It wasn’t until she moved to Nashville in her early twenties that Shannon LaBrie made up her mind to pursue a career in music. Far from chasing some starry-eyed or naïve ambition, however, LaBrie was calling on a lifetime to that point spent learning her craft: practicing classical piano since she was a toddler, fostering a four-octave vocal range, and composing original songs. Any idealism she entertained upon her move to Music City, actually, was mitigated by the work she knew it would take to succeed.
That was five years ago, and since then it’s been a steady climb of concert stages and recording studios, of seeking opportunities at every turn and making ends meet in the meanwhile.
Her diligence has paid off with her debut LP, Just Be Honest. The album, which premiered in the Top 10 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart upon its release last February, is a superb work of mostly acoustic, often jazz-and-blues-inspired pop, rendered in a voice rich with such expressive depth it seemingly belongs to someone much, much older. In a way, it does.
“Writing songs and singing and playing, those were tools in me overcoming a lot of trials and grief in my youth,” says LaBrie, 27, who at 14 suffered the loss of her father to cancer while at the same time contending with a chronic, undisclosed illness of her own. “After my dad died I started playing guitar, and I kind of became obsessed with it. As I moved through college it just became more and more apparent that this was just something that I had to do.”
Such existential jolts undoubtedly have a way of impacting one’s own sense of purpose, and LaBrie concedes that hers likely galvanized the determination that has fueled her musical ambitions. “But also I attribute it to growing up with a really great mother and a dad for the short time that I had him,” she adds. “They really gave me a good foundation of belief and trusting and not getting obsessed with, like, ‘What if I fail? What if this doesn’t work out?’ That was never anything that was scary to me as a child, and I would attribute that to my parents a lot.”
Having found her footing within Nashville’s burgeoning independent music scene, LaBrie signed with Zodlounge Records, a boutique production company that afforded her the time and guidance she needed to take her talent to the next level. “You have to be working in a place where you’re able to feel relaxed and comfortable,” she explains, and the contentment she felt in the studio ultimately freed her to concentrate in ways that served the songs well and, as in such sultry moments as “Getting’ Tired” and “Slow Dance,” allowed her gorgeous voice to shine.
“I could write songs like that the rest of my life,” LaBrie says of the latter. “That’s kind of where my heart is.”
Then there’s “I Remember a Boy,” the album’s breakout song and a heart-wrenching lament of disillusioned love. “It was the first song of many that was extremely honest,” says LaBrie. “I felt like I said exactly what I wanted to say.”
While she speaks her piece through her music LaBrie says she’s not spilling her guts, so to speak, underscoring what is not only an act of self-preservation but also a means to resonate with listeners. “I like writing songs that everyone can relate to,” she says, “because if I were to write out the gory details I’d feel like people couldn’t relate to it as much. But when you can express an emotion that everyone’s feeling in a broader sense I feel like more people can relate to it.”
As long as LaBrie continues to write songs that embrace and build upon the quality and sophistication of the ones on Just Be Honest, it’s a wish she should have no trouble making come true.
“This is what I was made to do,” says LaBrie. “It’s in my heart and I just can’t do anything else.”
For more information on Shannon LaBrie, please visit the artist’s official website. Just Be Honest is available now at retail and online outlets.