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Shawn Fussell

Texas-born singer/songwriter and guitarist Shawn Fussell isn't afraid of hard work. He proved it in his previous career as a tilesmith, a joint-cracking, back-aching occupation where meticulous craftsmanship is the only acceptable standard. And he has proved it in his musical career, honing his skills and his art over a series of years and self-released albums until he was ready to release a full-fledged debut, Shawn Fussell (2009) that is up to his exacting standards. Working with producer/engineer and musician Eric McKinney (Mark McKinney, the Weary Boys, Colin Gilmore) as well as bassist Tim Casterline and drummer Keith Hernandez, Shawn produced a handful of robust new songs which he paired with re-imagined songs from his previous independent releases to produce a cohesive new sound that fits organically into the Texas Music/Red Dirt country-rock sound of Texas and the Southwest while still keeping its roots in the innovative, genre-crossing tradition of Shawn's musical idols. Heartfelt, lived-in originals like "Why'd You Lie" and "Serenity Song" juxtapose naturally with open-ended rockers such "Days and Daze" and his single, "Ride", which reached the top 30 on the Texas Music Charts. And, as something of a counterpoint to Shawn's first-person approach to songwriting, "Tulia, TX" is a searing account of real-life racial injustice in West Texas. As such, it takes Shawn's songwriting to a new level.Born in the north Texas town of Sherman, halfway between Dallas and the Oklahoma State Line, Shawn began playing guitar at the age of eleven. "My mom told me the pictures and the clock would rattle on the walls," he recalls. "In fact, my finger-picking style of guitar playing was created when I'd lay in bed at night as a kid, when I should of be resting for school the next day. I learned how to play gently with my fingertips so I wouldn't have to strum chords with a pick, thus making it less audible from the hallway. At the time I had no idea that I was shaping the way I'd play guitar for life." But in 2008, his ingrown sense of craft led him to re-invent himself as a musician. "I spent the past two years going back and learning what I had never learned on guitar," he said. "I'd been playing guitar since I was eleven years old. I knew how to play but I didn't know what I was playing -- Understanding what it was my hands were doing. But not just with guitar, but also with composition and writing. Sometimes a good song doesn't even require a guitar, which was hard for me to swallow at first. But the more I mature, both personally and musically, the deeper I can see and feel into a song. Rather it be one of mine, or one I hear somewhere else." Shawn's roots are in the Lone Star musical tradition, but the last thing he wants to do is piggyback on any one genre. "The last thing Texas or the world needs is another fly-by-night Texas Red Dirt Band that's in it for the money and the free ride," he says vehemently. "I'm no traditional country artist by no means. But Texas I am. At any given time I can go out to my truck and kick actual red-dirt out from my fender wells." "I loved Stevie Ray Vaughan, of course," he added. "You can't grow up in Texas and not love Stevie. But I am also a huge, huge Ian Moore fan. I love the passion he puts into his music. Right now, I'm really into Randy Rogers, Mike McClure, and John Hiatt." Like Shawn himself, the musicians he cites are virtuosos without being tied to any restrictive sound. That being said, Shawn is quick to affirm that he's no prima donna. He came up doing the equivalent of blue-collar work in music; playing cover songs with his band, Channel One, in the no-name watering holes in roadside north Texas strip centers. He made the most of the grind, however, learning to gauge what moved an audience. "We did these four hour shows, playing all the stuff that people wanted to hear. It was easy to do, because there were all these little venues that paid a $300 guarantee or better within a ten mile radius. You could go out there and get paid to have fun. But I wasn't content with it, and fun only goes so far." Shawn put down the Top 40 set list and began putting pen to paper in hopes of his own Top 40 song. "In or around 2000 I started writing. I had this super cheap recording program on my super cheap PC, some guitars, a drum machine, a microphone, and a head full of dreams. Once I had the first song finished, I was hooked as a recording artist. I love being in the studio and making new music." As Fussell began writing, he recalls what it was like going out on his own as an original artist. "I started playing my originals in the same bars and venues my cover band was playing. Before I knew it, people were diggin' it. And wasn't long after that I was getting crowds. And crowds that were there to hear my songs and not cover tunes." Shawn's fans and friends began telling him it was time to leave the comfort of home and pursue his career as writer. So in 2005, Fussell packed up and headed south to Austin, Texas. In Austin, Shawn quickly hit the pavement running to re-build what he had back at home. "It was amazing! Within a 24 hour period I went from being without available musicians to auditioning several. Instead of having the cops called at a band practice, this town had warehouses made to practice until 3 a.m.!" Fussell had no problem adapting to the plethora of resources that surround Texas' capitol. The first thing on his agenda - get a radio worthy recording and step this game up. Shawn says, "I started browsing the local recording studios. I came across one by the name of Wonderland Studios. I thought to myself, Austin is like a wonderland, so I picked up the phone and called them." The rest is history as Shawn explains, "Eric, the owner/engineer/producer, and I hit it off at the first meeting. I had no idea who I was talking to when I first approached him. But it didn't take me long to figure out his stature once I had time in the studio. He knew all the dudes I wanted to be in Austin and the more I got to know him, the more he became one of those dudes, too." During the time of recording Shawn's demo CD 'Made In Texas', Eric's brother and freshly emerging Texas Country Artist, Mark McKinney, was in search of a guitarist. Mark and Eric asked Fussell and his guitar to join the band and as Shawn explains, "It was my honor. I learned so much that summer with Mark McKinney. We did a stint of shows doing nothing but opening for one of the best live bands in the Texas scene, Kevin Fowler, playing to thousands a night." But the time came when Fussell knew he had to get back to his own ambitions and dreams. "So when Eric and I got back to finishing up my project, he had some really great ideas for me. So I listened intensely to everything he had to say. Now I truly understand why the big rock stars always thank the producers in the beginning of their acceptance speeches for awards. Because without them, we the artists, would never see our full potential." With the new CD almost done, Shawn released his first single, "Ride" over Texas radio in February 2009. And to his surprise, it quickly rode up the charts reaching the Top 30 within weeks, and remained in the Top 50 for two months. Fussell then hit radio again with "Tulia, TX", a song based on the true events that Fussell describes as the 'ethnic cleansing' of a small Texas town. Shawn tells us that, "I remember hearing about it long ago. And from the outside it was just another drug bust. From the inside it was much broader. The night I was reacquainted to the story, I was reading back on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. And within one of his quotes there was a link to a news article about what happened there (Tulia, TX) in 2009. It literally blew me away that could go on just ten years ago. It instantly compelled me to write about it, but it took me nearly a year to finish it. It had to be perfect" His single, "Tulia, TX", didn't move high on the chart, but mysteriously became a hit of it's own amongst Fussell's fans. "Every time I play, there's always a group of people at the show that sing the words to this song with me. Sometimes I don't even know if they know who I am or that I even wrote it, but they sing it. And I think that's what every true artist is really after,?the imprint you can make with your music." Right now, Shawn is excited to be working on his next full-length CD, which he plans to have out in the winter of 2010. And on the verge of a grin he tells us that, "I've never been as anxious to finish something as I am with this new CD. I believe it's the best work I've done up to this point, and I'm looking forward to the doors this album will open for me." When asked about his journey, Shawn tells us, "It's been a test of patience, that's for sure. But it seems like every time I have that feeling like it's time to step down, then along comes blessing after blessing after blessing. It has definitely been a hard road with many more miles to go, but I'm ready for the trip. I've been burned by management and booking companies, I've had my gear ripped-off, and had bands crumble over night. I've literally seen the light at the end of the tunnel a time or two just to have someone come and turn it out. But you brush yourself off, pull it back together and keep pushing, because the weak of heart don't hang around long in this business." Shawn is under no illusions about what it's taken to get this far - hard work, an abiding faith, a support system of friends and strangers-turned-friends, and the kind of selfless sacrifice that enabled him to walk away from security in search of his musical vision. It can be a solitary and uncertain process. But Shawn Fussell has come out the other side as a maturing songwriter, an increasingly accomplished musician and an artist who is ready to take his place in the larger arena.


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