Shannon Tehya – Interview – Thanks for Asking
Written by Staff on February 2, 2024
Shannon Tehya – Interview – Thanks for Asking – by Liam Sweeny.
RRX: Every comic book hero has an origin story. What is your origin story? (points if you tell it like a comic book origin.)
ST: This is a wildly loaded question! Though I am no comic book hero, I am a different person by day than I am at night. It’s a little more complex than just a pair of Clark Kent glasses.
I have known from the moment I could speak that I needed to build a career in music. It’s a passion of course but it’s also more than that, it’s an obsession, and addiction even. I can’t stop writing songs, which is actually a huge problem because until this year I had no clue how to record my own music so I currently have a massive backlog of musical projects. I was also groomed to believe from a very young age that the music industry would not welcome me, and that I would need to fight tooth and nail, forcing my way through the many obstacles that would inevitably come between me and my (disproportionately) big dreams. The first obstacle was money. Growing up, my family didn’t have very much but they managed to send me to a good liberal arts school on scholarship (thank you Buxton), where I met some people whose belief in my music fuels me to this day.
After I was done with school, it became abundantly clear that I needed to make more money to fund my music, like buying equipment so that I could play restaurant/bar gigs, and paying for studio time. Neither of these things are even remotely affordable for a 17 year old living on her own working a minimum wage job. My family encouraged me to take out loans and get a degree in business, something where I could get a good job and make a stable income. I knew I had to choose between music and higher education, because whatever I chose would consume all of my time. It was the easiest choice I’ve ever made.
I started dancing in a strip club on my 18th birthday (yes, it was legal. No, you don’t have to be 21.) This choice has funded my life for nearly 5 years, allowing me to work nights and have a musical life during the week, and paying for my ambitions, not only the pursuit of music, but traveling the world as well. Unsurprisingly, I faced an unholy amount of backlash for this choice. From almost everyone. “You’re wasting your potential.” “I wish you would go back to school, you’re so smart.” My personal favorite, “You just don’t seem like the ‘stripper’ type…” I don’t understand why everyone was so surprised. They told me I would have to claw my way into the music industry, that it would be difficult and exhausting and that I would have to do whatever it takes. This is me doing whatever it takes.
So, I may not be a comic book hero, but I do have an unrecognizable “superhero” version of myself that only comes out at night. I even have a spandex skin tight outfit (more than one).
Writing this information to an interviewer is risky business. Maybe you won’t use my response because it’s too controversial. Maybe I, as a person, am too controversial. Maybe it makes me a bad investment, or maybe it makes my story interesting. Historically, women who play it safe get walked on by those who don’t, so I’ll take the gamble. Either way, one day, when I’m retired from my night job, living in a house by the sea, sipping hot chocolate and reminiscing about the abundant music career I plan to build over the course of my life, I know that I will owe every victory of my life to the decision to start dancing. I could write a book on how complicated being a dancer and a singer/songwriter is, maybe one day I will! What really matters is that stripping helped make me who I am today, and gave me opportunities I could never have imagined. I am grateful to be granted the space to disclose my not-so-secret origin story.
RRX: Every artist’s first song is a milestone. But so is the latest song. Describe the first song/album you recorded, and also the latest song/album you recorded; what are the Differences?
ST: The first song I ever recorded was at the home studio of my dear friend and local legend Barry Hyman. I believe I was 12 or 13 years old then, my mom would know. She was paying for guitar lessons from Barry. At that time, the thing to do was to burn the song onto a blank CD, and put it on SoundCloud. I’m pretty sure it’s still there under “Breathe” by Shannon Morgello and Barry Hyman. It’s cute, and a bit sad. I wrote it because my relationship with one family member in particular was really bad at the time, and was causing me a lot of stress and anxiety. I was in therapy for this for years, but I wasn’t really able to start healing until I wrote a song about it. My voice sounds so young. I miss being a soprano.
In contrast, the latest recording project of mine is an album called “Tangled String.” It’s a 10 song story about the trials and tribulation of seeking, finding, and losing love. This project is still in the works, and I hope to release it this spring! This is a project my partner and I have recorded in my living room, using Ableton, and processing all vocals and instruments ourselves. We’ve created a cool new pop/folk sound, which is different from my very raw acoustic folk projects such as my debut live album, “Unplugged in Patagonia.” It’s been such a beautiful learning experience, and I think it’s so special to be able to look at something you made from scratch and say, “I brought this to life.” If you want to keep up with my ongoing projects and releases, I’d be thrilled to connect on instagram, @shannontehya, which I use mostly to keep friends up to speed on my music!
RRX: Like songs, every artist has a unique feeling about their first show. What was your first show like? Was it your best show? If not, what was your best show like?
ST: I feel like I’ve waited my whole life to brag about my “first show”. The Disney movie “Frozen” came out in 2013, when I was 12 and just finishing up seventh grade. My tap dance instructor, Jennetta, decided to plan the most extravagant birthday party for her daughter. It was a show titled “The Princess Project,” in which 6 different Disney princesses interacted together, and sang their signature song from their respective film.
Auditions were held in the dance studio that Jennetta taught in, and the roles included Cinderella, Aurora, Merida, Ariel, and of course, Elsa and Anna from Frozen. I auditioned for Elsa without hesitation, and got the part! I was ELATED. This was the best thing ever for a 12 year old me. Also, Jennetta is a really cool mom. Imagine packing a theater full of parents and kids for your daughter’s 6th birthday party.
We performed the show in September, and I got to wear the most beautiful blue Elsa dress I had ever seen. We hand made 1,000 origami butterflies and hung them all over the venue. Jennetta covered all of us in glitter, and we felt like real princesses. My mom was finding glitter in my hair for weeks after that. This show led to a year of getting booked to play Elsa at little girl’s birthday parties. My first paid gig was cosplaying as Elsa and singing at a party! Truly, this must be as good as it gets. If you can’t make yourself a celebrity, dress up as one. Children get so excited and won’t know the difference.
Although my debut as Elsa was certainly a highlight, the best show of my adult life so far is without question the Homegrown Songwriters Showcase at Caffe Lena, organized by Rick Bolton. Caffe Lena is a special place, even their open mic offers the rare opportunity to showcase original music in a silent listening venue. Their school of music creates beautiful opportunities for children and adults alike, and most of their staff is made up of selfless volunteers who donate their time and energy to creating comfortable spaces for musicians and listeners. During the concert at Caffe Lena, I shared the bill with two other incredible female musicians (an all-girls show?! Epic! No boys allowed!). If you’re not familiar with Hayley Stafford and Elizabeth Conant, a quick google search should fix that. I wouldn’t have wanted to share this beautiful night with anyone else.
What really made the show at Caffe Lena different, was the silent listening room. That night, October 29th, 2023 (I remember because I missed my cousin’s wedding to be there and still have the invitation on my fridge) I said to my partner, “I don’t want to play at bars anymore. I don’t want people screaming at me to play Free Bird, or ignoring the music because the football game on TV is turned up louder than I am. I’ve been doing the bar circuit for years and now I want more because tonight I got a taste of what ‘more’ feels like.” Caffe Lena taught me the difference between being listened to, and being heard.
RRX: Music genres are difficult for some artists. Some strictly adhere; others not so much. What is your perspective on the genre you play, or the genres you hover around?
ST: The idea of assigning genres to my own music makes me anxious. I feel like that’s not for me to do. I’ll keep making my music, and anyone who listens to it can debate amongst themselves what genre it fits into. It’s tricky, because I have a lot of influences and have worked with a lot of people. My roots are in folk music and I love that. That being said, I worked with the talented producer Devon Seegers on 5 pop songs. Two are released, and I’m still sitting on the other three. I’m a bonafide genre-jumper and I think it’s so fun to just create without worrying about adhering to the rules that come with assigned genres. I’ve never liked rules very much.
RRX: It’s a lot of fun living in the present, but we all collect memories and give birth to dreams. We’re talking dreams here. Where do you see yourself next year? In the next five Years?
ST: 2024 is going to be a big year. I don’t know why yet but I can just feel it. I’ve never been more focused or productive when it comes to putting out music. I’ve never had such a strong musical support system as I do right now. My goal for next year, and for every year, is to put something out into the world that creates a positive impact. I’ve always said, if my music can touch the heart of just one person, then I’m doing a good job. Then it’s all worth it. Every time someone comes up to me after a show and tells me that a song I wrote moved them, I feel this warm hopefulness, and I take it as a sign that I’m walking the right path.
If we’re talking the next five years and beyond – then I guess it’s okay to dream big. I’ll be honest, I want everything. I want no stone left unturned. I want to maximize every opportunity I get, I want to be the biggest version of myself possible. I want to do something in my lifetime that makes the world a better place. Maybe that means writing songs that make a few people feel less alone. Maybe it means getting so rich and famous that I have enough money to help aid refugees in Palestine, maybe make a dent in the climate crisis. My dreams are so big that sometimes it’s hard to find my way out of the shadow they cast. The cool thing is, whatever dreams do or don’t come true, it doesn’t matter, because I’m never going to stop doing what I love anyway.
RRX: We all get a little support from those around us. And we also can be impressed by our fellow performers. Who do you admire in your community, and why?
ST: Okay, where to start… I guess going way back, my childhood cheerleader for my music was my best friend, Ajanta Diebel. Ajanta has sung, laughed, and cried with me since we were 4 years old. One day we’ll be old women, knitting by the fire and laughing about how I name dropped her in this interview. But seriously, she’s studying abroad in Germany this year, so I haven’t seen her in months. One day recently she sent me a video of her singing and playing one of my songs, “Child Eyes” on ukulele. I cried in line at Core Life Eatery. I hope everyone has a friend like Ajanta.
So much about my life would also not have been possible without the support of my parents. Had they been a wealthy family, I know they would have paid for me to have every single creative adventure I ever wanted. Even without wealth, they created opportunities out of thin air. My mom streams my music all the time. She tells everyone at her work to go listen. She paid for piano and music theory lessons. My dad bought me my first guitar and taught me how to play it. He was the guitarist in my first band. He always told me my music reminded him of Alison Krauss. I love him for that. Thanks Carole and Bob, I love you.
Deena Chappell, Sarah Kelly, and John Wensley of Northern Borne are people who I admire very much, both as musicians and friends. Deena has been a family friend all my life, and from a very young age I’ve looked up to her as a major musical inspiration. To be nominated in the same category as several of my idols (Carolyn Shapiro too!) is a huge and unbelievable honor.
There are so many people in my community who I admire, Lucas and Larry Sconzo, Scott and Lisa Carrino, Otha Day, Barry Hyman, Hayley Stafford, Ivy Darling, Kristoffer Ross, Devon Seegers, Linnea Seegers, my incredibly talented band of misfits, the Troupe, Will Gordon, Felix Sun, Soahn Kuehner, Jade Miner, Sophia Miner, Neil Goes, Finn Green.
The last name I’ll put in here is one I could write an essay about. I owe so many of my creative accomplishments to my partner Hunter Frost. Hunter has believed in me when I didn’t, reminded me of what matters when I felt small, and has been sparking inspiration for songs for almost a year. He is a talented musician, and making music with him makes me feel like I’m finally home after a lifetime of searching. Hunter is the greatest gift this life has given me so far, and I’m so lucky to have someone who is my partner in music, music production, and life.
There are so many people who have helped inspire me, influence my music, and shape the artist I am today. I owe everything to the communities around me, and I’m so thankful for everyone who has walked with me, even briefly, during my journey onward through life.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about my dreams and experiences. I enjoyed sharing a bit about myself and I can’t wait to see where the music takes me next!