Shannon McNally:
No time for whining

An interview by Tom Knapp,
January 1996

If Shannon McNally is writing a song, you can bet she's feeling pretty good about life.

"I have a new rule -- I try to write songs when I'm in a really good mood," said the Lancaster, Pa., native. "People don't want to hear sad songs all the time; they don't want to hear people whine all the time. So I try not to whine."

That's a sharp reversal, she admitted, from the tendency of many musicians -- including herself in bygone days -- to focus on the dark and somber side of life. "I tend to wax philosophical, so I try every now and then to catch myself and lighten up," she said.

McNally, who cut her teeth in Lancaster-area bands like Tuesday's Child (later reformed as pop/ska band Everyday at Six) and Ruby & the Halogens, has just started to bring her solo singer-songwriter skills to the Lancaster scene. Her original music is a fusion of blues, folk and jazz, she said, "with a heavy emphasis on lyrics."

She doesn't like mindless fluff, she noted. All her tunes have a tale to tell.

"I try to make my songs stories more than anything," McNally said. "I like them to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and they have to say something. I don't like songs that don't have a point."

However, she doesn't need epic sagas or grandiose themes in her stories, either. "I just write about my everyday experiences," she explained. "Things that change in my life or" -- she laughs -- "love and romance. ... I try not to write about anything I don't know firsthand."

McNally draws inspiration from the songwriting styles of Rikki Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Jesse Winchester. Her vocal quality, she said, bears comparison to Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin and Joan Osborne.

"I think I've just finally found my sound," she said. "I've been fishing for it."

Her newly released, five-track cassette Dragon Fly has backing sounds from Nightcrawlers' guitarist Nelson Lawrence and Burning Bus bandmates Neal Kreider on bass and Pete Barnhart on percussion. One song also features five-foot-long Ecuadorean pan pipes played by Luis and Bolivar Lopez. McNally recruited the two for a recording session after hearing their band, Andes Manta, play at Longwood Gardens.

But on stage, 22-year-old McNally relies only on her voice and acoustic guitar. A closet violinist, she plans to add fiddle to her stage repertoire soon -- once she works up the nerve to wield her bow in public.

"I would like to play in a band at some point," she said, "but that's just not happening these days, so I'm just going to keep going solo."

[ visit Shannon's website ]

[ by Tom Knapp ]