger concerts, opening up for people, doing concert series that weren’t blues specific at all. I’ve been able to jump around and do things that didn’t pigeonhole me to the blues festival world, so I’ve stayed real busy all the time.
Speaking of blues, the songs on this album were written about the breakup of your marriage. Were you concerned about putting too much of your business on the streets, as they say?
It crossed my mind, but I’ve always done that with my writing. I’ve never been a writer that makes up stories. Some people write great stories, not so introspectively, where that’s never been my strong suit. Mostly it’s something I’m experiencing at the moment. What came out was honest and a little painful for everyone involved, but it was also cathartic. It hurt, but it healed too. Some of the lyrics are really harsh, but they’re also kind of funny, like, “Wow, you actually said that about me?” “Yeah, I really did, sorry. You wouldn’t take my calls and let me tell you what I thought.” It was very painful. There are a couple of songs, like “Broken,” that it’s going to be a long time before I can sing them live.
The recording experience came via an interesting chain of events. Your next-door neighbor, Kevin McKendree, produced the album. How did that working relationship come about?
It was one of my favorite recording experiences. The studio was right next to my house, which is kind of amazing. I was introduced to him by my other neighbor. One day, my other neighbor said, “Kevin plays with some guy named Delbert.” A day or two later I saw him out on a walk with his family and I introduced myself. We hung out a few times and we just hit it off.
We felt like we were the same kind of people. Kevin got me; he understood what I was doing. I went in the studio to do some demos and I hired Rob McNelley and some of the guys. Malcolm Bruce, Jack Bruce’s son, was staying with Kevin at the time, so Malcolm helped me with the early demos of the record. At that point I was just demoing and feeling these songs out. Kevin was adamant about producing the record and it came out great.
What was the tracking process like?
It was fantastic. We brought in Delbert’s band and we all tracked together. We talked about each song for about five minutes, we went in and played it and that was it. We took take 1 or 2 or 3, whichever was better. The only song that took maybe more than 20 minutes to cut was the title track, “A Hundred White Lies,” because it was total freeform. They were following me on the changes, on the fly, like, “Whenever I go to this part, we all change,” so that one took a little time.
I wanted a certain kind of feel to the album, so we’d draw up the charts and run through it. Kevin played keyboards. Rob played in the main room with the drums, so all his guitar stuff bled right into the drum mic. I isolated my amp for the more contemporary-sounding stuff, but I played with everybody in the room live for all the straight-ahead blues stuff, like “I’m Talkin’ To You,” “She Struts 22,” three or four songs like that. There were no long, drawn-out rehearsals. We talked about the feel of the song, charted it out and played it.
Was this your first time recording live with no preproduction?
Yeah. A lot of the last record, Gimme Back My Money, was me and an engineer named Jim Hawthorne in California. We did the whole record ourselves. A couple of tracks had live drums, most were a drum machine, we both played bass, he plays piano and we pieced the record together that way. The second record I did was the last time I brought in a band, but this was my blues band at the time and it was songs we’d been playing and rehearsing. That was a long time ago. This record was a lot more organic and natural, and it was wonderful.
Learn more about Shane Dwight when he’s live in the studio with Bill Wax on December 1 on XM radio. Also check him out online at ShaneDwight.com.
— Alison Richter
Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.
Photo: Judy Tilley