Five Questions With… Shaye Zadravec

It seems rare these days to find an artist whose focus is primarily on being an interpreter of other peoples’ songs, but Calgary’s Shaye Zadravec has always felt most comfortable taking that approach.

It certainly works on her new album Now And Then, a savvily chosen collection of 10 modern folk-rock classics, ranging from Son Volt’s Windfall and The Replacements’ Skyway, to Canadian content by Ian Tyson, Lynn Miles and Prairie Oyster. Recorded this past winter in Calgary, the album’s intimate production is a showcase for Zadravec’s pure and powerful voice, which has earned her opening slots for William Prince and Dan Mangan, and even the pop-opera group Il Divo.

Now And Then is the latest stage in Zadravec’s evolution since she gained attention in 2018 from posting her moving rendition of Lilac Wine, most recently made famous by Jeff Buckley. It was included on her debut EP Norway from that year, the result of her friendship with the legendary songwriter Chip Taylor, for whom she opened several years earlier and was invited to perform a duet on his classic Angel Of The Morning.

Her reputation has steadily grown since then, and she seems content with playing the long game, carefully choosing the material that best suits her voice and reflects her down-to-earth personality. In that sense, Now And Then is a refreshing reminder that great songs can live forever in the right hands. Hear more at shayezadravec.com.

What motivated you to have your first full-length release be a covers album?

I’ve always considered myself to be a singer before anything else. Since I was a kid, I remember listening to great singers like Patsy Cline, Doris Day, Julie Andrews, and Linda Ronstadt and trying my best to make my voice do what theirs did. I never had a strong desire to write my own songs but I certainly found great joy in memorizing lyrics to songs that already existed. All those great singers were cover artists and I believe it’s just as valid as being a songwriter. There is a whole world full of incredible writers who have already penned great songs and it brings me a ton of happiness being able to interpret them. Also, the empathy it inspires in me is quite a feeling. Everyone has their own personal experiences they attach to the songs they’re listening to and I can’t help but do the same when I’m singing. I’d love to try writing more in the future but, for right now, singing the best I can is my main focus.

What was the song selection process like?

Selecting songs for the album was a team effort. Some songs are ones I’ve been singing for years and others had recently been recommended to me. The Whispering Wind, written by Lawrence Russell Brown and Pat McLaughlin, was probably the oldest song in my memory and so I felt quite comfortable with it. Windfall, written by Jay Farrar, is the newest song to me and was recommended by our producer, Gøran Grini. It was a great new suggestion that brought fresh energy to the project and prevented me from becoming complacent with songs I already knew too well. I wanted the album to sound colourful and I believe having a mix of old and new tunes within my repertoire was a great way of achieving that.

You've received support from some true legends like Ian Tyson and Chip Taylor. What's that been like?

The support I felt from them was amazing. I’m sure they could tell how nervous I was meeting them but they each gave me a sort of blessing that put me at ease. Ian did that when he said, “You have great pitch,” and “That’s some mighty fine singing.” After that, I remember thinking, if all else fails, at least Ian Tyson likes my singing! When Chip invited me to sing Angel of the Morning with him on stage, I’m sure he could tell I was on the verge of passing out from nerves. Before we started singing he said, “You can do no wrong,” and I felt this amazing sense of calmness wash over me. I knew that even if I messed up, it would all be okay. I’ll never forget that feeling. The other thing that struck me is just how interested and present they are when listening to music. I don’t think anything slips by them unnoticed. It was very inspiring.

How have you adapted to engaging with your audience over the past few months?

I haven’t been able to play many indoor shows but I did a fair amount of outdoor concerts this summer, which was a nice change. If there is one positive thing to come out of covid, it got me out of the house into the sun a little more than normal. I tend to be a bit of an indoor girl at the best of times but there’s something very natural and serene about singing and playing outdoors. That was a nice discovery. I hope to do more of that next summer.

What's your mindset looking ahead to next year and the prospect of hopefully playing live?

I’m still hopeful that this coming year will present more opportunities to play live. If not, I’m sure the music and arts community will figure out new and creative ways to keep moving forward in a safe manner. Also, singing in the shower is just as much fun, if not more, as singing onstage. Music doesn’t have to be all about playing for other people. It’s good to do it for yourself too. I also spend a lot of time painting and dancing to keep my mind active and give myself other creative outlets.

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