“The Man Who Made Himself a Name” comes out March 10 — and no, the title track is not about Donald Trump.
With the release of her latest LP, “The Man Who Made Himself a Name,” on Friday, March 10, Seattle singer-songwriter Shelby Earl says she’s no longer afraid of performance.
“John Richards of KEXP asked me to come in every morning this week and play a solo acoustic song,” laughs Earl, who will celebrate the release of her third record Friday night in Spokane at The Bartlett. “A few years ago, I never could have done this. I would have been so afraid. Now, though, I’m like, ‘Whatever, I don’t have to be anything else but me. All I can do is show up and use the voice I have. There’s a calm in that.”
But don’t get it wrong; Earl’s voice is big, breathy and strong. But it’s also the nuance of her lyrics and the push in her production that distinguishes her as one of the Emerald City’s finest players.
“With this new record,” she says, “I knew ultimately it was going to be bigger — I wanted to go big this time.” So she connected with a backing group, The Spectacles, and the energy between the musicians felt more upbeat. Her last record, “Swift Arrows,” produced by Seattle legend Damien Jurado, had a rougher, more remorseful quality to it.
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Earl says she wrote the songs on “Name” from a more joyous place and The Spectacles helped her find that tone. “Their whole premise is ‘Yes!’ ” she says. “They’re very open, and we had a really safe space for ideas. It was just so positive and exciting to me.”
There are many highlights on the new 11-track album, but two that especially stand out are the volcanic “James” and the somber-but-conflicted piano ballad “Like I Do,” which features Josiah Johnson of the Seattle band The Head and the Heart. But perhaps the most interesting story comes from the titular track — specifically how the idea of “making it” relates to Earl’s own career and place in the business.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” she says. “I’ve never been one to want fame. What I want is sustainability. But for a musician, that often comes with pushing your own name. I feel conflicted about that a lot.”
And the song, itself, she says is getting a lot of attention from people who think it’s about the current U.S. president. “I wrote it two years ago, but everyone thinks it’s about Trump,” she says. “We have this extreme example of someone who will do anything in the service of their own name, of their own myth. But the song is not about him!”
But for someone who’s only ever wanted to sing, Earl has made her own wish come true.
“I’ve come to love my imperfections,” she says. “They make you more confident to use your own voice.”