INTERVIEW: Shayna Adler

Hi Shayna, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hello! Despite this crazy, crazy year, I’m doing just fine. I’m pretty sure I could make it through any disaster as long as there is coffee!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Stagecoach Sally”?

Stagecoach is off to a flying start! I’m so happy to finally share this song. It’s been a staple in my live show for a long time, but the recording is how I always imagined it would sound.

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

There were definitely a couple things that led to the writing for that song, but I would say it was written intentionally. I knew I wanted to write an EPIC Western adventure into a song that read like a novel. I was inspired by one of my favorite movies (I LOVE WESTERNS), “The Quick and the Dead” (1995) with Sharon Stone. There aren’t a whole lot of Western movies or themes with women becoming the gunslinger—the outlaw. We mostly think of the few characters from history, like Calamity Jane or Belle Starr. So, I wanted to write my own where the girl gets the bad guy. But it really is deeper than that.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Filming Stagecoach Sally was so, so much fun! I invited my friends to come make it with me, they all brought their own costumes. My friends are all fun, creative types. My friend Jason Avina has been getting started as a videographer and did a fantastic job filming.

I wanted the video to be fairly literal (because I thought it would be more fun), even though I think of the song itself as being more metaphorical (especially in context with the album). So, the video really followed the lyrics of the song, which made it easy to storyboard and come up with scenes to act out. I think it turned out both really silly, but it has its serious, deep moments. This was definitely a low/no-budget, guerilla film-making experience. We filmed one day at Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space in Los Angeles, and the rest a private avocado farm in Ramona, where the villain of the video, Michael Lloyd Gilliland works. He’s the sweetest, most incredible actor. It was an amazing experience doing this with my friends. I feel really blessed!! I have to say that I have the “bug” to make more videos like these.

The single comes off your new album Wander – how did you come up with the idea for a conceptual record?

First off, the rest of the record is not Western-themed. I think that’s important to point out!!

I had about 4-5 other songs I had been working on for the record, but I needed to write more. Looking at the songs lyrically, they revealed the story to me—a woman on a journey that was fantastical, but also internal. She would go to magical, impossible places! All I had to do then was fill in the blanks, to answer the question, “well, what happened next?” I produced it knowing the order, and the lyrics revealed how every song sounded, and how they began and ended. It very much turned out like an RPG (role-playing game), where you’re led through a 1st-person journey in a specific, exciting way!

But these songs are very emotional, some very personal to me. In context with the album, “Stagecoach Sally” represents the darkest, lowest point. It’s the ultimate standoff. The endless haunted desert that Sally finds herself in is the one in her own head—the most lawless, wild place that exists. The villain of the story is the embodiment of darkness from events she’s carried around since childhood and comes to finally face them as an adult. Sometimes, you have to face the dark to get to the light, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to get to that moment.

Was this always the plan or it rather evolve into this?

A little bit of both. It was absolutely discovery, but also intention. I’m very much a planner and over-thinker, and I like to have a map in front of me when I make a project. I get really obsessed and delve into every aspect of the songwriting, producing, and creative management of my music. Mad scientist Shayna! I wouldn’t say actually that anything evolved, but instead, the ideas became clearer and clearer as the album was worked on.

What’s the story behind the title?

This song came to me like being hit with a cast iron frying pan. I was driving in my car and I had to record the lyrics into the voice-memo section of my iPhone. When I got home, I sat down to my guitar and pretty much played it all the way through within moments. The words “Stagecoach Sally” just came from outer space; I’m not sure how much I thought about it. Songwriting is like that sometimes. It’s like the creative part of your brain turns on and turns the analytical side off. Who knows? Stagecoach Sally seems like the perfect name for an outlaw.

How was the recording process?

I made a demo at home that just consisted of a digital kick drum, tambourine, my acoustic guitar, and a bass track by Jesse Stern (that he played and sent me). The tempo and arrangement never really changed, but the intro didn’t get finalized until later. Like the rest of my record, the bulk of it was overdubbed. Mario Calire was sent the demo and played/recorded drums over it at home. The only instruction he was given was that “it was not a country song,” and that “very cool, unexpected drums were needed.” So being the genius he is, Mario gave the song this swampy, almost hip-hop beat, which became the perfect foundation for a dark song that built tension and anticipation. I played a new bass part and came up with the bridge riff, then Alexis Sklarevski came in and played the bass part MUCH better than I could!! I’m a marginal bass player, at best. Alexis is phenomenal and played throughout the album. Mark Christian met with me at the studio and we worked on the guitar parts for the better part of two or three days. Mark is brilliant! It was so orchestrated—and maybe that’s just become me. I did some programming of synths and small details. Mark is great when it comes to creative, unique details. I wanted elements that referred to ‘going back in time’—hence the clock strike in the intro. Originally, I thought of using clock ticks from effects/samples, but instead, the ticking-clock sound in the verses is a muted acoustic guitar part. It’s so simple, but so effective. Randy Crenshaw brought the ghosts from the wild west into the song with his ultra-low background vocals. And probably from the moment I wrote that song, I knew I wanted Johnny Stachela to play on it. That guy can make a guitar sing in the most haunting way—I’ve never heard anyone else play the way he does. He gave the song its signature, eerie slide guitar intro, as well as the solo.

It was really difficult to make this song “Western,” but without making it corny, and actually, without making it a country song. I wanted it to just be its own theme song for its own story. Like, if you took the vocals off, you’d know exactly where and when you were.

How much of your own personal experiences did you get to pour into the concept of this album?

A few of the songs are filled with very personal stuff. I have a lot to say about this life, but I wouldn’t say this record is about me. I never wanted to be the hero in my own story. I’m the kind of nerdy, introverted hermit that goes to a party and then spends the whole time hiding.

Even across other songs that aren’t on this record, I love to create characters and worlds to explore, and this album offers both. It’s become more my way to write about my own experiences and feelings through these other things. Maybe it feels safer, in a way. For this being my first “big” album, I just really wanted to build something explorable—an adventure. I’m just the narrator.

What aspect of strength and self-discovery did you get to explore on this album?

This is a really tough question. I think I tend to be my own worst enemy sometimes. Throughout the writing, producing, and recording of this record, I’d occasionally get asked about references for the album—similar artists, songs, or albums that could be an exemplar for what we were doing. I never had any good answers. It’s made me feel insecure sometimes that what I was creating—no one else was. I couldn’t find anything remotely similar. Every song sounds totally different: a different band on every song—most Americana albums aren’t like that. I can’t hear my voice in other artist’s voices. After a while, it starts making you wonder if you’re doing some wrong or sub-par, or that it won’t be successful. I’ve had to learn to just follow my instincts and feel confident in them, and to just keep being myself, and that it was going to be alright if nothing I was creating would fit in a mold. You know, you can’t please everybody. So, I had to be happy with the album—every moment of it. I know its cliché but being true to yourself is underrated advice.

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

I’ve always been a big fiction-fantasy novel nerd. The Harry Potter books helped me through difficult times in my life, and books like Lord of the Rings offered an escape. I love stars, astrology, and constellation lore. I think there is a little bit of all the things I love written into the album.

What else is happening next in Shayna Adler’s world?

There is a lot going on in my life, at the moment. We’ve talked about moving out of California for years, possibly to Austin, Texas, so that’s been a big topic of conversation at my house lately. COVID really changed a lot for me, especially not being able to tour—because I toured with others as a road manager, too. So, I may be embarking on new adventures! I’m beginning to think about the next album, and maybe the events in the coming year will inspire them.


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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