“I kept a dirty, dirty secret / in my blue jean pocket” is the first line of 'Coyote', the moody single and opening track to singer/songwriter Shane Cooley’s new album, 'Forest'. From that line alone, one might glean that this journey is not just a leisurely stroll through the woods.
Cabin fever is a sensation that most of us have become familiar with during the 2020s. Forest explores the depths of that sensation. Moved by both the tumultuous times in the world and his personal life, the album delves into the shadows of Cooley’s conceptual wilderness. The result is a hauntingly thoughtful blend of minimalist folk and American roots music. “About a year ago, I went for a walk in the woods, and wandered off-trail,” said Cooley. “I completely lost my bearings, and had to fight my way through heavy brush towards the setting sun, where I knew I would eventually find a road or highway. I think that feeling is at the epicenter of this album; being lost in a dark, dangerous place, with only your instincts to guide you.”
Cooley self-produced 'Forest' in his river cottage in remote Mollusk, Virginia, and played all of the instruments. Most of the songs were conceived during moonlit walks in the woods, a place where Cooley has always felt at home. Sprinkled throughout Forest are nature sounds captured during the recording process. The album was mastered by Fred Kevorkian at Kevorkian Mastering in Brooklyn, NY. “I have known Shane for a decade, from working on his early projects,” said Kevorkian, “I always thought he was a very talented young artist then. Mastering his new record reinforced my opinion.”
Shane Cooley, age 34, has been writing, recording and performing music for over 20 years. The son of a high school principal and an art teacher/wildlife magazine writer, Cooley grew up in rural Virginia. After raising money for the 9/11 Red Cross Relief Fund with a self-penned song at age 14, he found a purpose and identity as a musician. He has been releasing music ever since.
After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature at The College of William & Mary, Cooley hit the road, touring both the United States and Europe. He spent most of his twenties in the music hub of Austin, TX, where he still frequently performs. His 2015 release, 'Kings Highway', was deemed “an absolute triumph” (The Daily Press), earning his reputation as a skilled and prolific songwriter. “He’s one hit away from radio stardom,” wrote Billboard critic Jeff Miller. Along his travels, he has shared the stage with Grammy-nominated artists Wood & Wire, along with Shakey Graves, Wild Child, and more.
Cooley’s songs have found their way to the airwaves of television shows such as NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura,” and IBC’s “The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman.” He also composed the music for the Amazon Book Trailer for bestselling author Lori Foster’s Tough Love. The CW television show Songwriters Across Texas recently aired a documentary episode about Cooley’s life as a singer/songwriter.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in 2020, Cooley leaked his acoustic anthology, '50 Songs' to boost the spirits of his fans, along with performing weekly live stream concerts on his Facebook page. The live streams continue to occur on Wednesdays at 8 pm EST.
'Coyote' releases as a single on April 8, followed by the full album, 'Forest', on April 22 (Earth Day). Cooley will be raising funds and awareness for The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with his release. Shane Cooley’s music can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, Pandora and more.
Now he's here with us and we are doing a deep dive of all things Shane Cooley!
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist?
My pleasure! 2022 is off to a pretty good start. The past few years have been crazy for all of us, and I’m no exception! It feels good to be getting back on track. I’m getting ready to release my new single, “Coyote,” on April 8, followed by my full album, Forest on April 22 on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Bandcamp and more.
Can you tell us how you as an artist have transformed from the beginning to now?
I wrote my first song when I was age ten, and by thirteen I had stubbornly made up my mind that I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. It’s been a long road! As a teenager, I would barricade myself in the garage with an old digital 8-track recorder. I would write and record entire albums, playing all of the instruments. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but after a while, I got the attention of some producers and started recording studio albums. In my twenties, about ten albums later (I’ve lost count), I recorded Kings Highway, which felt like a nevel level for my songwriting. I’ve had various bands over the years, and folks that I still perform with, but it has always come down to the songs first. When the pandemic swept the world, I leaked my acoustic anthology, 50 Songs to lift the spirits of my fans.
Things changed drastically over the pandemic, and being on lockdown made collaborating much more difficult. I started writing new songs after long walks in the woods, and I knew I needed to get them recorded. The result is my new album, Forest. I came full-circle, producing the songs myself and playing all the instruments (this time with a little more knowledge). Recording these songs alone allowed me to walk around inside of these songs, and arrange them the way I hear them internally.
Where are you from originally?
I am a spirit of the woods..the Virginia woods. I grew up in a rural area of Virginia called The Northern Neck, specifically a hamlet known as Mollusk (pronounced Mow-lusk). The area is known for the local seafood that comes from the Rappahannock River, a brackish river that is three miles wide at the mouth. It empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia is rich with nature, history and culture. I earned my degree in English Literature at The College of William & Mary, the second oldest university in the nation. On study breaks, I’d wander into Colonial Williamsburg and watch the reenactors march with fifes and drums.
Where do you live now?
I came back home to Virginia about a year ago. Over the years, I’ve hung my hat everywhere from Arizona to Ohio. I lived in the music hub of Austin, Texas for eight years. I still perform there frequently, making regular visits. The city’s gone through a lot of changes, but at its soul it has some genuine artists. It’s good to be in the quiet of Virginia though, hanging out in my home studio.
Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
Absolutely. Setting in general has a great impact on how music is made. I think that’s why I’ve moved around so much, and why I love to travel. Coming back home has definitely made an impact on the sound of my new album. I captured sound clips of the local wildlife, and incorporated them into the recordings. My home studio (or Cooleyland , as I call it), overlooks the Rappahannock River, surrounded by woods. A lot of these songs are about grounding myself after some very rough times. My middle name is Forest, and nature has always helped me realign. The album, to me, has the spirit of the Virginia forest in its roots.
Throughout this release, I am raising awareness for the benefits of nature on mental health, and why we should help preserve it. You can view my video about nature and mental health here.
What was the inspiration to make music your career?
My dad was a teacher, but music was his personal passion. When I was little, I would fall asleep listening to my dad rehearse with his all-faculty band in the garage. My dad taught me to play drums and guitar when I was very young, and everything about music had always brought me joy. I started writing songs for fun.
Then, 9/11 happened, when I was fourteen. It was such a terrible tragedy. Not knowing what else to do as a teenager from Virginia, I wrote and recorded a song for the victims of the attack. I performed at local and state ceremonies, and gave all proceeds from my CD sales to the Red Cross relief fund. At one of those ceremonies, a row of men in uniform saluted me, and wanted to shake my hand. That’s when I realized that there is a lot of light work in music. It’s medicine, a universal language, and it’s brought a lot of healing to the world. That’s why I’m still making music. Almost every time I start to feel defeated, I get an encouraging message from someone who was listening. As long as my songs are helping somebody get through their day, I’ll be writing them.
How do you want to shape your career?
The pandemic has thrown all of us music folk topsy-turvy. It also makes everything feel like a fresh start. I plan to keep writing, recording and performing my heart out, and the more that happens, the better. One thing that would be wonderful would be to expand my team.
Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
I have a rocky relationship with time. I’m getting better at it though! Time management, that is. There’s always so much to do. The older I get, a little structure feels better than willy nilly. As far as playing music, I’ll play forever. In Texas, I play a traditional sunrise set as the closer for Utopiafest, going from 3 or 4am ‘til daylight!
How did your latest music come to be?
I wrote the songs on Forest during the pandemic, when both the world and my personal life were in a bad state of affairs. After long, moonlit walks in the woods, these songs would appear to me as omens. The opening track and single, “Coyote,” was written in its entirety from one iphone recording. The songs came like visions. My marriage was crumbling, as was my mental health. After we split, I recorded these songs for my personal healing.
Was it hard to let go of the music when it was done?
Sometimes it can be difficult to finish a project, and I have many unfinished projects. It wasn’t the case with this one. I recorded over a few months, and now a year later, releasing it gives me a huge sense of relief. These songs come from a deeply metaphysical place, and some of them are emotionally difficult to perform.
Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music?
I am blessed to have music as an outlet. “Coyote,” and the songs on this album particularly feel like a purge. I feel a sense of growth with every new song. They all have their own personalities.
How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Where do they go to listen NOW?
SHANE COOLEY - LINKS
What has been the best fan reaction to your music?
I once received a message that basically said, “I’m going through a breakup, driving through the desert at night, and BLASTING your album!” Nothing makes me feel better than someone reaching out saying they’ve made an emotional connection with the music.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
The music video for “Coyote” is about to premiere, directed by Ben Foster (Time Trap)! I also have a podcast coming up for Songwriters Across Texas on Youtube airing April 23! They recently did a documentary episode about my music for their TV series.
Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE?
I’m getting ready to head to Austin for the FOREST Texas Tour!
April 5: The Far Out (Austin, TX) - time TBA
April 9: Viva Utopia Fesitvial (Utopia, TX) - closing set at Zen City Stage
(4/14-4/16 w/ Uncle Mason, Scotty Galaxy & Adam McFarland)
April 14: Old Quarter (Galveston, TX) - 8pm
April 15: The Lodge (Conroe, TX) - 7pm
April 16: Franklin’s Tower (Spring TX) - 9:30
April 17: Devil’s Backbone Tavern (Fischer, TX) - 1pm
April 20: Zoi Market (Buda, TX) - 7pm (w / special guests Lori Ellen & Andrew Blanton)
April 30: Radio Coffee & Beer (album release show for Forest ) - 7pm
*I am also performing in Virginia throughout the Summer, plus more TBA! For show updates, please check http://www.shanecooley.com
Give us all your socials and links so fans can link up with you! Thank you for this interview!!
SHANE COOLEY - LINKS