interviews

In Depth Profile: Meet Shirley Lynn

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Hers is a well-known name in Far North Queensland, but we thought it was time to introduce the wider world (web) to seasoned musician Shirley Lynn.

You’ve been very active musically since 2012 – what were you doing before then?
Before I had decided to focus more intently on my music I was working at TNQ TAFE, Cairns, as an instructional designer for online e-learning. I worked there for seven years, during which time I had roles in the Learning Technology Unit and the Indigenous Lead Centre. My home-based boutique business serviced a number of clients in multimedia projects, including website and graphic development, CD and DVD presentations in between corporate jobs and some web development work at James Cook University.
My initial occupation, a primary school educator, began in 1977. I taught in Blackwater on the Central Highlands, Mareeba, Atherton Tablelands and Trinity Beach in North Queensland, Kin Kin on the Sunshine Coast and Yam Island in the Torres Strait.

Tell us about your upbringing. Were you born into an artsy/musical family? Was it a way to entertain yourself growing up in NQ?
I’m a ridgy didge North Queenslander born and bred on the Atherton Tablelands where I lived with my family; mother, father, older brother and two younger sisters. My mother often sang to us when we were children and I have fond memories of my nana and grandmother playing the piano when they’d come to visit. I studied piano to 3rd grade and then as a teenager my interest shifted to guitar.
When I was at boarding school for a year, I began building my first repertoire of songs. I was a teenager and playing the guitar was my refuge. I recall writing my first song when my dog died, and another about suicide and then another for my sister’s wedding.
Invited to play at my dad’s lodge installation – my first public performance – I can still recall my brother saying to me in a joking kind of way, “I’ll be your music manager.” That always felt like such a warm affirmation from him at the time. The simple kindness of words can have such a profound effect on how one sees themselves through the eyes of others, especially as a teenager.
Sadly, my brother was tragically killed in his early twenties, the recovery of which has never really felt complete. I do like to think that he would be proud of me as I am of him for his accomplishments in his short lifetime.
As a school teacher, the guitar was a standard piece of equipment in my classroom. I felt much joy in being able to rustle up a few tunes on request for family gatherings, often joined by my sisters.
I played at local community functions and venues in and around the Atherton Tablelands in my early 20s with lots of encouragement from family and friends. After a break from music to raise a family, my return was inevitable. I found the path to tread once again, open to who knows where it was going to take me.

How do you think a regional background has helped you as an artist?
Having a regional background here in Cairns and in the Far North, I am provided with a wonderful backdrop for the writing of songs. This regional area has a beauty and uniqueness all of its own. It has a history and so many stories to tell. I’ve written a few tunes inspired by my North Queensland home, including, My Kind of Paradise, Sea Turtle Quest, Walsh River, Heading Bush, and collaborations with Jim McCabe; Hullabaloo, New Tomorrow and Crocodile Wise.
In the past few years Regional Arts Development Funding has been helpful to me as an artist for sure. Receiving the funding has provided exposure, leverage and opportunity. It’s an acceptance at a level that provides affirmation for what I’ve been doing and I’ve really appreciated that.

You have had several RADF grants in the past – how do you feel about traditional arts funding as opposed to, say, crowdfunding?
In 2012 I was awarded funding through RADF to work in collaboration with Kyle Wilson from Little Earth Productions on the music video for my song, My Kind of Paradise, and in 2016 I received a second grant from RADF to be able to attend the Australian Songwriter’s Conference at Ettalong Beach for professional development. Traditional arts funding has certainly provided a vehicle for my creative development, supporting me to meet my goals for those two projects. These grants have been most appreciated. While I have not exercised a crowdfunding campaign, I have seen a number of people able to do this quite successfully.

What inspires you to write new music?
Inspiration is everything and everywhere. Working to find the authenticity of my own voice is a place from where I’m incredibly inspired to work from – it’s developmental and continually ongoing. Certainly the place where I live and call home – North Queensland is a great foundation from which to be inspired.
Developing the muscle for writing music and crafting songs is a constant work in progress. These days it is my creative arm steering my journey toward many rich and engaging experiences. I’m inspired to work with others accessing new opportunities and learning ways of developing songwriting to be stimulated and able to generate new sparks and ideas.

You’re a well-known face (and voice) around the Cairns region – do you have a favourite memory to share?
Winning the 2015 Best Song in the Max T Barnes Cairns to Nashville song competition held here in Cairns was a bit of a favourite moment for me in more recent times. In the context of acclaimed songwriters from our locality it was a real buzz. While the song had already won 2013 Song of Carnivale, it meant a lot to me to pick up a further accolade, especially in Cairns amongst my peers here. There was a bit of a scream from my corner of supporters on the day and that was special to have family and friends share the moment with me. A performance at Reef Hotel Casino was the prize, and I was pleased to have fellow musicians from my music network join me for the experience. The song has picked up a further award in 2016 at Australian Songwriter’s Conference in Ettalong Beach.

You’ve used a lot of local producers and recording studios, and played with a lot of local artists – how important is it for locals to support one another?
From my perspective, I have found it very rewarding to work with the people I have on the projects that I have. It is important for locals to develop relationships in support of each other. Opportunities arise and new learning can be generated from people doing things differently and working with different people in the industry too.
My first CD was recorded with Terry Doyle in his home studio initiated with big encouragement from him. I was a bit into procrastinating at the time, his support put me on track to be able to accomplish it. It was a great learning experience, I achieved the outcome of my first CD and a learning platform was derived from which to pivot for future projects. My Kind of Paradise was recorded with Larry Cash in Port Douglas as the prize for winning Song of Carnivale. Sea Turtle Quest was recorded with Peter Grayson at Tonic Sound, Yorkeys Knob, as was Liberty – the CD for my duo, Silktones. Blue Tonic‘s live recording was done with Kris Hutchinson at Kewarra Beach. Recording in Mel Pro Studio certainly provided the opportunity to gauge what it really feels like to work in a fully fledged studio. Along with Rebeka Rain, Mick Evans and Chris Ellis, Take On Tomorrow was recorded.

How was your experience at the Tamworth Country Music Festival last year?
I’d been to Tamworth previously, last year though I had some specific timeslots to perform which was a buzz to take part and to be involved with the Tamworth Songwriter’s Stage. Tamworth is an interesting festival. The main street is closed off with busking ongoing from one end of the street to the other over the whole week. The whole town is encompassed in the experience with venues throughout programmed with artists as part of the festival. Camping sites are nearby and everyone is there for a good time. My husband and I have a small mobile home now, so being at the festival this year was a step up from staying in our roof top tent on previous occasions.

You recently attended the Australian Songwriters Conference – how was that experience? What did you take home that young aspiring songwriters could perhaps learn from?
My attendance at Australian Songwriters Conference was made possible through funding provided by Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) for professional development and it provided me with a great opportunity to meet and network with other like-minded people with an interest in Songwriting; also to gain insights and knowledge from facilitators well-acclaimed in their roles within the music industry. At the conference, I had the opportunity to share some of my songs, participate in co-writing sessions, take part in publisher pitching sessions, attend a full series of workshops associated with the event. There was also a songwriting competition, and I received awards for three of my songs – My Kind of Paradise (World Category), Sea Turtle Quest (Children’s Category) and Life’s A Great Adventure – co-written with Andrew Cavanagh (Lyrics Only Category).
The following was shared with students at the TAFE when I visited there. Some considerations we’ve all probably heard before:
* Nourish the songwriter in you – nourish and nurture self-belief, believe in what’s possible
* Take action – better to do something than nothing – at least you have a result to pivot from
* Write every day – object and destination writing
* Unleash your inner creativity – be inspired. Know you are inspirational to someone.
* Consider audience perspectives – who is talking, who are they talking to and why?
* Sense bound language is helpful to engage the listener with their own experience connectors
* Work the mood and melody to marry to the lyrics
* Use structure and form to support the intent of the song
* Never underestimate the importance of the title
* Use motion and movement in the song to help create emotion
* Hooks help make songs memorable. Hooking the rhythm can be as important as the melody
* Always strive to write the best songs possible – best songs are more often than not – rewritten. Revising and rewriting as many times as necessary is an ongoing process of refinement
* Use a variety of contrasts to develop shifts in song creation (lyrical, melodic, chordal, rhythmic, tempo, motifs, dynamics, arrangement, production)
* Develop a perspective for knowing what can make a good song even better
* Commercial writing – listen with an ear for what makes it work and playable on the radio
* What sort of songwriter are you – performing songwriter? Songwriter for others? Both?

You’re playing at Tanks Arts Centre in conjunction with the markets there – how important are gigs like this for artists like yourself?
To be able to play at events like Tanks Songwriter’s Market is very important to me. It gives me the opportunity to share my songs to a broader audience than I might otherwise have access to. It allows me to present my songs in a context where original music is the norm. It gives me the opportunity to connect with other songwriters to hear their work. On occasions, it allows me to gauge some feedback from the audience for further refinement of my songs prior to actual recording. It is a paid gig and it assists financially so that I can support myself to be able to attend to costs associated with being a musician and living. It provides me with the opportunity to market my music, to sell some CDs and provide reference for digital downloads.

What else is coming up for you this year?
I’m currently involved in song on the album Better Day Project, a group collaboration with dynamic duo Carter & Carter – writing a song for them to record to be included on their forthcoming album.
Forthcoming festivals and gigs for Shirl, Silktones and Blue Tonic include Cairns Airport Lounge, Strait on the Beach, Reef Feast Palm Cove, Rock This Country Blue – Kuranda and Tablelands Folk Festival.
Tablelands Folk Festival is running a songwriting competition in which I am one of the judges, for which entry is open now via the web site.

For more information on Shirley Lynn, visit her official web site.

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