Shawn Colvin is only half-kidding when she says the theme for her new studio album is mid-life crisis. “I’m going to be fifty in January, so it’s valid. I didn’t freak out over forty — I felt fine. Now I feel old.”
Currently recording the as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2001’s Whole New You in Austin with longtime collaborator and producer John Leventhal, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter has about seventy-five percent of the album completed and is aiming for an April or May release. And while Colvin jests about her age, she also admits it wasn’t the only impetus.
“I’ve had a prolonged adolescence like a lot of my generation,” Colvin says. “I had my first and only child at the age of forty-two and in the past five years my husband and I split up, so I’ve just been settling into the second half of my life as a single parent. That took some getting used to. But I took enough time off to feel excited about [recording] again. It’s been fun and interesting and painful, too, because you make certain discoveries when you make something out of nothing.”
Among the new tracks — most of which were birthed during a week-long solo retreat last March — are “So Good to See You,” “Summer Dress,” “These Four Walls,” which Colvin calls “very simple and very folky,” and “Cinnamon Road.” “I was listening to the Iron and Wine CD [2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days], and he has this song called ‘Naked as We Came,'” she says of the latter’s inspiration. “And if I could capture what he captured, I’d be happy.” The new album will also feature a couple of cover tunes, but Colvin is keeping mum, revealing only that one is a Paul Westerberg song.
“I used to be able to set aside a few days and just lock myself in my house and not even answer the phone,” Colvin says of her songwriting process. “I can’t do that anymore. So I went to a little studio, did some vocals, played guitar on the couch and sat around with my notebooks. Prior to that, I had gone to New York a couple of times and just did some powwowing.”
Which isn’t completely out of character for Colvin, whose ambient folk reflects her wanderlust, detailed by Joni Mitchell-like musings on love, life and loss. Born in Vermillion, South Dakota, she taught herself guitar at the age of ten before moving to London, Ontario, and then Carbondale, Illinois, where she formed the Shawn Colvin Band. After relocating to Austin and retiring briefly from music, Colvin moved to New York in 1983, and garnered a laudable following among the burgeoning neo-folk movement.
Colvin partnered with Leventhal in the mid-Eighties, and released her debut album Fat City — which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album — on Columbia Records in 1989. But it would be another two albums and seven years for her major breakthrough when 1996’s A Few Small Repairs spawned the massive Grammy-winning single “Sunny Came Home.” Despite her brief affair with Top Forty radio, Colvin’s remained a subtle force in the industry. With the release of last year’s best-of, Polaroids, Colvin is beginning a new phase in her career with new management and label, Nonesuch Records.
“Columbia had stopped caring so their muscle didn’t do me much good,” she says. “When you start, you love to romanticize the struggle, but I’m a fifty-year-old acoustic artist and I’m not going to be on hit radio. It’s not going to happen. But I was watching The L Word and Jenny got her hair cut to this great song and I thought, ‘That’s perfect! This is how artists like myself get heard.’ I’m not gay — everybody thinks I am — but I dig The L Word.”
Colvin plans to tour with a band behind the album’s release and says that although 2006 is looking to be a hectic year, she does have one New Year’s resolution: “I’m going to quit smoking. It’s such a pitiful addict resolution. I stopped drinking twenty-three years ago, and that was cake compared to this. I’ve quit for four years . . . twice.”