Aaron Shanley's Complete Control
The singer-songwriter won't let success drag him down
The image of the young man, cap covering an unruly head of hair and guitar slung over his shoulder, is probably one of the most enduring that the 20th century has thrown up, a well worn cliché that shows no sign of disappearing or losing its potency.
The romanticism of being on the road still has the same allure, with many bright young things being drawn, hypnotically, towards the kind of destiny they read about in books, one that all too often ends in tragedy. But 22-year old singer-songwriter Aaron Shanley believes that 'you don't have to destroy yourself' on the way to success. And he isn't exactly the destructive type, anyway. 'I write too many songs about girls!' he quips.
Over the past couple of years, the Lisburn songsmith has been making a name for himself in Northern Ireland, striking up a healthy trade in support slots and with his two mini-albums, Let the Sun In and The Nashville Sessions, garnering significant column inches. Capitalising on his homegrown success, Shanley has also made trips to England and, of course, the America.
'I’ve toured quite extensively for the last 18 months,' he says, a world-weary drawl already in place. 'I’d never really travelled much before, and from I started touring I got really into it, that whole way of life, constant change, meeting people and seeing places… I got addicted to it. I’d be booking shows, and then booking shows in between shows!'
It’s a fairly relentless schedule, the likes of which has broken many a lesser person. Despite the temptations of such a lifestyle, Shanley seems clued into the potential pitfalls that lie ahead. He's worked too hard to let is all slip away so easily.
'I’ve tried my hand at a couple of different things, and it’s almost like I didn’t have an option, there was nothing else I could have done. The more I [write and perform], the more it makes sense. But I have be wary of it, as a lot of people I meet have found the dark side. They just kind of lose their mind a bit. I’m trying to keep my reality.'
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, and for someone who lists his influences as Gram Parsons, Steve Earle, and Townes Van Zandt, it would be easy to buy into the myth.
Whilst it’s all fine and dandy to be professional and get the job done, such artists, who threw themselves into their music head first, are still talked about in hushed tones, whilst their more sensible contemporaries have frequently fallen into obscurity. 'Danger' sells records, but doesn’t always make for a satisfying home life.
'Just reading back on other artists and performers over time, even people who never actually got any recognition, that’s definitely appealing to me,' says Shanley. 'But then I wonder how much is just a nice story, and how much of it is true.
'I know a lot of people who tour constantly, and they’re very much together. They still have steady girlfriends, and they still pay bills and make it work. And then there’s other people who are just searching for oblivion. I’m happy with the touring part, that’s enough escapism for me.'
Shanley releases his music on his own label, White Mountain Music, and books his own shows. In his own way, he’s settled upon an increasingly realistic strategy and established his own little cottage industry, becoming performer and record label CEO at the same time.
Such an approach might lack the glamour of staying up all night in a hotel room, drinking whiskey on Warner Brothers’ dollar. But if you wanna get your music out there, you’ve got to go with what works. Shanley’s forthcoming release represents the fruits of these labours. With complete creative control, he has decided to stretch out and try something more ambitious.
'It’s called Tears on Elizabeth Street,' says Shanley. 'It’s a four part series, and between July and February, all four parts will come out to make up the album. Each part has three songs, and I guess it’s a concept album, with each part a chapter in a book. It was really exciting to do. It was written about London, and every song was written there. It’s about some time I spent there… some stuff that happened… a girl…' He laughs. 'It sucks, but at least you get the tunes.'
Where his journey will take him next remains to be seen, but through a combination of hard work, determination, and good old fashioned realism, Aaron Shanley’s music has already taken him pretty far. 'I remember being in the van in the passenger seat, waking up and opening my eyes to see the New York skyline. Just to finally be there, and to be there playing songs for people, it was amazing.'