The debut album from Chelsea Shag is as vibrant as its name, filled with swirling horn lines and hip-hop beats that will make your hips weep for joy. Lead single “Us Kids” opens Colours and everything that unfolds after is a heartfelt collection of distinctive works that lock hands with each other despite their many brightly inflected differences. It’s a welcoming, groovy, and loving collection of tunes that you can pick up with the purchase of a ticket to the release show taking place this Friday at Paris on Ponce’s La Maison De Rouge. And if that weren’t cause enough for celebration, the event also doubles as a birthday party for this young songbird of soul. Local heiress of finger-style Brazilian jazz lullabies-to-live-by, Adron, will will be there to help set the mood and Dappr (Sean Delaine) will be DJing some jams to get phunked up to after Ms. Shag breaks it down.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Chelsea Shag about the process of creating her excellent new album. Like any good conversation, we wandered through various topics, touching on life, music, fashion, and the particulars of American spelling.
Chelsea, this first album is wonderfully produced and well-written. The music itself seems to inhabit a ballroom wallpapered in the crimson leaves of autumn and it drives like a Cadillac with the classic flair of the Great Gatsby. When did you start working on this album and what was your writing process like?
Well, first of all, thank you so much. What a way to put it! When I met my producer, Tanner Hendon, we decided that we should try working on one song and see how we work together and if it feels right. We started with “Us Kids” and from there we knew it was right. I could say I’ve been working on this album since I was 17 — that’s when I wrote the hook to “Us Kids.”
The writing process is never predictable for me. All these songs came from different times in my young adult life, and each verse, each chorus, each bridge came in pieces to eventually come together as a song. It also depended what I was listening to at the time. During the making of this album, I had no idea “New Perfume” would be a song. One day I was driving down into Atlanta and I had been listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey. This little song came to me, “New Perfume for my new baby.” It was like a mix of listening to her and a lot of disco music. I brought it to the studio the next day and wrote the rest of it with my band and producers. With “A is for Alpha,” I had written that verse and chorus years before ever meeting my producer and happened to bring it back up out of nowhere and we rode the thing out. It was a magical experience. “Stardust” was written purely out of the moment and out of deep longing. I wrote that one in hours. So, the writing process is always different, which I love. Once we had the songs aligned, we got my players and recorded it live in the studio, then adding on horns, synths, and other sounds on top of it.
Who played on the album with you and who produced it? Was there a great deal of management involved and how did these factors affect the final product?
I brought in mostly people I knew and trusted to rock their instrument on these tracks. That being George Price. He played the guitar, adding such wonderful elements that I would’ve ever thought of. He made that hooky riff in “New Perfume.” He’s a wizard and he’s also a professional Santa Claus during the holidays. Bobby McGranahan was my bass player and I had gone to the Atlanta Institute of Music with him. He’s brilliant and so passionate about music. All music.
There’s this man I met in Atlanta out of the blue at a Georgia Music Partners meeting by the name of Jake Goldwasser. I told him to come to one of my gigs and he showed up with his saxophone. This man was a kid I come to find out. 16-years-old and he knew what the hell he was doing. I was blown away by his talent and stature. We became friends instantly. He played the horns on my record as well as Rhodes keys. My producer, Tanner, was also my drummer and he really had a hold on his groove and tempo. He’s like a human metronome. The thing about working with Tanner Hendon and engineer Wyatt Oates is that they’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as you can be. They always made me feel like I could be me and I didn’t have to change a thing.
I had management before this record, but in the midst of making [it], I had to make the decision to terminate [them] for many reasons. I felt so free making this record; I wasn’t told to be anybody else. Tanner and Wyatt brought out the best in me and I believe we brought out the best in each other.
The name for this album is very fitting as you display many shades of your musicality. What was the thought behind the title and why did you choose to spell it “Colours” as opposed to the more typical, American “Colors”?
When you hear the line in the song — “What do you call these colours?” — it makes me think of when you’re so high on life and love in a moment it’s like everything is brighter and each color stands out differently. I’m literally asking, “What do I call this feeling? It’s so wonderful.” I like the relation, too, that it’s 7 songs, and there are 7 primary colors. I also think each song is so different from each other; it’s quite a variety. The reason behind the spelling: I remember taking a spelling quiz in 5th grade, back when I lived in Quebec, and they made you spell the word “colour.” I had grown up mostly in the United States before that, so I spelled it without the ‘u.’ Well, I spelled it incorrectly on my quiz. Ever since then, I’ve spelled it with a ‘u.’ It makes more sense to me, though, because the rest of the world spells it that way.
Who did the artwork for the album and what drove you to take on the retro feel presented here?
A team of artists in Athens called ColorTest created the artwork and I’m so happy with it. I had been going back and forth for a long time deciding what to do and just couldn’t figure it out by myself and was just wasting time. I really loved the idea of my album cover looking like an old Columbia jazz record. They just give me this warm feeling. I invited my best friend and my darling to help take pictures of me in our house. We had a big, beautiful blue wall to take pictures in front of. I put on my favorite fur coat and colorful glasses I had been rocking, and we took hundreds of pictures. For some reason, that picture that is now the cover really spoke to me.
The album feels as if it were taken from a club in the late ’70s and dressed in modern production. Can you tell us some about your influences and how they have inspired you to create these current concepts?
I love that you feel that way about it. It’s funny because it wasn’t really thought up like that. It’s just the style I adore and love to rock. It’s just me. I’ve loved rock and roll – music from the late ’60s and early ’70s ever since I was 11-years-old and picked up a guitar for the first time. Jimi Hendrix was and is a huge inspiration for me. He’s so groovy. He makes me want to feel groovy, too. Therefore, I want to make you feel groovy with me.
You have a particular fashion and vibe that emanates from your work. Have you established your sense of fashion over time or has it always come naturally to you?
I would say it’s a little bit of both. When you’re a teenager, it’s sometimes hard to be yourself. When you’re growing up in suburban land, there’s these hidden rules and expectations. I finally broke the rules once I realized there were rules. I met the friends who brought out the weirdness and funk out of me along with the music I listened to. I will say, though, I’ve always had a sense of independence and felt the urge to be wild and free. Once I told fear to F off, I developed my sense of fashion deeper to fit me.
There are so many bands across the nation, let alone Atlanta, that are vying for solid footing in the music industry. What are your thoughts on how you can break through the noise and make your statement?
I’ve never really thought of it that way to be quite honest. I think just being me is going to break through; I’m not going to be your typical female pop star. I’m not gonna be dressed up like the men in the industry want me to look. You’re not gonna see me begging to “make it.” You’re gonna see me wail on my guitar like I don’t care who’s watching and you’re gonna see me, feel me, and hear me grow as an artist. You’re not going to see me fade out like a trend.
What would you like your fans to know and to be on the lookout for in the future?
Just be on the lookout for more of me. I’ve got more funky music coming your way soon. Thank you, Ben, for these deep and wonderful questions!