Our old friend, Delaware songwriter, Shane Palko has returned to SE Asian yet again, only this time with his friend and bandmate, Evan Stout. Together, they form the band Soundsylvania with Evan on drums and Shane on guitar and vocals. The insightful musician was kind enough to do a Q&A and share wisdom and experience on the challenges of planning a tour, what he's learned as a musician, and what he wants from a musical career.
You've been coming out to Asia for a few years now - why? What makes it so special?
I love getting to tour and play music in Asia every winter. In many places I have been, there is great excitement and appreciation in regards to music. It is an honor to be welcomed back to play year after year. To be honest, life is a lot more my speed in Southeast Asia than in America. I have been releasing albums and videos for years under the name, Shane Palko. This year, I have a new/old project called Soundsylvania.
What is the songwriting process for Soundsylvania?
Evan Stout and I have been playing music together off and on for the past eight years. When scheming and dreaming about touring in Asia this January and February, we got together and recorded an album and named ourselves Soundsylvania. Years ago, I used to just present new songs to Evan. For our new EP, "Out of the Valley," we wrote three songs together, line for line. The new songs started with jamming. Then, when something would click, we would write out lyrics together that reflect the feelings of the riffs and the rhythms of the drums. It takes a lot of trust and openness to write music together with someone. We are both really happy with the new tracks. "The Legend of Esteban" and "Borders" are two of the best songs I've ever helped write. It felt really special to equally share that process together with Evan. Now, when we play the songs live, it is easy to really lock in and perform together, because we created the material together.
Describe the process of preparing for a tour. How do you get gigs?
Preparing for a tour takes months. You have to have a reason to tour. Why would you play the same towns a couple times in the same year and have nothing new to share? Every year, I spend a few months recording a new album and making some new videos. Then, when I hit the road, I have something new to bring. I like to spend a few months at a time around Pennsylvania and Delaware while I record and get ready for a tour. I do lots of human things like working and running and seeing family and friends. I play lots of shows, and try to be a good member of my community. All the while, I am routing out the next tour and planning logistics. I dream a big dream and then get to work. I start many months ahead of time with emails and cold calls to nice venues that I would like to play. I send out my music videos to places to see if they'd be interested in having me or the band came play. As the tour gets closer, I contact friends and places I have played before. If you are a kind person and good musician, places you play once become places you can play many times. The most important parts of booking are the simplest: "please" and "thank you."
If you want to keep making music for a long time, it is important to take care of your body. If you like living.
I have never been on a major label, so I don't have much to compare my current path to. Life is challenging no matter what you do. If you are alone, it is tougher. I have never been on a traditional label, but I started a collective folk label with friends in Delaware. It's called Diner Club Records. Many of us have been making music together for years and years. We decided to be more intentional about supporting each other and fostering a musical community. We have people who are excellent at recording, great at making videos. We have a great network that performs many of the functions of a label. However, it can be difficult to gain publicity and press outside of our organic network and aside from the hubbub generated by tour promotions. Another difficulty is film placements and radio play. I am incredibly thankful to the media outlets that help publicize my music and the people I know in radio world who spin my albums. Finding more connections is something that a traditional label would handle for me or for Soundsylvania. As it is, it takes a long time walkin' around in the world being a human and making a network to help get my music into more ears.
What have you learned in your years as a musician?
I have learned a lot about everything. I know how to say thank you in a bajillion languages. I have learned that people are good everywhere. To be absolutely cheesy, I have learned that the citizens of the Country of Music are plentiful and wonderful. Everywhere in the world that music has taken me, there have been kind open arms waiting for me and people to welcome and care for me. I have learned to be thankful. I have learned to appreciate sleeping on floors. I have learned the power of a shower, or a nice swim in a river. I have learned how to eat, sleep, sell CDs and get in and out of countries. I have learned that I will go to many lengths to make my art.
What kind of advice would you give musicians who want to do what you are doing? (i.e. touring, making music, etc.)
Go for it. Do stuff. Make plans, make mistakes. Make corrections. Make better plans. Go for it again and do a better job every time. Just keep going. Take only a few clothes with you. Wash your concert clothes and let them dry while you sleep. Take athletic underwear; you can wash 'em in a sink. You don't have to drink all the free beer that is offered to you. There will be more tomorrow night, and the next night after that. If you want to keep making music for a long time, it is important to take care of your body. If you like living. Sleep is always less important than the sunrise. Coffee is the answer to everything. If tour is your life, make sure you get the things you need while you're on the road. For example, I love nature, and need to be in the trees as much as possible. I used to get sick of city after city. Now, I look for the green stuff on the maps and go there to recharge. Then, I enjoy the cities more fully. That is just one example from my life; you need to be aware of your personal needs and do your best to meet them. Your music matters so much. Make it. Do your best. Keep going.
I am really happy with where I am now with my music. My acoustic albums are a place where I can say anything I want. Soundsylvania is so much fun. I get to tour for a couple months in the US and Asia every winter, and for a couple months in the summer (2014 was US/Europe). I get to be home for a few months at a time, creating music with the people I love, then I get to see the world and enjoy awesome music, food and sights with people that make me feel alive. In the future, I would like to have more help with booking tours and publicizing my music. That way, I could focus more on writing and creating and not have to stay up all night every night, drinkin' coffee, trying to figure out how to get from Phnom Penh to Hanoi to Kunming to Beijing to Bangkok, etc etc. I have learned so much in plotting logistics, but I would prefer to focus on my art. Music is a very important part of life. It is a great way to see the world, to live, learn, share ideas, help people feel good and have fun. It will never be all that I do. I have many passions that feed off of each other. I spend three months every spring and fall teaching middle schoolers about environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay. I care a lot about the environment. I care about human rights. I want to see changes in labor laws regarding international clothing production, and I want to see access to clean drinking water be a reality for everyone. There are a lot if things that I care about and would like to do. In addition to being downright fun, music can fuel these passions and spread awareness. If I am living a full life (or a very disappointing life) my music will benefit from it. The more extreme my feelings are at any given time (negative or positive) the better able I am to create meaningful music. It all works together. I'm excited to see what will happen.
Thanks Shane and Evan - it's great to have you guys here! DC
Upcoming Bangkok shows for Soundsylvania in mid February are to be confirmed.
And if you would like to connect with Shane and Evan and follow their adventures on tour, follow them on their Facebook page.
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