Best of What's Next: Shelley Short
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Album: A Cave, A Canoo
For Fans Of: Emmylou Harris, Mirah, Joanna Newsom
Shelley Short grew up in Oregon, in a home that always stayed warm despite the frigid Pacific Northwestern winters. “We grew up in an old Victorian house with wood heat,” she recounts in her feather-light voice. “It got really cold in certain rooms. So I had a wood stove in my room, and there was a fireplace in the living room and another wood stove in the dining room.” Short’s family chopped their own wood and grew their own food, and the influence of these earthy, provincial early years is tangible in her music, songs that sound not unlike those a quiet, contemplative child might sing while splitting tender for the family.
Short revisited the bleak Portland winter to record her new album, A Cave, A Canoo. The album captures that feeling of sidling up to the fireplace while waiting for the sleet to stop, pairing minimal instrumentation with Short’s soft, sweet voice, and hinting at an atmosphere both delicate and haunting. “I had just moved back to Portland after being away, so all these old memories and the weather all hit me at once,” she says. “And the fact that it was winter… that informed the album a lot.”
Over four albums, Short’s sound has seesawed between twangy alt-country and pastoral folk, but it all started with a love for grunge and a punk band called Bogadoy. “When I was in high school, the whole grunge scene was happening in my area at the time. So I picked up a bass and we started a band,” she says. “But in the second half of high school, I got really into Jimmie Rodgers and more folk and country.” This newfound love for a more rustic sound stuck with Short and found its way into her music. More recently, her appreciation for the Mississippi Blue Yodeler and followers led Short on a road trip to the hometowns of her country music idols, paying homage to the birthplaces of Roger Miller, Hank Williams and others. “I was so in love with the music that these people made that at the time,” she says. “It was almost spiritual.”
Like her woodstove-warmed childhood, this profound connection to the past is supremely evident in Short’s music, which sounds more at home wafting through barn rafters than through iPod earbuds. An appreciation for the old-fashioned, according to Short, was simply the way of life for her family. “We never had new things growing up. All of our clothes were from the thrift store. We always drove really old cars, like a 1968 Cadillac. So there was always a lot of stopping and fixing,” she says. “Feeling a connection with objects, and trying to figure out a story for them—where they came from, what their history is—I just feel like that’s a part of who I am.”