Q&A: Little Shrine’s Jade Shipman on creativity during social distancing, songwriting process and her band’s new album

The year is two-thousand-and-Zoom, and rock stars’ reasons for tardiness have taken on a whole new form.

I’m sorry! Jade Shipman says. “I was trying to connect and it kept saying my audio driver had crashed and needed to reboot!” 

Jade is lead singer and bassist for Little Shrine, an indie pop/folk band based in San Francisco. We’re catching up at an odd time: their new album The Good Thing About Time drops on 17 April, but there’s little prospect of a live album release party just yet. Formerly a trio featuring guitarist Tony Schoenberg and Ryan Avery on violin, this is their first release as a five-piece, with Andrew Griffin and Garrett Warshaw joining to provide drums and keys on the record.

The Good Thing About Time is an exploration of opposites, of moments beginning and moments ending, and the full range of human emotions those moments elicit. Sadness and joy, impatience and appreciation, anger and celebration co-exist – often in the same song.

Opening with big skate energy on “Make Me Better,” complete with violin shredding, Little Shrine veer back towards folk as they lament “Lost Potential” then build up to the finale: future festival favourite “Sound Barrier.” What ties it all together? Ryan’s violin and Jade’s voice.

Riffs & Rhymes contributor Oliver Cable spoke with Jade Shipman about Little Shrine’s debut album, her songwriting process and more. Check out their conversation below.

LittleShrineSolo3byGingerFierstein

What a world to be releasing an album into. What’s this period of social distancing doing to your creativity?

Jade: There’s a ton of time right now, but there’s not a lot of new life inputs coming in. I’m trying to let in everything that’s going on in the world right now: there’s a lot of uncertainty and stress, there’s loss for a lot of people, and at the same time, people are showing up in extraordinary ways showing a lot of love. It’s kind of confusing – there’s all these different things happening simultaneously. I don’t really know how this will end up showing up in my work. I’m definitely still writing, but it’s hard to know if it’s any good! 

Do you have any particular people you use as your sounding boards?

Jade: Tony [guitarist] and Ryan [on violin] – I usually send them my stuff first to make sure it doesn’t completely suck! Sometimes I’ll send out a bunch of stuff all at once, little demos, usually more than we want to work on, and we’ll pick and choose which ones we want.

Talk me through the development of Little Shrine’s style.

Jade: The songs I wrote for the first record [released in 2017] were kinda tender and sensitive, and when I played them in front of a bunch of strangers, it felt very vulnerable. So I reached out to Tony and Ryan and we started workshopping things. The quietness of that first record was how I felt on the inside: I didn’t feel particularly celebratory or loud, I felt inward looking. Recording the new album, I felt much happier in myself. I’ve always been involved in rock projects – when I was younger it was all about more distortion! and play it faster! That feeling was kinda dormant in the first record, but it’s returned now, in a more refined way. It was a lot of fun, enabling me to share my real feelings and rock out a bit more!

LittleShrine1byGingerFierstein

You’ve grown from being a trio to being a five-piece for The Good Thing About Time. How did that come about?

Jade: As a bassist I’m always trying to hold the tempo and the vibe and as the music got louder, it was hard for our sound to stay unified. A little voice in my head started saying: “This would be easier with drums.” We found Andrew Griffin who is a very accomplished and talented drummer, and when we met him, he liked the songs. We recorded as a four-piece: guitar, bass, drums and violin. We had a studio with two isolation booths, with the guitar in one, the violin in one, and the drummer and me in the live room. We recorded it live to get that “locked-in” feeling. We added the keys last, though it wasn’t totally clear in what capacity we wanted them. I worked with Garrett Warshaw to figure out what his parts were going to sound like. I think they really bring it all together. It’s funny the terms people use to talk about music: “Stabbier! Make it more stabby!” Grant was able to make those sounds happen and make them fit with the rest of the music. It speaks to the musicianship of my band that they’re able to make all this work to the service of the songs. They know when to back off and when to turn it up to 11.

Let’s talk about the upcoming album. Listening to the music, the songs sound quite upbeat, but the lyrics address some darker issues.

Jade: The darker themes are always there in life. We all die, and if you spend too much time thinking about that, as I did for a while, that sense of loss is intense to live with. As I love people more and more, there’s that sense that sooner or later it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker. Sometimes, that manifests itself as straight sadness, sometimes it’s going to be anger. I’ve been trying to feel and acknowledge all those things without losing hope, and without losing touch with joy. Releasing this record in the middle of a pandemic is another time to practice that. It’s another manifestation of all these things happening simultaneously.

Run me through the album’s title track: “The Good Thing About Time.”

Jade: Usually, when I think about time, I think about the things that we lose. While I was writing “The Good Thing About Time,” though, I was focussed on the flip-side: the fact that everything ends means that the horrible things end too. Those days you don’t want to go back to, you can’t anyway, and that’s really freeing. Each day starts from scratch and you can’t take it with you – so what are you going to do with it? “Shadow” follows a similar idea: we have to dance and celebrate together and figure out how to hold onto the joy amid the sadness and the difficulty.

Are there any songs that stand out for you as a favourite?

Jade: It depends what I’m in the mood for. When playing live: “Make Me Better” and “Come On.” The more tender things feel more meaningful to me, but they’re definitely harder to perform. Lost Potential was difficult to record. There were some takes where I just felt really sad, and others when I sounded really ticked-off. How to put the song together vocally was a challenge: which lines are sad? Which lines are frustrated? There’s a lot of shades of grey in there, a lot of conflicting feelings: there’s forgiveness but there’s also accountability. It’s trickier live, and it’s still tender.

Are you doing any online living room gigs?

We’ve had a few requests. I think we’ll probably give it a try, but the production part will take some work. I have a love-hate thing with these living room performances: it’s cool, it’s an intimate look at a band, but I have a cat, so anything could happen. She’d want to be the centre of attention!

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Photos by Ginger Fierstein. Follow Little Shrine on social media to keep up with her latest news and music. Stream and support their new album ‘The Good Thing About Time’ this Friday.

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