Shayla McDaniel is a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist crafting guitar-driven alt pop in Knoxville, TN.
It took a little prodding to get lifelong musician, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Shayla McDaniel onstage. A friend of hers had never heard the Knoxville-based singer-songwriter’s musical gifts, but was well-versed in her steely determination and Type A personality. He suggested she take her music out of the basement, and Shayla took his sage advice and emerged an award-winning prolific artist with a soulful, guitar-driven alt-rock sensibility. “I process my feelings through my songs,” Shayla divulges. “Sometimes, I start off feeling confused or neutral, and I let the music take me away. In my songs there are recurring themes of loving others, loving yourself, and mental health. I feel like if you look after yourself, you’ll be equipped to take care of others. I struggle with depression, and now that I have more of a platform, I want to share my story and shine a light on mental health issues,” she says. Shayla’s honeyed vocals, her pop-rock songwriting, and her instrumental instincts invite comparisons to John Legend fronting an indie rock band, The Roots affiliate Cody Chestnut (“The Seed 2.0”), and a silken Gary Clark Jr. But the truth is, there aren’t many talents who sound like Shayla. Her smoothly emotional vocals, self-contained artistry, and indie rock outlook is singular. Shayla counts as influences artists as diverse as the band Joseph, Lianne La Havas, Andraé Crouch, and Deep Sea Diver, among others. She released her debut single in 2016; her debut EP in 2017; and a follow-up EP in 2019. Since 2020, Shayla has been focused on releasing a steady flow of singles. “I think of albums like a three-layer cake you eat in one sitting, and singles as cupcakes,” she says with a laugh. “I’d rather give you 12 cupcakes—one a month—and make it fun for music fans. It’s also fun for me because I’m constantly writing and recording.”In a short period of time, the young artist has garnered prime accolades. She performed at Rhythm N’ Blooms Music Festival; the Waynestock Festival; Sunset on Central; Women in Jazz Jam Festival; and live on-air at WUTK 90.3 FM, WDVX 89.9 FM, and WOZO 103.9 FM, among other stations. Shayla has been in Knoxville Music Warehouse’s Top 16 song charts; been voted by fans as Knoxville’s Favorite Band; won numerous Knoxville Music Awards; and earned prestigious awards nominations from CityView Magazine and Knoxnews. Shayla grew up playing music in church and elementary school orchestral programs while exploring multiple instruments in her parent’s basement. She began learning bass at church, accompanying the gospel choir when the bassist had gone off to college and left the instrument behind. “My brother messed around with it first, but didn’t really like it, so I picked it up,” she recalls. “Learning to play by ear and with other musicians was extremely helpful.” Through a patchwork of school instruction and informal experiential learning, Shayla has been able to be proficient on bass, guitar, drums, keyboard, and production software. She played her first show in 2017, and has been pursuing a professional career ever since. Today, she writes, sings, produces, engineers, and plays all the instruments on her songs, but has outside engineers mix and master her tracks. Shayla’s catalog is vast, however, several recurring themes surface, thematically as well as musically. The laid back indie pop-rocker hits that sweet spot between major and minor tonalities with a pan-genre appeal. Pristine vocals, breezy pop grooves, big hooks, and soaring melodies contribute to her pop allure. The tracks showcase Shayla’s purposeful and generous songwriting skills—she’s a boldly vulnerable and expressive writer who never hides behind vagueness.Driven, productive, and prodigiously talented, McDaniel is now poised to emerge a world-class artist with a uniquely emotive indie-rock aesthetic. Up next, she will be playing local and regional shows with her band, as well as intimate solo performances for her ever-growing audience. “I feel like I am really finding myself as an artist these days. It’s been such an uplifting journey,” Shayla says. “Music really brings meaning to my life, and it always makes me feel better.”