In Shawn Eager's own words he's "written
more songs than you can keep track of" and after a few years
of seeing him perform at the Atlantic Beach Songwriters
Night, hosted by Mike Shackelford once a month, I can
believe it. Shawn always has a song at the ready to make you
laugh, cry, and think--and usually all three at once. Rooted
in the storytelling tradition of the early blues ("This is
where I am right now") with a hefty mix of the latter-day
singer-songwriter troubadour ("This is how it affects me")
and wrapping it up with a keen eye for detail and a wry turn
of phrase, Shawn always keeps the listener on their toes,
wondering just how he comes up with all this and where he's
taking you next. Ladies and gentlemen: Shawn Eager.
Roy: For anyone who has never heard your music, explain your
sound in one sentence.
Shawn: My music is the bastard child of John Prine and
Bonnie Raitt raised by Neil Young and Sheryl Crow.
Roy: What is your songwriting process? Are you a words first
kind of writer or does melody come first?
Shawn: I think I am one of those fortunate writers for whom
there is no “process.” I carry a micro-cassette recorder
with me everywhere I go and note on it thoughts, rhymes,
puns, melodies, rhythm patterns, story outlines, and
basically anything that comes to mind. It happens mostly
when I am driving, performing some mundane task at work or
walking in the woods. Occasionally it happens at inopportune
moments; in the bathroom or in the middle of a discussion
with somebody to whom I should be paying attention. At times
like those I won’t try to whip out the recorder, I’ll just
hope it stays fresh enough in my mind till later. Words are
usually automatically accompanied by a melody and that
melody is subject to change but it sort of captures the mood
at the time. To me that is why a simple recording is the
key, well that and the fact that my memory sucks. And any of
you who have seen me perform often enough can attest to
that. With all that said I do feel that the lyric is the
star of the show, and I consider myself a bit of a
wordsmith. For me lyrical phrasing helps to guide the
melodies most of the time.
Roy: How much time do you generally spend on a song?
Shawn: I have some partial songs, many in fact that have
been waiting around for months at a time to be completed.
They are usually started because of a funny thought or a
play on words that revealed itself but never explained
itself. Sometimes a dark mood spurs a thought that is as
fleeting as the mood itself and it will sit around even
longer. But my favorite songs, and the ones that seem to
capture and hold a listeners attention the most are
generally the ones that pour out of my head so frenetically
that I can hardly write fast enough to make record of them.
I have had several dozen song ideas that began on the ride
to work and were lyrically finished by the time I got home
and the guitar parts just fell into place as though they
already knew where they belonged. There are even a handful
of tunes that literally took only fifteen or twenty minutes
start to finish.
Roy: Has your songwriting process changed in any way over
the years? What have you learned from previous songs you've
Shawn: It has absolutely changed over the years, for a very
long time I would write maybe three or four songs a year and
they were usually attempts to be as poetic or as sarcastic
as possible. I worked hard to find oddball rhymes or to
emulate someone else’s style. I never learned to read or
write music and I was always trying to give my “musician”
friends something interesting to work with. I went through a
spell where I was trying hard to write songs “for a band”;
they all came out as trite, contrived collections of common
chords and even more pedestrian lyrics. So what I learned
from that experience was to just let the music happen. You
can’t fake honesty; the listener will sniff out a lie
quickly. Even when a song is 100% fictional it still has to
reflect an honest emotion, unless of course the song is
purely absurd and not meant to be anything other than that.
In an interview with Bob Dylan years ago he said that
writing songs was like fishing in an ongoing river of
thoughts and emotions and if you happen to be receptive at
the right moment then the songs are yours to catch. The best
part of that story is the following year somebody asked Arlo
Guthrie if he agreed with Bob’s theory. He said yes, and
then said he was glad he was not standing downstream from
Roy: Arlo's a smart cookie, for sure. While we're on the
subject of songwriters, can you name a few of your favorite
songwriters and why they are important to you and tell us
what you have learned from them.
Shawn: Well anyone my age has to have been influenced by
James Taylor, Carol King, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Jackson
Browne… right? These guys are pretty much the top dogs. But
for me I think my influences were far more about what was
happening where I was as I grew up and where music was a
part of that growth. Geographically, socially, politically,
I had a very diverse set of factors as a teen and pre-teen.
I’ll try to keep this brief; we moved
every few years for business reasons and my Dad was a music
fan, he listened to everything from classical symphonic to
40’s swing, Andre Segovia to Spike Jones. And because he
did, I did too. I have older siblings so when I was six or
eight, I was listening to Motown and Shag music, Roy
Orbison, Ray Charles, The Righteous Brothers. Early teen
years were in New Orleans where Jazz and Blues were
everywhere. If you have never watched a funeral procession
as it moves through the city you are missing something
completely magical and compelling. Then on to Cleveland just
after the race riots of the late 60’s, there I was
introduced to the Detroit sound, gritty back beat Rock and
Roll. But there also was my first personal glimpse of the
anti-war movement and the music that revolved around it.
After that we came south just in time for the birth of
Southern Rock. All in all, I think the one thing that
remained constant for me through all of this was that
honesty in music still stood out from packaged, processed
The writers I mentioned earlier and many
others gave anyone that wanted to hear it a message for the
present tense or a hope for the future. For me the best
songwriting is more like a conversation with the listener
rather than a dissertation with a catchy hook. I try to tell
a story by painting a picture with words. That story can be
a real or imagined, past, present or future. And most other
writers will agree that there is some hint of
auto-biographical content in nearly every composition.
Whether it is driven by the id, the ego or the super ego, it
Did I say anything that could have been
construed as an answer to your question?
Roy: Close enough. Works for me.
Roy: How do you deal with criticism?
Shawn: Why Roy, have you got something to say?
Before I started playing and singing and writing I was an
art student. My art instructors made a point by example that
criticism will always be a part of the creative process. You
can work desperately hard on a piece of art and some folks
will love it, some folks will hate it and some could not
care less one way or the other. I learned that constructive
criticism is a gift in itself….usually, assuming that the
person offering the critique has knowledge of the form or
process, that critique can be a blessing. The people I give
no credence to are the ones that could not care less, they
display no passion so I don’t care what they think…. ….is
that bad? Besides as an artist, musical or visual, if you
put your honest heart into the work then you know it will
speak to someone, somewhere. Strange thing about art, once
you have completed the work and you put it out for display
it is no longer yours anyway….. people can think of it, and
do with it as they please.
Roy: "Lie To Me," can you tell me how that song came to be
Shawn: Okay Roy, I’ll tell you, but then your manhood could
very well hang in the balance. Are you sure you want know?
Roy: I'm tough, I think I can handle it!
Shawn: I am a student of people, I watch, I listen, I try to
put myself in their places mentally, emotionally,
spiritually, and yes , sexually. The latter is the most fun
of course. After many conversations with my wife and
friends, both male and female, I came to the conclusion that
the very basic difference between most (and that’s the key
word) men and women is that women need to be needed and men
want to be wanted. So that is where the song came from, a
guy just wanting to feel wanted. Even though he knows most
of what she says is just to benefit his ego, and that she
and her girlfriends will get a giggle out of it later behind
his back or even in his face for that matter, he does not
care. Guys are very simple creatures and smart women will
use that to their advantage ….. after they are done laughing
of course. The first time I played the song for friends at a
party in my home, one of our guests, a somewhat cosmopolitan
young bi-sexual woman whispered into my wife’s ear, “…you
realize we will have to kill your husband…. he knows
entirely too much”.
Roy: "Georgia Summer Morning," off of the Caught in the Act
compilation CD has a rather sweet raunchiness to it. Very
playful and, yes, dirty--but also romantic. What can you
share about the writing of that song?
Shawn: That song is a blend of fact and fantasy. I am a
romantic, but still occasionally mired in my shameless guy-ness.
Ever notice how when you look back to a special night with a
special someone all of the “ick” factor of human sexuality
takes a back seat or disappears completely in the romance of
the memory. I wanted to paint a picture of a young couple so
enthralled with each other that nothing would sully (look it
up) their desire to express that love. I wanted it to be raw
and steamy without being crude. I chose words that I hoped
would conjure up the listeners own experiences with
passionate urges, the kind that had to be controlled but
could not be ignored. And I knew in my heart of hearts that
if I could pull that off, if I could drench the listener in
the humid, sticky, wee hours of a southern mid-summer
pre-dawn tryst, I just might get laid as a result. How’s
that for romantic?
Roy: Many of your songs have a humorous bent to them, yet
don't come across as novelty songs. That's a very difficult
thing to pull off in today's world. So, seriously, how the
hell do you pull that off on such a consistent basis?
Shawn: I understand the question, how humor often comes
across as novelty in music, but with those pieces of mine
that could be considered novelty tunes I will still take the
time to try and be literate, and challenge my listener to
pay attention or miss the big picture behind all the
silliness, and there usually IS a big picture behind the
silliness. The humor is usually self deprecating, mostly
because it is not polite to poke fun at others. For me, part
of my everyday life is to find the humor in my circumstance.
I do not always succeed and sometimes when I find it, it may
be because somebody else found it funny first and I had to
look at it from their point of view. I find that most of the
things in my music that evoke laughter are when you, the
audience, see yourself in that fashion. Or maybe you hear
one of your own twisted thoughts in a song and realize that
you are not the only one who has had that thought,
embarrassing though it may be. Then you giggle out of relief
that you are not as perverted as your priest lead you to
believe all those years ago. It is also possible that my
natural sarcasm helps a bit.
Roy: Can a song change after you play it in front of people?
Shawn: Yes it can although it rarely does. More often it
changes after the first time you hear a recording of it back
Roy: Does playing a song in front of an audience influence
your songwriting in any way?
Shawn: I do and always will write from my gut, it could be
positive or it could be negative since both exist in real
life then both have to be addressed. The audience will have
to make the decision to deal with it or not. I write because
I can’t, not do it. The audience gets it both barrels, in
the face, right or wrong, pretty or poisoned….. that’s art.
I was in theater in high school. (…now go back and read that
line again but this time pronounce t-h-e-a-t-e-r with the
most pompous British accent you can manage) My drama coach
taught me that in order to connect with an audience you
don’t hold anything back. You let them in on every emotion.
Playing an original piece in front of an audience should be
an accurate barometer of how well you have crafted the song.
Generally speaking if you have touched on their emotions or
made them laugh at themselves a bit they will let you know,
and that is the information you need to do it again.
Roy: What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
Shawn: Things are what they are, good or bad and your only
real choice in life is how you react to those things when
confronted by them.
So there’s that, and…. uhmm…. oh yeah……. never pet a flaming
Roy: Good advice.
Interested in more of Shawn Eager? You can find his myspace
Look for him on facebook and he tells me
that that a CD, The Authorized Bootleg Collection,
will soon be available online and that he has a new website
coming so keep checking his sites for more info.
Shawn has quite a few videos on his myspace page as well as
on youtube. Check 'em out:
“Lie to Me”
“Say The Words”