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Interview: Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks

By: Christopher Levine, author of "Eclectiblogs-Weekly Meanderings for Music Head Consumption" available on paperback at Lulu.com
February 22, 2012

She has the soul of a philanthropist, the ability to share credit where it is due with her band, the talent to become one of your favorite new artists, and has Souixsie Sioux's eyes.  Joy Shannon is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who plays Celtic harp, cello, accordion, harmonium, organ and piano.  This multi-outlet artist deserves our attention.  With new projects going and a very inspirational journey so far, she graciously agreed to allow me to interview her.  Meet Joy Shannon.

CL:  It's a pleasure to meet you Joy.

JS:  Thank you! You too!

CL:  For the novice when it comes to your music, tell us a little about your sound.

JS: Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks is a Celtic folk rock band with eclectic influences from all our band members who play everything from metal to classical music. I write the foundation of all the songs on Celtic harp and vocals and then my band builds their guitar, bass and drum parts on top of that. I often play cello, accordion and harmonium as well on top of everything to add dimension to the sound.

CL:  The Beauty Marks is a great band name...and learning how you decided on that was very inspiring.  Care to share the origins on how you chose it?

JS:   The band name comes from a poem I wrote in 2005 or so when I was first seeking out band members to play with me after I had been performing solo for a while. I wrote in this poem how I would "turn scars into beauty marks" and I loved that concept. It fit my philosophy in life in how I believe that art is a way to transform any life experience into a positive, truthful expression that we can share with each other in order to find common ground. I asked my band if they minded being called something so feminine and none of them cared.

CL:  I read that U2's "The Joshua Tree" had a major influence on you at a young age.  It did for me as well.  How so in your case?

JS:  That album touched me at a very young age, and though my tastes in music later in life expanded greatly into more experimental realms than pop music like U2, "The Joshua Tree" album will always be close to my heart. When I was five years-old, I have a very vivid memory of hearing the album through the wall being played very loud from my neighbor's house. I was deeply attracted to the sheer passion of the music and I remember saying something like this to myself: "I don't know what that is, but I want to do that with my life."

CL:  In a case of life imitating art, you wound up working for U2.   What was that a positive experience?

JS:  I did work for U2 backstage when I was 23 years-old. It was an awesome experience because it felt like a full circle moment. I was just starting out pursuing my music solo at that time for the few years before that and it was tough. I was working a ton of jobs to make ends meet and could have gotten distracted from my dreams for so many reasons. Doing the job for U2 reminded me of my original dream to do music and to stay true to my path at that time. It is something I've always wanted to thank the band for, because I did not get a chance to express that to them at the time.

CL:  Many artists in varied mediums often have a burning desire to create that others simply don't understand.  You have that.  How did you move forward to getting your own expression out there?

JS:  Thank you for saying so. Though life can be complex, I revel in what is simple. Choosing to do my music and art with my life was a simple choice for me. I realized I would never be happy if I didn't whole-heartedly pursue my creative expression. It was just something I needed to do, so I have done it- little by little everyday. When I was 13 and 14 and first discovering amazing music that has deeply influenced me like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey, I was seeking out a certain sound in some unknown band. I kept searching through record stores and my friend's music collections. Finally one day I thought to myself, "I don't think this band that I am looking for actually exists and I probably just need to write the music myself." That's when I first started writing music in earnest and I told myself I would write all my crappy songs then and hopefully by the time I was actually getting my music out there, the songs would all be good.

I think my approach was very monastic. I just worked at music day in and day out and learned as much as I could from other musicians around me. I have built my life around my creativity, working jobs like teaching art that have allowed me time and money to fund my music. The past two Beauty Marks albums (The Black Madonna and Out of My Dreams and Into My Arms) have taught me more patience and peace with the process of music and life. I put all my angst and frustrations into The Black Madonna and I put all my future dreams and hopes into Out of My Dreams and Into My Arms, which somehow has resulted in me being more peaceful in who I am as a songwriter and person. Out of My Dreams and Into My Arms was the best realization of my band's collaboration thus far and brought me a lot of peace because my band and I realized an artistic vision of mine more fully than ever before. My band and producers have also taught me trust in my music and myself by working with me for so many years and being committed to musically experimenting with me with every album. Their presence in my life and with my music has meant more to me than they even know.

CL:  Tell me who The Beauty Marks are and what they do.

JS:  The Beauty Marks are Sean Wallace on guitar (who also plays with an amazing metal band called Beardrain), Andy Zacharias on upright bass (who is also an incredible composer), Graham Spillman on drums (who has played with way too many bands to mention and can play every style imaginable) and Axel Clarke on percussion (who also plays with this percussion duo called Ironworks and is especially amazing at creating moods and atmospheres in our songs.) We have worked with Long Beach-based producer Brian Frederick a lot over the years and he has influenced our albums' sound a great deal.

CL:  You are involved in some admirable causes.  Who are you lending your support to these days?

JS:  I love causes which support teenagers and young adults to pursue their dreams. My band has played benefit concerts for an organization called "Generation Hopeful" which raises awareness about teen depression and suicide prevention. I've also done workshops for various therapeutic arts centers, with a focus on how the arts can help us be true to ourselves. I am passionate about supporting and encouraging young people to start off life on the right foot and pursue their dreams with support, no matter what their background. It's close to my heart because I think back to how much music and art meant to me when I was a teenager. I want to pay the inspiration I got from musicians back then forward to other young people.

CL:  What can we expect to see from Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks soon?

JS:  We are continuing to film and release music videos for our newest album Out of My Dreams and Into My Arms. We have released two videos for this album so far for the songs "The Horse Latitudes" and "As You Are." Next up to be released is a video for the song "Always in All Ways" which was inspired by 1920s surrealist films and features me belly dancing. I work with amazing visual artists like Suzanne Walsh (aka Ashes in Orange Peels) and photographer/videographer Xun Chi to create the visual reflections of what the songs sound like. I love that process. Well frankly, I just love every bit of the process of making music, from the personal journey of writing and recording the songs, to collaborating and performing with my band, to working with my visual artist friends on album artwork and music videos. It's all interconnected and deeply inspires me to keep making more music all the time.

Also currently, The Beauty Marks are performing shows and starting to write our next album. During the recording of our latest album, my band and producer Brian Frederick already came up with a new goal and ideas for our next album, which will be more collaborative and experimental than we've ever done. I've been more inspired by progressive rock and metal bands like Opeth, which I am not sure how that will effect our next album, but will probably find its way into our experimentations somehow. I really enjoy how our music doesn't have a definite start or finish with albums being released, we basically just work on it gradually all the time and put out about an album a year. That approach makes it so music is never stressful for me, it is my joyful and fulfilling expression of what is happening in my life as I live it.

If you love artists that are in it for all of the right reasons, check out Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks.  Then go create something yourself and encourage your children to do the same.

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