A Songbird Travels Back to Eden: Interview with Shawnee Kilgore
Shawnee Kilgore in the studio. Photo by Chris Fuller.
Shawnee Kilgore, like so many of us in the GoGirls community, was a singer/songwriter who started a kickstarter to raise funds for a new project. She got a surprise when Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon) donated to her campaign, selecting the funder reward of a personalized song. When she contacted him, he asked if she would be up for a collaboration. It turned out that the two clicked as writing partners, and they ended up recording an EP as well as a music video together. Read on as Shawnee shares what the experience was like, and what’s on the horizon for her.
GOGIRLSMUSIC: Talk to me about your music -- what inspires you to create and what do you
want people to take away from the experience of hearing you?
SHAWNEE: I feel like my whole purpose with music is to write about myself in ways that other people can relate to and take comfort in. I like to get as nitty gritty into truth as possible. I want people to know that whatever they’re feeling is ok and they’re not alone. I want to say things that maybe they aren’t able to say for themselves but need to hear. (And if I haven’t made you cry at least once during a show or a record I’ve done something terribly wrong!)
GOGIRLSMUSIC: You started a kickstarter campaign in 2014 that ended up connecting you
with Joss Whedon. Were you expecting a connection at that level? What was
it like to find out he was backing you?
SHAWNEE: I was definitely not expecting anything like that to happen! His name had been coming up a lot and I was cursed every time to forget who he was. I always just needed the one word prompt - Firely, Avengers, Buffy - and seeing his name on my backers list was no different. It was hard to believe it was actually him, but someone using his name and pledging money to folksingers was pretty farfetched too. He came onboard pretty early in the campaign so I had time to get used to the idea. I did immediately wish I had at least showered before making my video, but it was a genuine time and place and it spoke to him. There was definitely some anticipation leading up to emailing him for the first time when the campaign was over and giddy excitement when he wrote back. He was so unassuming and put me at such ease that from there the most surreal part was how natural and comfortable it felt.
GOGIRLSMUSIC: You went on to record an EP together - what was your cowriting experience
like? Was the writing and recording a different experience from previous
projects for you?
SHAWNEE: A lot of the writing came easy. The first song we did was Big Giant Me, which was kind of a big giant experiment that we were both inspired enough to try. He sent me the lyrics and within 24 hours I sent him the song. It just came out and I loved it and he loved it and we were both just really happy. He certainly didn’t set out to find someone to write an EP with but the energy was so good we wanted to keep it going and see what happened. I had done very little cowriting before that - my partner of six years and I have barely even done it - so that in itself was a really different experience. I’m particular enough about my words that I worried even Joss Whedon might send me some I didn’t like! With the exception of just a few I really resonated with everything he wrote (and argued to the death the few I didn’t, so it all worked out).
Back to Eden was a different recording experience as well. It was in a studio away from home and I took on more of a producer role than I ever had. We didn’t really have a vision for the production, just a palette of instruments we knew we wanted to work with. There were a few afternoons when Joss couldn’t be there and it was on me to make sounds happen. It was also the first time I’ve finished writing a song just in time to record it before a project wraps. We wrote the last words to Break the Skin in the recording room and I sang them reading from my phone.
GOGIRLSMUSIC: Your experience has been what many artists would view as a "big break."
How has it changed your career outlook? What are your goals
like now as opposed to five years ago?
SHAWNEE: Joss teased me mercilessly for answering an audience question about how my life has changed since this project with something along the lines of not that much….. and of course it HAS in all sorts of personal growth kinds of ways - that part has been insane - but I didn’t suddenly have people knocking down my door with opportunities, or money, or even questions about what we were up to. That’s what I meant. I’m still here doing my thing. I admit I was really naive in my hopes for what this could do for my career (and my self esteem). I thought that’s how it works, that the eye of fame suddenly has a reason to look at you and then it just catches like wildfire. And it’s more than ok that it hasn’t happened like that. It’s happened in the way the you make the best art you can, and you go after what you want, one gig at a time, one interview at a time, one fan at a time, one completely freaking awesome victory at a time. I still have to work hard, at everything, but this has more than helped put wind in my sails. My confidence is up and I can actually sit back and look at some of the things I’ve accomplished with genuine awe and admiration. I feel like I’ve been able to get more clear about the direction I want to go, because the belief that I can actually make it happen is stronger than it was. I certainly had never thought seriously about making or being in movies before, but after two days on the Back to Eden set I’ve caught glimpses of a creative world much bigger the one I know….I’m kinda hooked, just sayin’.
GOGIRLSMUSIC: What is coming next for you?
I’m going to clean my office and finally put that big pile of clothes away….oh wait, not what you meant. This month I’m celebrating my 100th week on Patreon, which is crazy and exciting. I’ve been writing a song a week for 3 1/2 years and 100 weeks ago I started making them available for anyone who would pledge me $1 per week. I’m making it so that anyone who joins the Songbird Society before June 30th, as well as my existing patrons, will get to request a song for me to learn. That should keep me busy! I’m learning covers for really the first time in my life and it’s pretty exciting. I’ll be doing some summer and fall touring and looking ahead to the next record. Snuggling my chickens, petting my cat…. my favorite things.