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Pull It Together

by Shannon Stephens

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about

Shannon Stephens, the Seattle-based singer-songwriter, steps out on her third release with intensified energy, a clear focus and a stronger sense of self. Loaded with equal measures of joy and frustration, the album represents an evolution in sound and songcraft for an artist with deep musical roots.

Stephens’ 2009 album, The Breadwinner, was born after an 8-year break from music, spent adjusting to parenthood and tending her abundant garden. Looking back, she sees the delicately beautiful songs that filled that album as merely a stepping stone to this latest endeavor. On Pull It Together, vulnerability has been replaced with a fierce confidence born of experience. She explains the change in simple terms.

"I turned 35 and all of a sudden I didn’t have the energy to give a shit what people thought about me anymore," she says.

Stephens sings out now with a voice free of youthful self-consciousness, filled instead with conviction – and no small amount of anger at the state of the world. She has always distilled powerful emotions into her music but this time the emotional dial is cranked.

From the sweetly swaggering “What Love Looks Like” to the searing “Your Fabulous Friends,” she balances cynicism with generous quantities of warmth, humour and empathy. Never is this fine balance more apparent than on “Faces Like Ours” where Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) weaves his voice with hers in a duet that wryly dissects the injustice of racial and economic privilege.

Stephens’ increased confidence also transformed her method of recording for this third release. Where previously she added orchestral players to fill out her songs, this time she took a blues approach to her arrangements. Drawing together a new band of accomplished musicians, she gave them the freedom to explore and create. With Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Isobel Campbell) on guitars, James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the Lion) on drums and Steve Moore (Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs) on keyboards, Stephens found herself discovering new facets of her own compositions.

She says, “It was total magic. The players opened up new dimensions in the music and the songs became so much more powerful.”

The result of this new approach is an album that is gritty, fluid, and more accessible than her previous work. Call it pragmatic pop: optimism balanced with the sharp-edged reality of life in 2012. And on up-tempo numbers like the grinding “Buddy Up To The Bully,” it’s a sound that has the power to fill a dance floor.

The album’s energy stems in part from changes brewing in Seattle’s music scene of late. Despite economic gloom and the city’s endless drizzle – or maybe because of them – there’s an urge to play hard in Seattle now: foot-stomping tunes that raise the spirits. If The Head & The Heart are the city’s campfire songs and Pickwick is its garage soul, then Shannon Stephens is its late-night bar blues. Pull It Together brings Stephens’ experience and confidence to this freshly burgeoning Seattle sound.

Pull It Together is treated with warm, intimate production thanks to the contributions of Grammy winning engineer Kory Kruckenberg (Rose Thomas, Damien Jurado). Kruckenberg’s light approach to mixing preserved the spontaneity and the vintage spark of the band’s 8-track recordings. The album features a collaboration with DM Stith and backing vocals by Galen Disston of Pickwick.

Shannon Stephens started her career playing with Sufjan Stevens in Marzuki and has had her music covered by Bonnie Prince Billy. It was an auspicious beginning, but only now is she starting to access her full power as a songwriter and performer. She’s sure-footed, and everything’s unfolding as it should. Pull It Together is both the proof and the delicious reward.

credits

released May 22, 2012

Shannon Stephens – voice, acoustic & electric guitars, piano on 11
Jeff Fielder – acoustic, electric & resonator guitars, banjo
Jason Gray – bass
James McAlister – drums & percussion
Andrew Rudd – drums on 7 & 8; percussion on 3
Steve Moore – wurlitzer; piano on 1, 4, 7, 9
Jason Staczek – rhodes; organ on 6
DM Stith – piano & choir on 5
Kory Kruckenberg – organ on 10
Jay Kardong – pedal steel
Brandon Weber – trumpet
Jason Harrod – backing vocals on 3
Galen Disston – backing vocals on 9
“The birthday party choir” – chorus on 10

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about

Shannon Stephens Seattle, Washington

Shannon Stephens is a Seattle-based singer/songwriter with a winding road behind her. Her third album, Pull It Together, is the result of nearly two decades spent traversing a unique musical landscape. The album captures a fresh sense of self-assurance and a sound that weaves hard truths with sweet melodies for an emotionally gripping blues-tinged brand of indie folk. ... more

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Track Name: Wax and Feathers
My father burned the midnight oil,
gluing together wax and feathers.
When he was through, I looked like Gabriel—
a little tattered, a little weathered.

It wasn’t the sun that melted my wings,
so close I could hear the angels sing.
The injustice of disbelief
dropped me from the heavens’ canopy.

Thrown to the sky like a stone from a sling,
dropped like lead to the arms of the sea.
I rest my head on the ocean floor.
You walk above me.

It wasn’t the sun that melted my wings,
so close I could hear the angels sing.
The misfortune of disbelief
dropped me from the heavens’ canopy.
Track Name: Care of You
Oh my baby blue, how am I gonna take care of you?
Oh my baby blue, how am I gonna take care of you?
Oh baby sweet, how am I gonna take care of me?
I walk out at night, pulling my jacket around me tight,
waiting for a sign, a bright premonition to come to mind.
Oh baby blue, how am I gonna take care of you?

I've been burning the candle at both ends.
There just isn't another wick to light.
I've been hoping for some help from my friends,
thinking all day and worrying all the night.

Birds know to fly south but I can't figure my problem out.
Bears know to hibernate but I can't make my path go straight.
Oh baby blue, how am I gonna take care of you?
Track Name: What Love Looks Like
I’d like to hold you up as an example of what
love looks like, love looks like.
The world has never seen anything like you and me;
this is what love looks like, love looks like.

Oh, I know it isn’t fair to women everywhere; God knows what they have to bear.
I know it isn’t fair to people everywhere that you should just belong to me.

I’d like to take you home and turn off the telephone,
‘cause that’s what love looks like, love looks like.
I’d like to pay the bills and set out your vitamin pills—
this is what love looks like, love looks like.

Oh, we’re never gonna die, we’re gonna stay alive, we’ve got a reason to try.
We’re never gonna die, we’re gonna stay alive. The rules do not apply to us.

You like to hold me tight, you like to see me satisfied
‘cause that’s what love looks like, love looks like.
You like to make me sweets and bring the coffee while I sleep:
that’s what love looks like, love looks like.

Oh, I know it isn’t fair to women everywhere; God knows what they have to bear.
I know it isn’t fair to people everywhere that you should just belong to me.
Track Name: Girl
Oh, girl, you’re gonna have to grow up.
You’re gonna have to be strong and navigate the storm.
Oh, and you won’t want to hear it from me
but I am not letting go. I think you ought to know.

Oh, girl, when you see that the waves
are crashing over your head, remember what I said.
Oh, that when you walk through the flames,
you know I walked through them too and I believe in you.

And I’d keep you safe, I would keep you safe, safe
and tell the world to wait, to wait, to wait.

Oh girl, you’ve got to love your own soul.
You’ve got to keep it from fools and keep it like a jewel.
Oh, and you won’t want to hear it from me
but you were not meant to be tied up in chains, you were meant to be free.

And I’d keep you safe, I would keep you safe, safe
and tell the world to wait, to wait, to wait.
Track Name: Cold November
Cold November’s covered me with her dark and dripping wings,
carried me from cheer and light— out of mind and out of sight.

Cold November’s buried me under heaps of rotting leaves,
soaked through with rain and choked by grief. Oh November, honestly.

She came upon me in the park, chased me homeward through the dark.
Then she squeezed her talons tight and took me helpless into night.

She has her own song to sing and she demands to finish it,
raises her slick and glistening beak and crows to those who can’t resist.

Oh November, I was once… Did you know me when I was?
Well, I don’t remember now since November drowned me out.

But I just felt the summer’s heat and tasted the tomato’s meat
and took the socks off of my feet when she came to gather me.

Oh…

I am one who flies with you. I’ve forgotten all I knew.
I must belong to the moonless night. Oh November, you were right.
Track Name: Out of Sight
Oh, the world owes me a livin', cause I'm wonderful.
Oh, the world owes me a livin', cause I'm magical.
I've been fighting with the world and I think I know the reason why.
Someone simply needs to pay me just for being out of sight.

Oh, the Lord owes me a livin' cause I am his child.
Oh, the Lord owes me a livin' cause I'm meek and mild.
I think God should write my checks; he's got all the money, after all.
He's the one who made my life; how 'bout making it less difficult?

Someone put me on the payroll; I'm completely qualified.
Someone sign me up with that great big sugardaddy in the sky.

'Cause it's too hard to make a livin', no matter how I try.
It's too hard to make a livin' and I'm asking why:
why my child is raised by another when it should be me at her side.
Someone really ought to pay me just for being out of sight.
Track Name: Faces Like Ours
We’re gonna be alright; baby, we are still young.
Baby, we are still young, and that’s more than some people can say.
We’re gonna be okay; at least we have white skin,
and when you have white skin nobody can send you away.
And people are inclined to help, to help
other people who look like themselves.

We’re gonna be alright; baby, we have rich friends,
and when you have rich friends, those kinds of connections can pay.
We’re gonna be okay; baby, we will rise up.
Believe we will climb up to inhabit our corner of sky.
And we will be inclined to help, to help
other people who look like ourselves.

You say we don’t need a safety net; we need a fire hose,
and you say that we’re burning, burning, you tell me we’re ready to blow.
But ain’t there something to be said for likeability?
Something good’s going to happen.
Someone will take us in under their wing and then

we’re gonna be alright; we are still good-looking.
Well, somewhat good-looking, and everything counts in its way.
We are rising stars, and we won’t need bootstraps.
We’ll hang on to kind hands of people with faces like ours.
Track Name: Your Fabulous Friends
I’m not one of your fabulous friends.
I don’t need you to educate me.
You don’t want to see hunger or need
and I don’t want to tell you I’ve been lonely.

I’m not one of your fabulous finds;
I’m the odd one out at the party
wearing the same thing that I wore last time,
and I don’t have a good vacation story.

Ain’t it good to celebrate the finer things?
Ain’t it fine to paint a picture of the rest of us
and ain’t it good to never want for anything?
Oh, and ain’t that just totally fabulous?

I’m not one of your fabulous friends.
I’m not going on the tour of wine country.
I’ve got work to do if I’m gonna eat,
and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.

Sometimes at the end of the day I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
Seems like there’s just no way that I can make it through
and what I need is a friend that I can hold on to.
So I turn my face away and I hide it from you, you, ‘cause
I’m not, I’m not, I’m not.
Track Name: Down the Drain and it's Gone
I was born to make the planet quake and fear, dominate the land and the sea and the air, and to make the earth tremble-- to make it know who's boss, who's wearing the pants here and who is in the driver's seat of the car.
We were made to work and to wait for heaven. When our Lord comes, this rock upon which we're living will be eaten with fire and we won't even care to look back. Don't ask me why, child; it just goes down the drain and it's gone. Don't criticize, child, talking about the ways we've done it wrong. The Good Book says we'll carry on long after this worn out world is gone.
You come home asking me about topsoil. What other lies have they been telling you about in that school? and I don't understand it, why they have got to bite the hand that feeds us.
Keep your eyes on the ground, child. Keep your nose out of trouble. Keep your mind on the skies, child, 'til the earth is reduced to rubble. And you'll be saved, yeah, but the unbelieving will be crushed. Isn't it fine, child, to have Daddy looking after us? Don't ask me why, child; it just goes down the drain and it's gone. Don't criticize me, talking 'bout the ways we've done it wrong. The Good Book says we'll carry on long after this worn out world is gone.
Track Name: Buddy up to the Bully
You gotta buddy up to the bully;
you gotta give him fifty cents when he wants and try not to wince.
You gotta buddy up to the bully,
and even if the joke’s on you, grit your teeth and grin like a fool.

But even if you buddy up, who’s to say
he isn’t coming for you anyway?
And even if you buddy up, who’s to say
he won’t decide that it’s your day?

Ooh, buddy up, buddy up.

You gotta buddy up to the bully
and open up the contents of your lunch that he likes to munch.
You gotta give it up for the bully;
you gotta give him some respect for the lives he’s handily wrecked.

But even if you need it bad, don’t ask him for a favor
because the bully’s not a giver; he only is a taker.
And if you want to run, ask yourself in what direction;
heaven knows what terrors lurk outside his circle of protection?

Ooh, buddy up, buddy up.

You gotta buddy up to the bully,
‘cause when you live on shaky ground, it’s good to have a bully around.
Track Name: Responsible Too Long
Pour another glass of something.
No, I don’t want to go home
just yet.
And as long as there is music,
could we listen for a minute?
I’ve been responsible too long.

If the band is still playing
and if my baby’s alright,
I’d like to talk with you a while.
If the night is unwinding,
if the clock has stopped its turning,
just one more song.
I’ve been responsible too long.