Hailing from Portland, CT, Shawn Byrne and I first bonded over our Connecticut roots; his from birth, mine from college. We talked about his life growing up. How his father was a part-time musician and full-time lineman for a local power company.
“My dad worked sixty hour weeks and pursued his band on the weekends. It was back in the 70’s so all kinds of music was popular, but his was a Polka band. They would always have two or three gigs a weekend for at least a couple decades,” he said almost in shock when reflecting on his dad’s schedule while he was growing up. “My earliest memory of me and music comes from 3rd grade, actually. We had an assembly based around ‘expressing and sharing art,’ so my friends and I formed a “band,” with no real instruments, of course. We played guitars on broomsticks and used pots for drums. We prepared two songs – a Men at Work track and ‘Jack and Diane.’ The morning of our ‘performance’ I snuck my dad’s Gibson Gold Top out from under his bed and brought it to school with me,” he laughed.
I think he could tell by my face that I was wondering what sort of repercussions came of that action and he smiled when he said, “my Dad wasn’t mad. His response was more along the lines of, ‘well, I guess we have to get you a guitar.'”
Excluding his latest project, my favorite collection of Shawn’s work has to be, Pine Trees, Cheap Wine and the Moon. It’s a country album with traces of blues that truly showcases him as an artist and after meeting him, his personality as well.
“When it comes to inspiration, I think it’s more of what, than a who,” he explained. “I’m really inspired by everything good and bad, but I’m mostly motivated lyrically by things I don’t like.
That being said, my first musical inspiration growing up was U2. In 1987, they hadn’t truly broken yet and my mom took me to go see them in Hartford. I was 15 and it was a real religious experience for me. That’s when I started taking guitar seriously and slowly taught myself; just learning from my mistakes as I went,” he confessed.
As for his career today, Shawn says the writing process is different every time.
“I’m usually inspired by something someone says that hits me in the gut,” he said, “I usually get a title or idea first and the music comes second. It’s like a stew, you know? Everything mixes together and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but you still made it.”
“I lived in Boston for ten years in the 90’s and I wouldn’t say Nashville is better or worse, it’s just different. Everything is so much more saturated in Nashville that when you play it’s harder to make fans and build that base. The bread and butter is getting on the road and out of town. It’s definitely a good place to be based out of and call home, but you can’t constantly play for free,” he joked.
In 2016 Shawn has a lot going on with a seven-week tour throughout the Northeast, which is super exciting for him to be doing as the front-man.
“I toured for eight years straight playing for major label country artists. I was lead guitar for Rodney Atkins, Kelleigh Bannen and James Otto. I never really pushed my own career when I moved to town thirteen years ago because I was out on the road so much, but my heart was always focused on my own stuff. Now my wife and I are hitting the road in an RV and I couldn’t be more excited. I am so lucky to have her. We’re just trying to break-even while on the road and have fun while doing it.”
While all of his songs are his “little babies”, Shawn says “Lonesome Old Guitar” that is on his latest record [premiered March of this year] is his favorite that he’s written to date.
“I wrote it before I got married during some real lonely times. Several relationships didn’t work out. I’m basically comparing the shape of my guitar to that of a woman and trying to rely on music rather than people to make me happy.”
“Shaped like a woman, just the right tone, every time I hold her, I don’t feel so alone.”
Shawn is a true musician with an artistic outlook on life. He values the people around him as much as the music they inspire him to make. He also brought a gift to our interview that I’ve sort of worn out since… In fact I’m happily surprised it still plays. Check out all of Shawn’s music during this month of amazing new releases and enjoy the lyrical stories and beautifully simplistic melodies that fill your speakers while you listen.