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How Being A 'Publisher's Worst Nightmare' Empowered Elvie Shane On New Album 'Damascus'

17 May 2024 | 9:49 am | Claire Dunton

“I hate writing songs if I don't have a reason to write a song...”

Elvie Shane

Elvie Shane (Credit: Nathan Chapman)

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Elvie Shane releases his second album, Damascus—a thirteen-track journey delving into deeper reflections of the Kentucky-born artist and a rawer display of his range compared to his debut album, Backslider.

Elvie reflects on the success of his first record, Backslider, with equal parts gratitude and self-criticism, believing he owed his first record a little more truth and struggle. He admits that the record was put together after the three happiest years of his life, but it in no way summarises a life he feels has been marred with struggle.

Elvie said, “I feel like I was very proud of Backslider, but I left so much out. I didn’t put it all on the line. Everything I had ever dreamt of having was coming fairly easy, and it’s just like, life was not like that for me for about 27-30 years.

“Once I put that record out, I was like… well, I was proud of it, but it wasn't the record I always wanted to make. It was missing a lot of grit and grime from my past and highlighting a lot of better memories. So, I first struggled with the idea of what to do now.”

The origin of the Damascus record came from a discussion Elvie had with friends around Apostle Paul and the road to Damascus, a story from the New Testament that sees Paul completely change his heart and mind as he undergoes a challenge. Elvie saw himself in this parable and wanted his second album to show the depth he says Backslider was missing.

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Through making the record, Elvie also learned about Damascus steel, which is uniquely made using different threads of metal forged to create one exceptionally strong metal, which he says is an analogy to the album.

Those new to Elvie Shane would be forgiven trying to figure out the artist, as Elvie’s playful demeanour and seemingly endless life experience refuse to be put in a category. He can mention Apostle Paul and pot-smoking hippies in the same breath and seems to have an appreciation for any stories and the individuals they belong to. When Elvie talks about his family life, it's clear that he understands where the dichotomy comes from and how he has become curious about the journeys of others.

Elvie said, “My dad was a truck driver, and I don't know what the culture of trucking driving is over there [Australia], but they’re characters here. Especially if you were a truck driver in the time of the 90s - they had their own style, their own thing, and they're the best of the best when it comes to bullshit. 100% the best bullshitters in the world. So, it was interesting to hear about how the world worked through my dad's eyes growing up.

“But then my mum was the polar opposite of my dad - a very Christian woman who didn't cuss, didn't drink and didn't smoke. My dad is like a Harley-riding, truck-driving, pot-smoking hippie drunk dude. There were a lot of stories just in that house - some that should never be told. But there was also a lot of struggle in that house.”

Through touring Backslider, Elvie saw just how common it was to see people struggling in the cities he visited. Seeing such widespread struggle and drawing on the experiences he has seen in his own hometown, Elvie wanted to include these issues in the Damascus record. Forgotten Man centres around financial burdens, whereas Pill and 215634 tackle the complexity of substance abuse. 

“I was paying so much attention to the struggle I was seeing around the world,” Elvie revealed. “I was getting to travel the world for the first time, and I was seeing so many similarities. When we were in Australia, we were in Brisbane, and there was some homeless stuff there that looked very familiar to home. I have been to the UK and seen it and to Canada and seen it.”

He continued, “I feel like struggle has been one of my closest friends from a very young age to even right now in some ways. But I think that's kind of where I found my direction with the next record, Damascus.

“As we were writing through this project, we were getting so many different sounds. Forgotten Man was like this really Springsteen and The Who-inspired song, up against Baptised [which] was more Hozier and Mac Miller. I was like, ‘I love both these songs, but how do they belong on a record together?’ and that was how it came to me later on and the Damascus metal.

“I thought, ‘Well, shit; I’ll just use all these types of songs and different metals and throw them in the forge and make my own Damascus knife out of it’. That ended up becoming more of the idea around the record. But I feel like it came back around to the [Apostle Paul] journey when it got recorded. The sequencing really became a lot of fun.”

When asked about his process and the method in which he sits down to write and bring a record to life, Elvie says that it’s just not his way. The songs tend to find him and “show itself” when experiencing everyday life, and sometimes, an idea or feeling can be inspired by listening to other artists.

“I’m a publisher's worst nightmare because I hate writing songs if I don't have a reason to write a song. I can't just go sit in a room for no reason. With Does Heaven Have A Creek, I was just sitting around with my daughter outside our camper listening to Tyler Childers’ Can I Take My House to Heaven record, and when I left to go to Nashville that night, I was driving down the road and wrote that song while I was driving. No guitar or anything - just came up with it on a three-hour drive.”

Elvie Shane hopes to be back in Australia again soon, musing that he will even take the dreaded long-haul flight to connect with his audience. Elvie is known to stick around after every show to meet those who have come to see him, get pictures with fans, and learn about how his music has been enjoyed.

Elvie said, “The response that I get the most that I am pleased with is just people saying they can see my heart in my music. I probably get that more than anything; it's a really beautiful compliment to get from people.”

Elvie Shane’s new album, Damascus, is out now via BBR Music Group/BMG. You can listen to/buy the album here.