INTERVIEW: SF Bay Area indie pop/folk punk outfit Little Shrine

Photo by Ginger Fierstein

SF Bay Area indie pop/folk punk outfit Little Shrine are getting ready to release their sophomore record, The Good Thing About Time (out April 17). Carrying a candle for the broken-hearted pop rhapsody of Blondie – sans the affected eighties pop production so endlessly ubiquitous in modern music, Jade Shipman ushers in a new era of Americana brimming with punk pathos. As the sophomore effort of singer/songwriter/bassist Shipman, Little Shrine seeks to explore the universal through the personal, detailing the relentlessness of all creeds of heartbreak and the vehemence necessary to cast out the resulting ills. With the help of guitarist Tony Schoenberg, violinist Ryan Avery, drummer Andrew Griffin, and keyboardist Garrett Warshaw, this Bay Area outfit, after years of earning the scene’s attention, is preparing to release their most profound and infectious release yet: The Good Thing About Time.

Encapsulating the wily and wiry energy of Ted Leo’s early solo releases, the punky whip-crack of Carrie Brownstein’s vocals, and carrying the torch for their robust songcraft The Good Thing About Time manages to imbue the punk aesthetic in its energetic strumming, while also maintaining the delicacy and subtlety necessary to highlight the myriad lush string arrangements coursing through songs like “Make Me Better” and “The Good Thing About Time.”

Can you tell us more about your latest single “The Good Thing About Time”?

We’re pretty excited about this track coming out. It’s one of our favorite songs to perform live. It’s also the 2nd single and the 2nd track on our 2nd record. Are twos good luck? 

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

This song was inspired by things going very wrong for myself and people I care about – a few breakups with a messy argument or two in there, a friend facing trouble with substances… that kind of thing. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a moment where, after something has gone terribly awry, I think “Well, at least that’s over.” We endure all kinds of disastrous things — emotionally, physically, financially, whatever. When I wrote the song, I needed something that felt encouraging, like the future has some sparkle to it.

Truthfully, I wish I could write songs that are 100% joyful, because I think that’s the kind of support we need from music sometimes. But with my songwriting, whatever comes out is what comes out. I guess this is the best I can do in terms of a “joyful” song at the moment — a song that acknowledges a whole series of bad things happening, but we look to the future, and it’s got a brightness to it.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

We were just chatting about this today actually. With the Coronavirus, most shows in the Bay Area are being cancelled, so we have more time on our hands, suddenly. We are toying with video ideas and might try to put something together in the next couple of weeks. We have three other tracks from this record with videos that are done. They will be coming out soon.

Why name this song, in particular, after the album’s namesake?

The concept of “time” is pretty fascinating to me, and it’s central to the whole record. Across these songs, there’s a sense of being in a timeline, either before or after something has happened, and there’s a sense of movement in time. Also, there’s a positivity to it — No matter what harm has been done in the past, so long as you’re alive, you can take control of your life and move forward. It seemed like a theme across the record: the past doesn’t repeat if you don’t let it. 

How was the recording and writing process?

It was pretty straight forward. I wrote the songs, got my bass lines ready, and recorded some simple demos with the feeling I was hearing in my head. The next step was to work with guitarist Tony Schoenberg and violinist Ryan Avery to flesh the songs out. Then we shared what we’d done so far with our drummer Andrew Griffin and got tight as a quartet. We recorded the bass, drums, violin, and guitar at the same time – we wanted to capture that live energy first and foremost. Our producer, Ben Bernstein, understood the vibe we were going for and helped bring it to the record. We also ate a lot of burritos and cookies, which may have helped. Somewhere along the line, it became clear that these songs needed piano and organ, so I met up with keyboardist Garrett Warshaw and started working out those parts. Keys were the final touch on this record. They really bring it all together.

When we recorded this song, there was a specific rhythmic feel I could hear in my head that I wanted us to realize — a crisp poppy sound, with the rhythm section pushing the song forward. I wanted the piano to have a pretty shimmer to it, in order to give the song a sparkly feeling to it, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. 

What role does San Francisco play in your music?

Well, San Francisco has been influential because we talk about our feelings! I’m interested in psychology and spirituality, and the culture here has helped me apply them to my songwriting. I have less fear of what other people might think, and I’m more comfortable communicating openly in my lyrics than I used to be, even when it’s vulnerable or if there’s an awkwardness. In terms of spirituality, there’s a Buddhist approach where before you speak, you ask yourself – is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind? Lately I ask myself those questions about each song. Does it feel true and authentic? Does it feel necessary to put this kind of song into the world? Is it kind? I’ve definitely let go of more than a few songs where, with some reflection, they didn’t feel true enough, or salient enough to warrant the song. Without San Francisco’s influence, I’m not sure I would have applied that lens to my creative work.

What aspect of time itself did you get to explore on this record?

Some major themes of this record are impermanence, loss, letting go of the past, and looking to the future with a sense of hope and sometimes impatience. Honestly, part of me hates time because it’s not something we can control. But I also think the fact that our time on earth is finite helps us prioritize and gives life meaning. I think we need to learn from the past, but not get stuck in it, and to think about the future, but not live in a fantasy. Our lives are happening today, and I don’t want to miss it. Sometimes it feels like walking a tightrope.

I think as a culture, our relationship with time is pretty weird. People never seem to have enough of it, always rushing. But then they also seem to squander it on things that aren’t meaningful – like if you’ve ever caught yourself watching a TV show you don’t even like. I try to use my time well, so it’s aligned with my goals. Yet there’s another side to it that isn’t so rosy: I can get caught in a trap of trying to do as much as I can with each minute. Yes, I get a lot done, but it’s also a recipe for burnout. I have to force myself to rest. Take a pause, have a goddamned cup of tea, you know?

The pandemic that we are currently facing with the Coronavirus has obviously had adverse effects on touring musicians. Did you have any plans to hit the road, initially, with this record?

It’s a strange moment in time for touring artists, and everyone in general right now, indeed. We were hoping to do a little touring in the fall and overseas, but that’s probably not going to happen, considering that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. I’m stoked to tour when the time is right, but it is way more important that people stay healthy and that our medical systems don’t get overwhelmed. We were going to play a few record release shows in the Bay Area, but those will probably need to be postponed.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Life, death, breakups, breakdowns. Things falling apart, and the pieces reassembling in a new way. To me, this record has a feeling of forward motion. Our last album was pretty sad, and when I wrote it, I felt like I was stuck in a tidepool, kind of swirling around but unable to move ahead, waiting for the ocean to come back and free me. That feeling definitely carried into the songs. Now I’m freer and it feels really good. 

What else is happening next in Little Shrine’s world?

It’s an exciting moment right now because this record is about to come out on April 17th. So the songs are ready to go, but no one’s heard them yet. It’s an exciting feeling, kind of like Christmas morning where you’ve gotten someone a present and you hope they love it. Beyond that, I’m pretty much always writing. That sense of forward motion is definitely present. Things are happening and it feels good.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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