Shannon Wright is a clear-eyed survivor. The music business had her down and disillusioned, but the singer/songwriter refused to give up or give in.
"I saw the truth, the matter-of-factivity of what the business is about," says Wright. "The majority of it sucks."
Central Florida may best remember Wright as the waifish frontwoman of the Jacksonville trio Crowsdell. They played Orlando clubs frequently in the mid-'90s before moving on to New York City and a deal with Big Cat Records. Tours with buzz bands like Poster Children, Archers of Loaf and Pavement gave Crowsdell momentum, especially in Europe, where the band found a wider following than in the U.S. But shortly after the 1997 release of "Within the Curve of an Arm," the band's critically acclaimed second album, Crowsdell and Big Cat Records had a none-too-friendly parting of the ways.
The turn of events caused Wright to reassess the music industry. "I had to decipher how I wanted to be part of it and where I would fit in, and if I even wanted to be part of it again," she says. Understanding her place wasn't an easy task: "That was a long haul figuring it out."
So Wright bid adieu to her bandmates and escaped New York City for rural North Carolina.
"I lived out in the woods for a while and tried to figure out what I wanted to do after living in New York for three years, and having broken up with a band and gotten dropped from a record label," she explains. "I didn't know what the future held."
The seclusion of Pittsboro, N.C., allowed Wright to sift through the remains of her career. Armed with her guitar, a friend's piano and her creativity, she began to write again, even though she wasn't certain if the songs would ever be heard by anyone. Using a home four-track, she wrote a series of intense, personal testaments.
She toured a bit, released a few indie singles and then connected with a label, giving those self-enclosed songs an outlet into the world. Many of the tunes written during her retreat made their way onto her new solo album, "Flightsafety," on Touch and Go/Quarterstick. Daring in their honesty, Wright's songs merit comparisons to P.J. Harvey and Patti Smith.
Besides singing, Wright played most of the instruments on "Flightsafety." She even mixed most of the record. "When I write I hear a lot of different instruments," says Wright, who now calls Atlanta home. "I actually got to lay all of those down myself and have it come out the way I wanted it to ... the way I heard them in my head."
She did all this while charting a new musical course. "Crowsdell always recorded with electric guitars," she notes. "This is recorded with acoustic guitar and piano -- everything's analog. It's just got a different feel to it."
For all of her power as a songwriter, Wright is far from flashy onstage. She comes across as painfully shy -- you almost expect her to flee the stage at any moment. Yet she clearly burns with a passion that keeps the audience riveted. Wright uses a guitar and an organ that's hooked up to a big screen, like one used in teaching. The device shows a lighted display of what's being played, punctuating each note.
Her Sapphire show will be a homecoming of sorts. "I haven't played Orlando in about four years," she notes. "I kind of want it to be intimate."
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