shelly

Shelly Colvin

Week 10 - June 23, 2011

Our friend Shelly Colvin’s musical tastes are heavily influenced by the laid-back sounds that came out of Southern California in its hippie heyday, meaning they skew a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Her interior design style, however, is firmly rooted in the former.

The charming log cabin on East Nashville’s Riverside Drive that Shelly and her husband Jeff call home brims with a welcoming sort of sophisticated country charm, much like the lady of the house. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, when Shelly isn’t working her day job as the sales director of our buddy Billy Reid’s Nashville boutique, she’s writing soulful country songs on her acoustic guitar that have become her professional calling card here and on the West Coast, where she and Jeff lived before moving to Music City.

Shelly does much of her writing at her home, which is surrounded by a wide yard filled with tall, sturdy trees. The front porch is a favorite place for her and local collaborators and visiting songwriters to kick back and trade melodies; another favorite place to be creative is the living room, where long, seductively comfortable couches are interspersed with industrial-chic floor lamps and wooden accent tables; the back wall is dominated by a deep working fireplace that features a swinging iron arm, a cooking apparatus designed to hold hanging pots. (She’s determined to learn to cook in it: she recently bought a special cookbook expressly for that purpose.)

Last Monday, Shelly displayed her usual warmth as she made us comfortable during an early morning interview that started with warm coffee and just-baked biscuits and jam. While Shelly worked, she was watched intently by her beloved dog, a Yorkie Poo named in honor of her musical idol, Emmylou Harris. “The real Emmylou and I have mutual friends who have filled her in on my Emmylou,” Shelly said. “So even though they haven’t officially met, they’re well aware of each other!”

That kind of awareness can only happen in a town like Nashville, a town with people that Shelly says feed her soul and a creative community that meets her needs as an artist. “The people in Nashville are extraordinary,” she said. “It’s the southern hospitality thing, I think. The kind of manners people have here really foster a strong sense of community.”

She paused for a second, then continued: “You can find good manners in every part of the country, obviously, but they’re different here. Nashville is special.” So is Shelly.

My dad was a minister of music in the Baptist church when I was growing up. I used to sing solos in church almost every single Sunday. When I was really young, my mom and dad and I used to travel all over Alabama to Baptist churches out in the country to do concerts. It was a really great experience, really sweet. At the same time, I was listening to every Emmylou Harris record I could get my hands on. Jackson Browne, too. I loved the whole Southern California country and folk scene from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – those people are my heroes.

During summers between college years at the University of Alabama, I interned with MTV in New York. It was such a good gig; I loved the people and the work. When I graduated, they offered me a job in Los Angeles. I moved there in 2000. I had already met Jeff by that time, so he moved out with me and started law school. He lived in Malibu and went to Pepperdine University, and I lived in Venice. After we got married, he moved down to live with me.

I started thinking about playing music about six months after I moved to Los Angeles. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a singer. I liked being on stage, and I was always involved in the local theater, and was in local plays and musicals growing up in Huntsville. I did some work in the drama department of the University of Alabama when I was in school, too. I never thought I could do it professionally, though. Still, in the back of my mind, I always knew that I had to explore it and see if I could make the dream I had when I was little come true.

Things went well. I got noticed and signed a recording deal with Chris Hillman, who was a member of the Byrds, and Herb Pederson. They were a duo at the time and had been in the Desert Rose Band together. I was mainly singing harmony with other people early in my career, and Herb is the master of that; he sang on all those early Emmylou Harris albums. He sang with her on that song “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”

I also had a production deal with Mike Post, who everyone knows for writing all those TV theme songs, like “Hill Street Blues” and “The Greatest American Hero” and “Law & Order.” Back when I was shopping around, he had just started a company and was signing new artists. Mike co-produced a record for me with Jimmy Bowen, who is such a legend. He was in Nashville for many years, and produced Hank Williams and Reba and all the big names. He ran all the record labels, too; he would literally come in, turn the label around and make it profitable, and then go on to the next one and do the same thing. The album I made with him never came out. To be honest, I’ve never had a record come out. That’s going to change later this year: I’m in the studio right now, working on an album.

We loved California, but we definitely saw ourselves moving back to the South at some point. Four years ago, some family stuff came up and I felt I needed to be closer to home. I had to convince Jeff to move to L.A. initially, but by the time we started to talk about leaving, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to leave. Now, we’re both so glad that we did. I mean, I loved living in California; if I could have the community of people out there that I have here, that’d be the best. Nashville is something else, though; I feel like we’re here at a special time.

Everything is falling into place. For years and years, things kept me from really doing what I want to do, silly things that I could never really wrap my brain around. Like, I made record that wasn’t going to come out because of a decision the label made – things like that that were out of my control. About two years ago, I decided I had to take control of what was happening. I decided I was going to make the kind of music I wanted to make and put it out myself if I had to. I took the job with Billy, which I love; when I’m not there, I spend the rest of time I have being creative. Billy couldn’t be more supportive.

I didn’t know how driven by music Billy is when I started there; I just knew it was a cool place to work – and he’s in Alabama! I love that he’s based his business there.

Our house was another thing that just fell into place perfectly. When we first moved back, we rented one of those little Spanish houses in the Little Hollywood area of East Nashville. That is, we were until I found the listing for this house on the Internet. At that time, we weren’t looking; we weren’t in a position to buy a house. But I’d always wanted to live in a log cabin, so I called the listing agent and left a message for him that said, “I’m having a stroke here: this is my house! I’ve got to see it as soon as possible!”

The guy called me back a little later and said, “Hey, I’m calling to help prevent someone from having a stroke…” We talked for a minute and then he said, “Your name is Shelly Colvin; are you related to Jeff Colvin?” I told him yes, that Jeff was my husband. It ends up that Jeff is his music attorney; the guy is in a duet.

It gets more bizarre: Jeff had also been working with him on a deal for a home renovation show that aired last year on CMT. (Our house is featured on it: it was in horrible shape before we took it, and all that was documented on the show!)

From the time the house went on the market, he had been getting offers on it like crazy. I know that if we hadn’t known him some through some way other than just RealTrax and if he hadn’t wanted to do something nice for us, we might not be in here now. It was definitely meant to be. We moved in two years ago, in July.

The house was built in the early 1900s. We don’t know who built it, but whoever did also built two other houses close by: the two others back up to us, on the street behind ours. All three are made from ashwood trees that were on the property. Apparently, these trees have a fungus that it going to make them extinct pretty soon; they’re already pretty rare. So we’re saving the wood from the tree that fell during the last storm – it nicked the corner of the roof – and using it to make something like a piece of furniture.

As far as my work, I write in the main room; it has good energy. To get inspired, I play records on an old record player we have. I have my Neil Young and my Emmylou records that I love … and I have a particular Roseanne Cash album that I like to listen to a lot.

People come over to write with me, like Mando Saenz – he’s one of my favorite poets, ever. He comes over and we sit in there on the couches and play and make our little work tapes. It’s really inspiring. People love to play in that room. Pretty frequently, we have bands that Jeff works with stay with us. When the house is full of musicians like that, eventually everyone ends up sitting around in here or out on the porch, jamming together. That happens a lot, actually. And it’s unbelievably fun.

-I + W

About our photographer: Joshua Black Wilkins is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter. He also makes photographs of musicians, actors, models, strangers and weirdos. See his work at www.joshuablackwilkins.com and www.Facebook.com/joshuablackwilkins.com.