When Shannon Curfman's debut album, Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions, hit stores in 1999, hardly anyone could believe they were listening to a 14-year-old girl. Her powerful alto voice and huge, wailing guitar licks packed a wallop - and a confidence - most musicians work years to achieve.
Since then, she's gained a lot of life experience, especially in the heartbreak department. Her MySpace page lists her as "recently divorced" from her Hollywood label, Arista, while her Wikipedia entry describes her split from blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, to whom she was engaged from 2001 to 2003. From these breakups come a new label (Curfman's own Purdy Records), a more comfortable home in Minneapolis and some of the decade's rawest songs about desire and disillusionment.
Isthmus spoke with Curfman about Purdy and her most recent album, Fast Lane Addiction. On Saturday she opens for Marcia Ball at the Majestic.
How does being an indie artist compare to being on a major label like Arista?
I have a lot more freedom to play the music that I believe in. It's a lot more work for sure, but I'm much happier having a smaller team around me where everyone believes in the same things, as opposed to having 200 people involved, half of whom I've never met. For me, music has always been such a personal thing, so being on a major label was a very foreign experience because it didn't seem like it was my own as much.
Would you say that Fast Lane is a more personal album than Loud Guitars?
The Loud Guitars album was as personal as it could get for me being 12, which is how old I was when I recorded it, so of course most of the love songs weren't about my own situation. Fast Lane Addiction was written mainly when I was a teenager living in Los Angeles and experiencing my own freedom for the first time. A lot of the songs sound like they're about relationships, but some of that's about me and the record label. I fought with them many times that I wasn't allowed to sing about certain things - things where the female is standing up for herself. I was told there was no place in music for a woman to sing about such things, so that was the demise of our relationship.
How'd you learn to play blues guitar the way you do, and at such a young age?
I got into blues music through [blues guitarist] Jonny Lang. We were family friends and both grew up in Fargo, N.D. I started out playing old-school classic country like Patsy Cline, then I heard Jonny play and saw that younger people could play the blues. I traced back a lot of the other music I liked and that my parents exposed me to - ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash - and realized it was blues-based, and I knew that I wanted to learn the blues, too. From there it all just clicked.