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Shawn Eager

Shawn Eager

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 written?

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 Bob.

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 pop music.

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 is there.

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 written?

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 to yourself.

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 dog.

Roy: Good advice.

Interested in more of Shawn Eager? You can find his myspace page here: myspace.com/StillAboveGround

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”


“Peter Pan”