STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY/For 21st Century Media
“I’m 100 percent happy with where I am in my career,” says Shawn Colvin from Virginia Beach, while on tour with Steve Earle. “I’ve been doing this for — I don’t even want to think about it — 30 years. Longer really, if you count the struggling days when I was in different traveling bands on the road and didn’t have a record deal.”
Colvin’s climb to success has been far from overnight. An aspiring folk musician, Colvin early on found herself immersed in New York City’s Greenwich Village music scene.
Enlisted as a back-up vocalist on Suzanne Vega’s classic 1987 hit song “Luka,” Colvin joined Vega on her concert tour. She has since collaborated with and contributed vocals to songs by Edwin McCain, Bela Fleck, James Taylor, Shawn Mullins and Sting.
After signing with Columbia Records in 1989, Colvin released her debut album, “Steady On.” The record, featuring back-up vocals by Vega, won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
“When I got signed to a record deal, I was taken around the country and around the world visiting every radio station that would allow me to come visit and doing every interview that was offered,” recalls Colvin. “I think longevity is a grass roots build. I tend to think it has to do with a slow growth. I’ve played a lot of coffee houses and little clubs coming up in the northeast and got a buzz going. (I was) played on some college radio stations, and that started the ball rolling. It took me four records to have a hit. That’s probably a blessing. I think I’ve built something that just doesn’t go away from loyalty.”
Colvin’s follow-up album, “Fat City” (1992), earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary Folk Recording.” The song “I Don’t Know Why” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal category.
In 1993, Colvin relocated to Austin and next released an album of cover songs appropriately titled “Cover Girl” (1994).
“A Few Small Repairs” (1996) proved to be Colvin’s breakthrough album. Her fiery hit single “Sunny Came Home” made it to number one on the Adult Contemporary music chart, earning the album 1998 Grammy honors for both song and record of the year.
Colvin has since released four more albums, “Holiday Songs and Lullabies” (1998), “Whole New You” (2001), “These Four Walls” (2006) and her most recent effort, “All Fall Down” (2012), all of which made the Billboard charts.
“I have a lot of gratitude,” says Colvin. “I don’t see how it could have gone better. I’ve made the records I’ve wanted to make. After the first record I thought, ‘I did it. I did what I wanted to do.’ Then came time to do the second record, and I thought, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I can pull this off.’ That’s how I feel every time I make a record, ‘Wow! You did it again!’”
Two years after releasing “All Fall Down,” Colvin is in the early stages of crafting her next recording.
“I’m kind of slow when it comes to this,” says Colvin. “Mostly because it just takes me a while to write. It seems like I need time in between projects to kind of gather myself, live a little bit and get back down to the writing process. I’m writing right now. I imagine I’ll make a record next year.”
Colvin published a critically acclaimed memoir, “Diamond in the Rough,” in 2012. An honest and, at times, humorous look at her struggles with relationships with men, depression, anorexia, motherhood, career and alcoholism, Colvin found this to be a liberating and meaningful endeavor.
“I just have never had too much trouble being really honest about things that I’ve gone through – difficult things,” says Colvin. “It has always been people that have been honest about their struggles that have helped me the most. But, it’s sharing stories with people that have gone through the same thing that have helped me the most. So, I guess I felt like I was doing somewhat of a service.”
“I knew that I wanted to tell the truth and portray my life, but I wanted there to be a sense of humor and humility,” added Colvin. “So, when I found out I was actually able to write this book, that was the most liberating thing. I found out I could do something I didn’t think I could.”
Traditionally a solo performer, Colvin has enjoyed a year on stage collaborating with fellow artists Mary Chapin Carpenter and Steve Earle, respectively.
“While I’m primarily a solo artist who makes her own records, I love being a back-up musician, if you will,” says Colvin. “For both of these tours with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Steve Earle, we share the stage for the whole show, which involves a lot of collaboration – playing with each other, singing with each other. I love to do that. I just love the input of someone else. It has just been great fun. Steve and I have actually been doing some writing together and have talked about doing a record.”
At 58, Colvin’s measure of accomplishment and what motivates her creative muse is vastly different than when she embarked on this journey as an unseasoned singer songwriter from the Midwest.
“What drives me is the simple love of the job. I think I love it more than I ever have, because I have perspective, and I’m not as caught up in ‘where am I going to take this?’ in terms of how I used to define success. That’s what drives me. It’s just what I’m supposed to do. I don’t see how it could be any better. I’m very lucky.”
IF YOU GO: Shawn Colvin performs at the Colonial Theatre; located at 227 Bridge St. in Phoenixville, Thursday Oct. 16, at 8:00 p.m.. Tickets are available at the Colonial Theatre Box Office by calling (610) 917-1228 or on-line at www.thecolonialtheatre.com. All ages are welcome at the Colonial.
To stay up to date with Shawn Colvin visit www.shawncolvin.com