Front Porch

Shane Hall: Outside the Wire

Shane Hall

When your name is followed by the words singer/songwriter, two things are almost mandatory. First, you must possess a vast array of musical skill sets and second, you better have thick skin. Lucky for us, Shane Hall is totally focused on the prior and just shakes his head and laughs at the rest.

“A lot of stuff doesn’t make sense to me,” he smiles. “I have to sit down and contemplate things because I think about all the details. I’ll get wrapped around the details of the details. It doesn’t have to be perfect; I’m more of a logistic compulsive.” He adds, “Music is the only thing I don’t have to work out all the details, it’s all very natural.”

So the question remains, how does a person still in his 30s become so musically self aware and creatively diverse? The answer was surprisingly simple. “I’m a feel guy for everything…” Shane says, “I gotta have like a warm and fuzzy.” His gut instincts have served him well, in and outside of music. As a 15-year Marine Corps veteran, Hall has lived and worked all over the world, including two tours in Iraq. Life experiences he says, have made his music much more personal because “the songs are honest and real. They’re built from the soul.”

The self-proclaimed child of the ’90s isn’t big on labels but narrows his sound down to the trifecta of blues, soul, and Americana with a West Coast twist. So, of course, our conversation had to begin there. How do you describe your style of music? “It’s easy for me,” Shane says. “Because I’ve been hearing it my whole life. Everybody else is saying, ‘what the hell is happening?’ [laughing] They always follow it up with, ‘I like it, but I don’t know what it is?’ Music has always been a part of life, it’s always there. For every event there’s always music; for every holiday there’s music; for church there’s music. I remember looking at my mom’s Michael Jackson Thriller LP, with the giant foldout white tiger. She had that one and Lionel Richie. That was my first tangible memory of music. Other than that it was church, school, and choir, Christmas and all that stuff. It all had a purpose other than what it is now… a way of life, a path.”

So, you would say Shane Hall’s music is… “singer/songwritery, folk grunge. “I was a child of the ’90s so I had all the Seattle influence going on. The person that got me playing music was Dave Matthews. When I was a kid his band was too much, I couldn’t do it. I was like, arghhh… I don’t know what’s happening. But I heard him and Tim Reynolds play their Live at Luther College album, two guitars and vocals…I could do this, I like this, this is amazing. And being into the grunge stuff kind of segued into Alice in Chains and MTV Unplugged was like my bible for a long time.”

Was your family musical? “My mom was a trained musician, horns and singing. My father played organ and deejayed at skating rinks. They both worked at skating rinks, that’s how they met. I had my first five birthdays at the skating rink. I skated before I walked, still my thing. Don’t tell anybody though, I’m secretive about it.”

Our little secret, do you still skate? “Not as much as I should; I have a daughter now so I’m doing it more, trying to work out.”

A roommate would introduce Shane to the glory days of classic rock and Jimi Hendrix. “So, after I got a little better at playing, I went back and deconstructed Jimi’s thing and then started researching all the people he liked; all the blues guys. Then blues jumped out at me. The first thing I ever played by accident was blues; I just didn’t know it at the time. I tuned my guitar, I had a toy Dukes of Hazzard guitar I tuned to open G by ear. I was 12 years old and I didn’t know. Hey, this sounds like a chord…”

You’re originally from back East? “Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for about 18 years and joined the Marines right out of high school. My first assignment was to Okinawa, Japan. The first couple of months were kinda hard, but after that… In ’99 I got back to California, Camp Pendleton… Wow, this is amazing! Got my first car, eventually got my first apartment. And then from there I went to Italy. I served four years in Rome. It was an eye-opening experience. I’m 22, I go to Rome and am attached to the Navy but there’s no base. I’m paid well, I work at the airport, I’m not wearing uniforms, and I’m kind of like a successful, normal person abroad. I was always out in the community, I didn’t play music very much then… I was still figuring it out. I knew I still needed to work on stuff. I think the fact that I’d been hearing music for so long before I actually played made me aware of what music is suppose to sound like. I have really good ears, always have. I started playing more while I was in Rome. I joined a couple of duo groups, so that’s where I learned to play my first leads. And it was all acoustic up to that point.”

Still in uniform, Shane came back to California from Italy and continued to play. “I started a duo and gigged around here and we played everything from open mics to coffee shops. We’d do whatever we could to just play. It was called the Side Project because we couldn’t come up with a good name.”

Being in the military created a few inconveniences. “Also during that period I deployed to Iraq twice.” Shane says. “I recorded CDs both times I was out there.” You have music that you recorded in Iraq? “Yeah!” [laughing] “They’re both…not good!” [laughing] “Not good at all. It was just a microphone and a laptop and I didn’t know what I was doing. Just lame songs I recorded in shacks.” [laughing]

Not quite finished with his military commitment, Staff Sgt. Hall was reassigned to Iwakuni, Japan. “That was like music college for me. My first night I went off base, it was my birthday and I went in one bar called Underground, run by an American guy who used to be in the Navy. He owned a couple of bars in town. His name was Dudley, a cool guy, a rock guy from the ’80s and he was a really good drummer, too. I played him a couple of my demos from Iraq and California and he said, ‘Is this you? Is this you singing and playing guitar?’ He said, ‘Come back next week.’ I came back and the bar was closed and he had a band there—bass player and a drummer, Japanese guys. We started a band and it became the house band for his bar.”

Several bars, configurations, and cover bands later “…we started doing events. All these bands started coming to me and all of a sudden I got an education in playing live; running a band; writing songs; learning covers, sound, lighting, booking, promotions, and payroll; and even touring.” Shane shakes his head. “It was music college for me. I went from working one party a month to promoting seven different bands and a couple of solo artists. There was a bar in Hiroshima and we were invited by Japanese bands to play with them. It was cool; we did Tokyo and military bases down south, on some islands. I performed on AFN (American Forces Network) because they had an affiliate station in Iwakuni. Iwakuni was also where the blues thing came out. My default is blues. If I strip down and go to my comfort zone, it’s blues. I think it’s just because it’s comfortable. The time and the feel. I’m an ear and feel player. It was weird because I became the front man, solo vocal, solo guitar, and focused my energy on being that and after a while, that’s all I was. I’ve only been in trios since then.”

Again, reassignment relocated you. “I went to Wilmington, North Carolina, which is a huge music town. That’s where I cut my teeth gigging. I played four or five times a week, still in the military and stationed at Camp Lejeune. The commute was crazy, but worth it. There were a lot of musicians in Wilmington and national acts came through there, so I heard a lot of music, played a lot of music, and it made me realize I could make money at it. And that’s when I decided to get out [of the Marine Corps] early. I got lucky. Because of the size of the force then, they were drawing down.”

Let’s talk about recordings. You have three CDs, Less Than Vintage, Thick Teeth, and the most recent is Human Condition? “I recorded Less Than Vintage in Japan—Hiroshima City at Studio M. It’s a collection of songs, a handful I’d never played live, and we spent a whole weekend in the studio. It was a real special time, my first time in a real studio recording professionally. I had really good people on the record and it still sounds good to me.”

Thick Teeth?Teeth cost about half the amount and we recorded it in maybe ten hours. We were at Red Room Recording in Leland, North Carolina, where Worth Weaver is the man, dude. he built a crazy good studio and he knows his room. The songs were all original, developed, and just laid down. But it was very rushed. I had to get it done, send out to get it produced, and do a release before I left North Carolina to come back out to California.”

And the latest, Human Condition? “Human Condition was a beast, so crazy. Four years go by, I moved out here, started gigging and playing to establish myself as a full-time musician but I was reluctant to record. For me, it’s got to fit, I’m a feel guy for everything…apparently. Tattoos, studios, anything where you’re paying for a service, I gotta have a warm and fuzzy. Like a mechanic, you know what I mean? So, I’m on my bike downtown, riding home and there’s a record shop on E Street, called Feel It Records, which is awesome. Right beside that, there’s a studio called Capricorn and it’s a block from my house. I’m riding and I see a light on in the studio and I’m, like…errr! I tap on the window and they say come on in. I met Chris and Bryan, who own the studio, and I play them a song. I pull a guitar off the wall and play ‘Embers.’ They tell me to ‘come down anytime and we’ll work something out.’ A really cool studio with a good vibe, not super fancy but super effective. It’s a good environment with tons of gear and you can really get some creative juices going. So, basically Human Condition was four years of test marketing material at live gigs; some of the songs were started at my house but finished live. Figuring out what worked and what didn’t. I got the deposit together and said, ‘Let’s go.’ The record took eight months and ten grand. Now I have an archive-able, loveable product. I have a product that I love.”

The CD Human Condition is a genuine reflection of Shane Hall? “The songs are honest and real. They’re built from the soul. That’s why my genre has changed over the years but now it’s firm…but it’s three: blues, soul, and Americana. It accurately captures the sound and the feel that I want in any spectrum, thanks to Chris and Capricorn Studios.”

Let’s talk about future projects. “I actually have a blues record in the queue to come out. I figured that when I do play blues, even if it sounds like Delta or sounds like Chicago, it’s still not. It’s a problem I have; if I go to Chicago or go play in New Orleans and say, ‘I play blues…well, it’s really not blues, but it is. Its West Coast blues.

Blues has many styles and even more labels. “That’s why I went with West Coast blues. In its history California has become known for its acceptance. The labels are a little looser out here. For me that is West Coast blues, there’s no structure, it’s not a 12-bar, it’s not a drone, it’s not a Piedmont but it definitely has a blues feel. And you can do what you want; it may have a little outlaw or a little western influence. I have an EP written, called West, and I want to put it out digitally and on 10-inch vinyl; it’s all blues except for one ballad. The EP would be the first installment of three to further diversify my sound.”

So you’re planning three different projects in blues, soul, and Americana? “I‘m releasing a blues EP,” Shane nods. “a soul EP and an Americana EP. The blues one is called West. The Americana one is called The River, which has a quicker tempo, acoustic, bass and 12-string; there’s still some slide in it, but it’s very fast. It’s kind of western outlaw, folk, country, and bluesy stuff. And then I have Queens and Kings, which is my soul rock effort and it’s more like an Alabama Shakes, Charles Bradley, James Brown kinda thing, but still with my continuity. I’m going to record all three albums and release them independently… digitally. When I can put the money together I hope to release all three on 10-inch and then a box set too, where you can get them all.”

What do you want people to know about Shane Hall? “I want them to know I’m here for them. I want the music to stand up and to be a part of their lives. That’s why I do it. I do it because of movies, soundtracks… soundtracks to your day, like time machines. I have people hitting me up, ‘Hey man, I love this song, my girlfriend and I had our first date and your song was on.’ For me, that’s what it’s all about.”

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