Shannon Saunders is on the BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST panel
Despite only being 20-years-old, Shannon Saunders has already lived quite the life. Having started uploading acoustic covers and heart-felt versions of her own songs onto her YouTube channel from the tender age of 14, Shannon’s since cultivated her own ever-increasing fan-base, toured the UK twice, sung on the soundtrack to a Hollywood film and, finally and most importantly, figured out who she is as an artist and crafted a brilliantly idiosyncratic debut album built around the crystalline synth pop of ‘Sheets’, a song that dominated the Hype Machine chart at #1 when it emerged online. That ‘Sheets’ only represents one facet of who Shannon Saunders is says a lot not only about the broad scope of influences she filters into her music – from blood-letting songwriters like James Blake and Sia to dance-infused experimentalists like Flume and Nina Kraviz – but also this sense of an artist awakening. “I think there’s a sense of not knowing where it will end up” she says. “I don’t like to over think things.” This sense of ‘giving things a go’ is a thread that weaves throughout her entire musical history. Inspired to pick up the acoustic guitar by watching her auntie, she was also, perhaps unconsciously, influenced by the music played in the family home. “When I was young my mum played Eva Cassidy and my dad would play loads of dance music because he used to be in the rave scene,” she explains. “That’s why now I like both the song-y songs and the ‘dancier’ stuff too – I love extremes -I sort of mix those two extremes together.”
With the more acoustic side of things initially making more of an impact, the 14-year-old Shannon started covering songs from the chart, impressing her friends enough that they persuaded her to start uploading them on YouTube. “I’d write songs on the guitar then and post videos on YouTube because my friends told me it would be a good idea. Then they got a few views so I thought about it more like a hobby, like if I saw a song I liked I could cover it and pop it online.”
Slowly but surely word got out about her covers and original songs – “I’d be inspired by songs I liked at the time and school stuff,” she says of the latter – and the account grew to 52,000 subscribers, which is when things got really interesting.“Basically, when I was 15 or 16 I was contacted and asked if I wanted to come to London to be in this competition, My Camp Rock 2. I just did it without any intentions and went with the flow,” Shannon explains, surprisingly nonchalantly. Hailing from Swindon, she’d not really been to the ‘big smoke’ much so was more excited about a day out during her summer holidays. “I just went down and auditioned and I didn’t expect to get through and I did,” she smiles. From there she recorded a song for the soundtrack to the film Tangled, as well as writing for Disney artists (all at the age of just 16, remember). “It feels really far away now but if I hadn’t of done that then I wouldn’t be where I am now because I got the opportunity to write with songwriters like Dee [Adam] who I’ve been writing with since then.”
Brave and forthright enough to already know what she wanted, she decided to part ways with Disney and set about uncovering the route her music would take her. The first thing to go? The acoustic guitar.
“Basically I stopped hiding behind it,” she laughs. “I discovered beats and all these different sounds. I was going out a lot – I went to Ibiza when I was 17 or 18 and experienced that life. I liked that you could just sing along in a club and a girls voice comes on and it could be me. It expanded my mind in terms of music and what I could do with it.” Slap bang in that period where you start to work out who you are and what you like and don’t like, Shannon’s music started to evolve and mutate, almost taking its creator by surprise. One of the first songs she wrote after ditching the guitar was ‘Heart of Blue’, a devastatingly direct piano lament. “I wrote that in 2011. It was one of my first songs where I thought people would like it and I became a bit obsessed with it. There was something about it. It was the song where I realised I needed to do something with this online fanbase I’d created.” Released via her own label ‘Lovejoy Records’, it signaled the start of a burst of creativity that would result in her debut album ‘Kryssalis’ (Deliberately spelt with a twist as Shannon is Dyslexic and chose to leave the spelling as she heard it). At first she didn’t really know what she was making: It was more “I’ve got loads of songs here I’ve probably got an album”. I sat down a few months ago and I was like I like this song, this one, this one, this one and from there I had a couple more writing sessions and because I knew what I wanted for the album the last five songs came so quickly.” Keen to keep control over her music, the album will be released through Lovejoy Records via another independent YUP! “I like it to be DIY and I like to be in control of everything – my website, my merchandise. I like it all to come from me. The fans pick up on that as well, they see it as more personal.” Yup! owner Kwame Kwaten says of Shannon: “Shannon was an important 1st signing for YUP! She is part of the new generation of artists who understand their online audience in a more natural instinctive way!! I have always said she could teach companies a thing or two about the relationship between fan/supporter and artist. Most of all she understood that we didn’t want to change her -we were just as excited by her journey as she was.”
The resulting collection of multi-layered, deftly unfurling electronic-based pop flits between the aforementioned pop-leanings of ‘Sheets’ (a song written in just over an hour, don’t you know) to the clattering, MIA-referencing ‘Silly Little Things’ via the icy, drip-feed drama of Lo-Fi and the electronic mesh of the tactile ‘Electric’. But perhaps the album’s defining moment is the beautifully dramatic ‘Astronaut’, a song that’s come to define the album’s unique pull. “ ‘Astronaut’ was a weird one,” laughs Shannon. “I always play my songs to my family and basically my cousin, who’s like my sister, listened to it and we both said we weren’t really sure about it. Then we went to Ibiza and after that we listened again and we both loved it. I didn’t even want it on the album at first but now it’s one of my favorites.” So what did that teach you? “You have to live with it for a bit, then it takes over you.” With that one line, Shannon Saunders has managed to perfectly encapsulate the allure of her debut album ‘Kryssalis’.
- What is the ‘fire’ that keeps you going in your career?
I think the ‘fire’ that keeps me going in my career would have to be my passion and love for writing and creating new songs. I find it very therapeutic if I’m going through something in my life, I like to channel it into my work. I also love my fans reactions to my songs when they first hear them. Knowing that someone else can relate to something I was going through by me putting it into music is very powerful and if it can make at least one other person feel less alone then I’ve done something right.
- What do you feel has been your biggest fear and how have you overcome it?
My biggest fear is not being able to cope with change. I’ve made sure I’ve taken small steps in my career so if I ever fall back it shouldn’t be drastic, it’ll only be a small step back to where I was before. I also find that by doing that it’s meant my development as an artist has been very natural as I’ve been allowed to be patient and grow in my own time. I’ve been allowed to make decisions purely on the way I feel and if the vibe is right I always go by it, energy doesn’t lie.
- What is your creative getaway?
I love spending time with my family and friends. My family are very close so it’s always nice to go home and catch up with everyone and find out what they’re up to. We all have very busy lives so, dinnertime is important for us to all sit around the kitchen table and eat good food and talk for hours.
KEEP UP WITH SHANNON SAUNDERS
by: - | November 15, 2014 | News