The Philanthropic Music of Tara Shannon
Photo credit: M. Ross Photography
Since rejoining the world of music, Tara Shannon has made a point of helping others through her creations. Shannon's return has involved long-awaited releases, charity work and a constantly reinventing her own work. Her work has also helped her find ways to look after herself when she got buried in her own career. We chatted with Shannon ahead of her show at the National Art Centre's Fourth Stage on October 25 to talk about the healing qualities of her work and how she balances her crazy lifestyle.
Ottawa Life: You've been busy since your album release 2017 so some people may have already forgotten you took a long break from music, what happened and what brought you back?
Tara Shannon: It actually goes all the way back to 2015, and it's all because of Jonathan Pitre, the Butterfly Child. I had been working in music full-time, and I started writing at 18. I'd put out some music and had a record deal offer, but I had three young kids at the time so I focused on raising a family. During that time I wasn't always recording but I was always writing. I created this little niche for myself where I was being commissioned to write songs for events and charities for a while. We had seven kids, so my break was longer than intended. My husband and I started a company too which became my day job. Fast-forward to 2015, Jonathan lived on my street and there was a charity for him to go see the Northern Lights. I wrote "Butterfly Child" song for him and that's what brought me back as a performer. My first show back was for Jonathan as a fundraiser, and now we're doing the fourth annual Butterfly Child holiday concert on December 7. It's the first one since his passing so it will be an emotional one for sure. He kept nudging me and asking "Why haven't you made that record you always wanted to make?" Then I started finding a producer to get that album released .
You were also working on another campaign for BeYou, can you tell us about the project and how you wanted to keep it different from last year's campaign?
Last year I was approached by the marketing director for The St. Laurent Centre and Morgaurd was hosting their BeYou campaign for the second year. They saw me at my CD release party and hired me to write the theme song and manage the artistic direction of the video. This year we did a remix of the song, and I've been an ambassador for the campaign, speaking about it and I did a show at St. Laurent. It raises money for Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is great because a lot of what I do in the music world is mentorship, and this is about helping people accept themselves fully.
How did the new remix for the BeYou anthem come about?
You're always looking for new ways to reach audiences, and since we knew there was going to be some promotion for the song, we decided to do a remix. We wanted to tweak the sound a bit to make it a little more fresh for this year, and lean into the pop more since I'm not so much of a pop artist. Cutting pop vocals is so different from a country or soul vocal, and we wanted to give people a reason to listen to the song again.
How was bouncing back from Lyme Disease, and how was it facing your career while staying healthy?
It was definitely a rough start to the year, I was very ill. I was in the hospital, unable to leave my bed and needed help to even shower through January and February. My health hasn't been great for quite a long time, and I'd been diagnosed with some odd 17 diseases, and had 7 surgeries. Once I had been diagnosed with Lyme Disease it was really like the answer to my prayer, and I was grateful to finally understand what was making me sick. I could learn to care for myself now. I had also been sick because I was working too hard and wasn't looking after myself. My body basically decided to slow me down since I wouldn't do it for myself. When I was back on my feet, I jouned forces with LymeHope who raise money for families affected with the disease. My lingering thought when I was in bed was "I have the luxury of being sick" since my children were older and I didn't have to worry about losing my job or house. I thought about anyone who's the sole breadwinner and would be ruined by it. We have plans coming in the new year to raise more money for the organization.
What's continued to draw you towards so many charitable efforts like BeYou as well as the Butterfly Child project?
It's become an ongoing joke with my team that I'm a perpetual charity machine. I've been very fortunate and I've always been a community-minded person where I can dedicate my time and resources to making change. As a songwriter, I've always leaned towards music with a healing element so it's been a natural fit to work with charities.
What can music fans expect from your upcoming show at the NAC's Fourth stage?
I'm so excited, what a beautiful room. You'll hear some older songs from my album and some new songs that no one has heard yet. There will be a few surprises and the show is on my birthday, so I'm taking some leeway to do some things I wouldn't usually do on stage before.