live music

Quick Q and A with Shanna in a Dress

Shanna in a Dress. The moment I heard about this musician, I needed to learn more and as I got to know her, the more I appreciated her enthusiastic and contagious take on life. Shanna in a Dress personifies “joie de vivre.” If ever there was a time for us to discover some sunshine and cheer in our lives, it’s now. Shanna appeared on my radar at just the right time and her songs and silly stories have been a COVID delight during the lockdown. 2020 was just a prelude to what 2021 has in store for Shanna in a Dress as she embarks on a musical journey across the country. Supporting independent musicians like Shanna in a Dress is what I enjoy most about unleashing this blog into the internet! Check her out!

Find out more about Shanna in a Dress on her website.

Here’s a sample of a tender Shanna in a Dress song entitled “Missing the Old You.”

In a year that many folk musicians wrote off because of the insanity of dealing with COVID-19, you worked incredibly hard and your list of accomplishments is beyond amazing. Congratulations on all that you’ve managed to do — mostly from home. Your ability to connect with others whether in person or online is a strength that many aspire to!  How do you manage to turn lemons into lemonade?

Ha! Well thank you! I think it comes down to a piece of advice my friend Hope Dunbar gave me a few years ago, “The way to ‘make it’ in this business is to outlast people. Just don’t quit. Cause eventually people will. Your peers with bigger careers than you now will decide this is too hard and get a stable job.” I’m paraphrasing so I don’t know if you can accurately put quotations around that, but that has always stuck with me. I can’t be the best guitarist or singer or a super-organized business maven… but I can ‘not quit!’  I was determined at the top of 2020 (in the same way I have been for the past few years) that THIS WAS GONNA BE MY YEAR and only saw the pandemic as an example of Hope’s advice. Ooh! This is going to knock a lot of people down. Keep going! What a good opportunity to deliver more online content (for me, weekly YouTube videos and regular livestream shows) which I classically neglected in favor of live shows. What a great time to launch a Patreon, because there are a lot of people that really care about supporting independent musicians and this moment in time is highlighting how much we need support from people with a heart for that. What a perfect opportunity to find solace in songwriting, improve my musicianship, and connect with people beyond Boulder because everyone is on Zoom.

I had a conversation with a friend who was feeling unsure about continuing his musical future due to the pandemic, and I was kind of confused. Being a musician has never been a clear-cut path to a comfortable living. The very nature of it involves adapting to environments, being creative about your messages, and dealing with the reality of an unsteady income source, and we choose it because we love the art and those uncertainties are worth it to us. Maybe if I’d had million dollar tours planned I’d feel differently, but I didn’t actually think the COVID obstacle was that huge. It involved pivoting from one very modest income and ‘how do I make this touring/gigging thing financially fruitful’ problem-solving game to a new game of ‘how do I make this livestreaming thing and Patreon thing financially fruitful’ ….In response to your original question though, I think I’m either wired or practiced enough at finding the good that you could banish me to a dump and I’d find a way to be happy. 

What were your personal highlights of 2020?  You mentioned a special trip to Guatemala (obviously pre-COVID). Tell us a bit about what you did there and how it came about.

Yes! The incredible songwriter and Boston-based artist Antje Duvekot regularly hosts a volunteer trip to a magical place called Project Somos in Tecpan, Guatemala.. The founders Heather and Greg are a Canadian couple who wanted to make a difference in a highly neglected population and they built an eco-sustainable community and children’s school from the ground up. Jobs ranged from gardening, working directly teaching the kids (me and Antje did a lot of children’s music classes), helping in the kitchen, to landscaping work. It felt like summer camp with my fellow volunteers and was polished off with organic meals grown right from their garden and music in the evenings! Ever since I first heard Antje mention it I couldn’t stop thinking about it and so many kind people in my world reached out to donate to Project Somos and send me there to make it possible, and being there was so inspiring that now I hope to go back every year and introduce more people to the work they are doing.

Your name “Shanna in a Dress” is memorable. It would be big news if you were seen wearing anything but a dress!  Have you always gravitated toward this look?  If we entered the wayback machine to your college days, would we still see you as Shanna in a Dress or was this the brand you invented for yourself when you started playing gigs and creating videos?

Oh I used to HATE dresses. I was a total tomboy and was even nervous to go to my senior prom because I was embarrassed to wear a dress. I wore hoodies and a low ponytail and swishy pants or jeans to school most days.  Then sometime in my twenties I started to experiment with my look more and realized there was this whole girlier side to me that was fun to explore. The downside was that it seemed like so much work to dress up. THEN I learned that dresses are the LAZIEST way to look good and the fastest way to get ready. I feel like I’m fooling people. “You think I put a lot of effort into my appearance? TRICKED YA!” When I pack for trips I stuff like four dresses into a backpack and get on the plane. 

One of the main ways that you’ve made an impact is through YouTube.  You’ve gained many followers who all look forward to your videos.  How did you go about learning how best to convey yourself through a variety of different types of video production? 

I definitely am still learning and I wish I had as much creative drive toward videomaking as I do for songwriting, but luckily that’s where friends and collaborations come in. I partnered up with my friend Greg from UltraVioletIdea who wanted to learn more about video production and he has put countless hours, creativity, and generosity into helping me stick with the weekly video release goal. One of our favorites was a duet I had called “I Only Like You When I’m Drunk” and Greg superimposed me singing alongside a dude me at his piano and it’s ridiculous.  He is largely responsible for how consistent I’ve been able to be with YouTube and I’m really lucky to know him. I’ve also gotten excellent video work done by Brian of Moxom Artistries and Fox Tracks Music and they did a great job. My editing skills are rough to say the least, as you can witness on the “Wanna Go Out” video. The first few seconds hurt your ears. 

Many of your songs are quirky. It’s no wonder that Christine Lavin and Don White have embraced you as a member of their fun-song club!  Do you keep a running list of weird and funny things to write songs about?  

Good question! I LOVE Chris and Don. I don’t really have a ‘funny songs’ list but I do keep my ears peeled for interesting lyrics all the time. I saw the phrase ‘mud in our buttcheeks’ on an Instagram caption once and thought, ooh that’s a good image, I’m gonna save that for later, and it ended up in my song “Play in Your Beautiful Mind.”  I’m convinced most people write funny lyrics more often than they give themselves credit for, but I’m just not shy about leaving them in and others would laugh it off as a joke. I was video-chatting with my friend Pamela Machala the other day and we were talking about our most recent poops and I had the thought, “You know, I think I’m pretty open in my songwriting, but we talk about so many things that haven’t made it into songs yet. IDEA! I need to write a song called ‘Things I Tell my Best Friend But I’d Never Tell an Audience.’” So I haven’t written that one yet, but there’s an idea that’s hanging out and waiting. To anyone reading this, want to co-write it with me? You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about my poop. 

Your tag line is: Quirky folk pop from a clever millennial who sucks at dating. I think that a lot of people can identify with “bad at dating.” Since you’re known for singing songs about that topic, do people open up to you about their disastrous love lives?

 I wish they did more! Who doesn’t love a bad date story? I think the sad songs like “Face Like Yours” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “Shelli” make way more people open up. I love it SO much when people do and it’s really special knowing the songs I make actually MEAN something to other people.  I’d like to think that my maybe-a-little-too-honest “quirky” songs give people the freedom to know that since I’m not hiding who I am, that they don’t have to either. I feel like the world would be a few shades brighter if we all shed our pretenses (and pants) and lived in the world just being FREE. I get called “authentic” a lot and I think it’d be pretty inauthentic to tout that as true, because there’s always another layer of honesty underneath what you’re showing and I’m constantly trying to dig deeper, especially in songwriting. There is such freedom in vulnerability. This is why I’m such a big Steve Poltz fan- he’s such a great example of what being totally free looks like. 

[Editorial note: If you don’t know Steve Poltz, do yourself a favor and dig into his catalog and then you’ll truly appreciate this fabulous video representation by Shanna in a Dress.]

Tell us about your Patreon account and about your upcoming bike trip across the country!  What will fans get to experience as you travel on a bike wearing a dress?  

Well, I biked across the US in 2011 on a highly supported group effort with a really great charity that supports affordable housing called Bike & Build. At first I just thought it’d be fun to combine a music tour with a bike and go BACK across the US, this time from west to east coast. Now it’s turning into something huge- I’ve partnered up with Pangaea World Foundation, which is an international NGO that works to accelerate the rescue efforts of people, animals, and the environment. They have a program they’re implementing called the No-Harm Certification that actually addresses the root of the problem of exploitation and I believe it could change the world in a profound way. I want to spread Pangaea’s mission, collect stories and make new friends, and bring people together via music. It will also be my first tour with my debut studio record Robot. My superhero friend Ross Martin is going to drive a support vehicle and help manage logistics (which I’m horrible at), we have RainSong Guitars and Sojourn Cyclery and Undiscovered Music already on board as sponsors, and there’s talk about getting a documentary filmed about the process. My vision is that there’s an avenue to be a part of this adventure for lots of different communities- whether you’re a music fan, an avid cyclist, a philanthropist, or someone with friends or family living in a rural town looking for a thing to do. I’ll be pairing up with local musicians and charities and mailing postcards to Patrons, blogging, Instagram-posting, and I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of characters and experiences to be sharing about! 

Patreon is AMAZING and joining it has been the best decision of 2020.  It’s a place where I can shed more layers to people who have decided they want to support the nebulous ride I’m on in this path of navigating being an independent artist in a world or government that doesn’t make it easy. Patrons get exclusive monthly concerts, blog posts that share feelings I wasn’t quite ready to broadcast to the public, and I’ll definitely be including them heavily on Tour de Dress.  It is mainly because of the tremendous amount of support I’ve received on Patreon that I feel capable of a dream world, where the craft that I pour an obsessive amount of time developing actually gives me back a liveable salary… I’m not there yet but I have hope that it could be my future one day. I’m planning on moving to Nashville in the fall to keep dream-chasing and finances are one of the scariest parts of that, so my Patreon community (they’re called FannaShannas) gives me the confidence that I’ve got to try! I feel like there are 209 people who believe in me enough to become angels in my business, I want to make them proud.