When it comes to music, Shelly Fairchild wants it all. Making her own records. Touring her own music. Singing back-up vocals. Performing theater.
“If I can do everything, that’s what I want to do. I want to make my own records. I want to jump in on stage with somebody else when I get a chance. I’d love to revisit the theater. I would love to do another show on stage.
“My deal is that I love to sing, so I just want to make music,” she said.
The 38-year-old Nashville-based singer has been drawn to the stage since she was 6 years old — performing Dolly Parton, Amy Grant or Madonna tunes from a makeshift stage — a jam box providing the background music and friends and family enlisted as loyal fans.
“As long as I can remember — since I was a little-bitty kid — it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do,” she said. “There has been music in my house since I was born, so it was kind of natural. I think sometimes you’re born with the drive to believe that’s what you’re supposed to do in your life. I think God gives it to you like any other gift and desire in your soul to just go and share what you have. It was just all over me from when I was little.”
The Clinton native hasn’t faltered from those early dreams of making music her career. She has since traded her small-town front porch “stage” for national arenas and festival stages, historic auditoriums and musical theaters. She’s recorded an album on a major label, hung out with Dolly Parton, performed on late-night television shows and is currently singing back-up vocals on tour for country sensation Martina McBride.
All this, and she’s full-speed ahead, currently working on her third album through a successful (she reached 100 percent within weeks) crowd-funding campaign.
“Sometimes, as you get older, you start thinking the future’s not so bright. But, I just feel like the future’s super bright,” she said. “I want to grow and just be everything that I can be…I want to do good things with what I’ve been given.”
Shelly, a 1995 graduate of Clinton High School, is an alumnus of the award-winning, nationally acclaimed show choir Attaché, the group that first allowed her to belt her big, bluesy voice on stage.
Along with singing in church, these early show choir experiences rooted Shelly in her love for performing. Her enormous talent was undeniable.
“I give a lot of credit to (Attaché director) Mr. Fehr for teaching me how to entertain — how to convey a message and get people involved in a story of what’s going on,” Shelly said. “I think it’s very significant that I learned what I learned when I was in show choir and in theater. Some people take it and it means a whole different thing to them, but whatever the spark was that was already inside of me — that just elevated it.”
The musicals she performed through show choir inspired Shelly to continue her journey with theater. After high school, she picked up a gig singing background in “Beehive, The Musical” at New Stage Theatre in Jackson.
“When I got that first job with New Stage, it was enormous for me even though it was off-stage,” she said. “The relationships I made there with the directors and production team, I still have those relationships today and they gave me more work along the way.”
The director encouraged Shelly to try out for the role of Patsy Cline in Always Patsy Cline, which was a bit of a shock to her.
“I was like, ‘I can’t sing Patsy Cline songs.’ He said, ‘No. I think you can.’ But, she sings so low, and I was like, ‘I can’t sing that low.’ But I practiced and practiced and practiced and got that role,” she said.
Shelly, who originally had her sights set on Broadway, readjusted her compass and used the money she’d earned performing as the late country music legend to try her luck — and talent — in Nashville.
“I always had this idea in my head of the theater and that’s what I had learned. I didn’t know the recording industry. I knew that I wanted to sing, but I didn’t know the recording industry or songwriting,” she said. “I knew some people who lived in Nashville and I knew it was a music town, but I was thinking New York because I knew theater. But, when it came down to it, it was like, I need to get out of Mississippi and pursue what I’m dreaming about, but New York seemed so big.”
Shelly landed in Nashville in 1996, worked as a receptionist for a music manager she knew and spent her days sitting behind a desk watching other vocalists and performers make their dreams come true.
“That was hard for me because I didn’t know how to get there,” she said. “Even though I was working for a manager, I didn’t write my own stuff. I was a wreck, so I was just like, ‘I’m just going to audition for more theater.’”
So, she did. She did a year of theater in Myrtle Beach, S.C., until she was called to go on a national tour for Beehive, The Musical. This time she played the on-stage role of Brenda Lee, Connie Francis and Grace Slick.
A good run of that and Shelly was ready to make her way back to Music City.
“By that time, I had kind of decided that I wanted to pursue making records as opposed to being on stage and doing theater,” she said. “I loved theater, but I thought, I can always do theater. I don’t know that I’ll always have a shot at being a recording artist. I kind of need to start now.”
Shelly started writing songs and paving her own path. She reached out to her former boss, manager Rendy Lovelady. He became her manager and, in 2003, Shelly signed a record deal with Sony/Columbia for her first album Ride, which was released in 2005.
With Ride, she produced three singles and two music videos that were released to national cable music stations, CMT and GAC. Her single “You Don’t Lie Here Anymore” was a Billboard Hot Country Songs Top 40 Hit.
“The most success that came out of that was my touring,” she said. “I got to tour with some amazing people — Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban. I opened for Tim McGraw and Sugarland and John Fogerty. I toured around with Shooter Jennings.”
The first album also seemed to help Shelly discover who she was as an artist and find out what she wanted from her music while learning the process of making records.
“The first record, I felt like I had a little bit of rock, a little bit of blues influenced with country. I’m proud of that first record. I think it was made a little more commercial. It was my first time. It was an amazing experience because I got to actually sing songs that I wanted to sing.
“I didn’t really understand about production at the time. As far as the sounds goes, I just wanted to make sure that I was myself. And, I think with having a little Mississippi kind of bluesy feel to it was very important,” she said. “I think that was captured there.”
The major label eventually dropped Shelly, which proved to be only a minor bump in the road.
Free from the confines of a major label, Shelly set out to take control of her music and released Ruby’s Money on her own label, Revelation Nation Records. She took her unstoppable voice to another level, creating an album that reflected a “Memphis kind of feel” with horns.
She also took time to write songs and work with other artists to help develop their sounds. In the 10 years since her first album was released, she has sung background vocals on a lot of albums and songs, including Eric Church’s “Creepin’” and Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down.”
She is one of only three background singers for Martina McBride’s “Everlasting” tour, which began January 2014 and will run through the end of November. Touring with Martina has been a major highlight to Shelly’s varied music career.
“If someone thinks I’m good enough to come and sing backgrounds for them, I’m like, ‘Yeah’ — especially if it’s music I love. Martina is somebody I’ve looked up to as a singer my whole life. I mean, I almost lost my mind when I was hired for this job.
“With being on the road with Martina, I thoroughly enjoy being a supportive part of a band, too — being a side girl, being in the background. I love that,” she said. “I love collaborating with people whether it’s singing a duet, singing backgrounds or just playing the tambourine — I really enjoy making music with people — for a living.”
While she will always take time to collaborate with other musicians, Shelly is putting a major focus on making her own music. To make this happen, she decided to start a crowd-funding campaign and allowed fans across the country help her create her next album through PledgeMusic, a direct-to-fan music platform that brings artists and fans together to share in the experience of making music.
At first, Shelly was hesitant “because I was nervous to ask people for money,” but she counted on the successful PledgeMusic campaign led by her friend, Emily West from America’s Got Talent.
“I asked her how the process was, and I just saw how elegant it was for her,” Shelly said. “So, I contacted Pledge. The idea is that the whole world can be your label. You all do it together. The world can be your marketing tool.”
As part of the campaign, which she launched early this year, she offers exclusives, such as pre-orders of the forthcoming album, signed merchandise, phone calls, VIP concert tickets, a personalized tour of Nashville and even house concerts.
“Some people just want to hang out and see Nashville with me and do things that I do,” she said. “It’s really an opportunity for me to engage people that like my music.”
The highly successful campaign, which will end in early 2016, will pay for studio time, the musicians, the engineers — everything it takes to make a record.
“And, then, mastering and duplication for processing the record — all the money I’m getting, pays for that and pays for me to have LPs printed. It pays for posters, the ability to come out and play and pay the band. It’s all — the whole experience,” Shelly said.
The campaign goal is not made public, and even though she’s reached more than 100 percent, Shelly said the more people give, the more she can do to enhance the experience, make the record she wants and share her music in a bigger way.
“The vision is to play — to come to your town. What I love most is live performance. I just want to be right with everybody that loves the music that I make and wants to show up for it. The goal is to be on the road and to tour and to do as much of that as I can,” she said. “As much as I absolutely love singing background, that’s a whole different kind of personality. I love touring my own music so much, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that.”
Shelly started recording for the next album — yet to be named — in May between tour dates with Martina and other projects. She said she’s working hard to make a collection of songs that is timeless.
“I don’t want to make music that’s just trendy or just has a feel for the moment — like, ‘Oh, that’s so 2015.’ I don’t want to have anybody push the fast forward button,” she said. “So, that’s what we’re working on. Even the songs I haven’t written, it’s important that they mean something.”
Like with her two previous albums, Shelly’s Mississippi roots will definitely come through in her next record.
“I don’t like to steer too far away from Mississippi because that’s what I know and that’s what I grew up with and all the amazing musical influences there,” she said. “I like having that swampy kind of feel. I hope that comes out in this next record, too. I think that has been sort of a through-line even though the music has changed a bit over the years.”
Just as much as Mississippi has a place in Shelly’s music, so does the Music City that helped her become the powerful and successful performer she is. Nashville, the “glorified small town” where Shelly has lived for nearly two decades, will likely always be home base amidst touring.
“You find your way if you are determined to be in a city and to live a certain life,” she said of her life there.
Nashville seemingly fits the singer’s lively personality.
“You’ve got a little bit of country and a little bit of rock-n-roll,” she said. “You have a lot going on in Nashville.”
But, no matter where she puts down her guitar and mic, Mississippi will always be home for Shelly Fairchild.
“I have a friend named Travis Meadows. He’s from Mississippi — a songwriter, one of the best songwriters that I know. He has a song called “I Am Mississippi,” and I feel like that,” she said. “I feel like I am Mississippi. It is me. I am it. You know, it’s made me everything that I am.
“If you never leave Mississippi to see there’s a whole world out there, that’s unfortunate. Mississippi’s always home. The goodness that is Mississippi is what I carry with me.
“I would love for everybody to know — all over the world — that I’m a Mississippi girl.”
Follow Shelly Fairchild on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube using the handle “shellyfairchild.”
Photos by Melanie Thortis / © The ‘Sip