Growing up in a musical family in California meant that Shelby Darrall performed in the tasting rooms of wineries throughout Napa Valley during her early years. She then moved to Nashville to pursue her musical dreams and finish school at Belmont University. The talented young woman quickly gained the respect of the Nashville songwriting community, co-writing with esteemed tunesmiths including Brett James, Troy Verges, and Emily Weisband, as well as collaborating with artists such as Jake Owen, Larry Fleet, and Josh Kerr.
Last month Shelby released her superb EP ‘Entertainment for the Brokenhearted’ and we were thrilled to grab 20 minutes of her time to talk all about it.
Congratulations on the EP – it’s great – are you getting a good reaction to it?
Thank you! I am getting a good reaction, I’m real proud of it and everyone’s been really positive – no negative reviews yet! (laughing) I was kinda hoping there might be one to react to!
What’s it like the you get trolled or read negative things about yourself online?
I mean, I have pretty thick skin. It’s kind of funny in a way and part of me does like the challenge of responding to a troll sometimes. (laughing) The trolls are always some ‘Karen’ with a bible verse in her bio, ripping people to shreds.
The title for the EP, ‘Entertainment for the Broken Hearted’ might be my favourite title of the year so far. You really hit the nail on the head with it!
We were going to call the project something totally different at first, we were going to call it ‘Playboy’. We realised that that might be a law suit waiting to happen in some respects but the artwork always had the line, ‘Entertainment for the Broken Hearted’ on it because we were playing around with Playboy’s ‘entertainment for men’ tag line.
Then I realised I was telling a storyline, from top to bottom, which was essentially ‘entertainment for the broken hearted’. We made entertainment out of me getting my heart ripped out! (laughing)
This story of your broken heart is now all our entertainment. How do you feel about that?
I feel like I signed up for it becoming an artist. It’s almost, for lack of a better word, my duty to tell the story as a musician and songwriter. If I can help people going through similar things in some way, if I can help people relate to a similar situation was kinda my goal. Oh, and dragging this guy through the mud! (laughing)
Looking at the artwork for the singles and EP itself, you kept the ‘Playboy’ look fairly 100% on-brand then?
That’s true. We were inspired by the vintage, old-school Playboy magazines. We also felt the EP was a bit like a magazine , with different stories, chapters or sections that you can dip in and out of when you felt like it or needed it. It’s a definite homage to that era and magazine.
Presumably, then, the EP is designed to be listened to in chronological order, rather than shuffle?
Absolutely. I mean, people can listen to it how they like but I would prefer that they listened to it in order, from top to bottom. I put the tracks in that order because that is the order of the story. I didn’t necessarily write the songs in that order, the whole story was sparked by me writing ‘Lied To Too’ with Emily Weisband, who’s an incredible writer, and then I was, like, ‘You know what? I think I need to tell the whole story.’ (laughing)
Let’s start the story at the beginning then before we drill down into some individual songs. How does a girl from Napa Valley end up in Nashville?
Where I’m from , we love Country music. My dad was in a Country music band (Silver Creek) growing up, so I’ve always been around it and always been around musicians. I started writing when I was 13 and playing in tasting rooms at wineries in Napa Valley – I’ve got a lot better since then! (laughing)
I pretty much focused on doing it as a career, music is one of the few things I’m actually good at! (laughing) I went to a party school in Arizona for a couple of years and explored that world and then transferred to Belmont University in Nashville to finish my degree.
It was cool watching my dad and I always wanted to get up on stage and sing with him but he was tough but fair, he would say, ‘Well, learn to pick out the harmonies and you can come up on stage with us.’
Do you ever sing together or do anything musical with your dad these days?
We do. We do it for fun. I just played a show in Napa Valley recently and all my friends and family where there. I have a song on the EP called ‘Pick Me Up’ which is about him and he came up and played it with me, we both cried the whole time! (laughing)
‘Pick Me Up’ feels like an important part of the story you are telling on the EP.
That really happened! I was at a gas station, wearing this losers hat and I called my dad and I felt like I reverted back into being a child, wanting my dad to fix this shitty situation and my broken heart.
‘Wrong Hands’ is one of my favourites. Country music doesn’t do ‘sexy’ very well, after all this is a genre where Jason Aldean’s ‘Burnin it Down’ is considered ‘sexy’ – I think ‘Wrong Hands’ has nailed ‘sexy’ perfectly.
(laughing) Thank you! Wow, I’m honoured. I did want it to come across as sexy, I needed that chapter and to reflect that part of the story. I knew, in my heart, that this guy and this relationship was probably a bad idea, you know? But I just couldn’t help myself! I was just human!
We tried to go old school Billy Currington, you know?
‘Lied To Too’ is a completely different beast. It’s so mature, that ability to be able to feel hurt but look at a situation from somebody else’s point of view.
That was the hardest song to write. I was at a dinner with lots of people, including my manager, when the guy walked in with her. I heard about her but never met her and I just went white. I don’t really remember much but my manager walked me out and I walked past them and expected to hate her and be mad at him, you know, whatever the normal feelings are supposed to be in those situations, but all I remember feeling is horrible for her.
I call ‘Lied To Too’ my ‘grow-up’ song because I feel it was that that forced me to stop being a little brat! (laughing) I had to figure out who I was going to be after that.
Another ‘grow-up’ song is ‘Happy First’ then, which is another slice of raw emotion.
That one is a little bit more selfish, which I don’t think there’s anything wrong with. I was sick of feeling guilty about wanting what is best for you, I was so tired of it. I was so pissed off that he did something wrong but ended up happier than I was because of it. ‘Happy First’ is the tale of me not wishing any ill-will on him but I also felt that he didn’t deserve to be the happy one! I get quite quite emotional playing that song live.
We just played a show in Key West and that song, specifically, made me really emotional although I came to realise that he might have been happy first but I am definitely the one who is ‘happy last’. (laughing)
The project reminds me a little of Carly Pearce’s ’29’ in that you are telling a specific story and airing some very personal things. Have the songs you’ve written since this project been different and are you able to move on to pastures new?
Yeah. This relationship happened three years ago now, so I am very much over it. There are still things that get me a little emotional about it but writing now, there’s new relationships, there’s lack thereof, I’m still dating!! (laughing) That means there’s always lots of things to say! Lots of drama!
If you could sit down with any writer in Nashville tomorrow and write your next single, who would you choose?
Lori McKenna! Lori, for sure. There are so many amazing writers and I’ve been lucky to write with a lot of them but there is just something about her and the way that she writes. I love the way she can emote and I think we might be writing something together soon, I hope that stays on my calendar!
Plans for the rest of the year?
I’m touring and out on the road with Restless Road right now. I’ve got some of my own shows and festivals in the summer too. I’ve also been writing and have got a couple of songs lined up for my next project too, it’s a busy time!
‘Entertainment for the Broken Hearted’ is available everywhere right now