Melbourne’s brightest light, Shannen James takes us track-by-track through her sun-soaked debut album ‘Patchwork,’ a spirited, intimate, and cinematic reverie celebrating life’s little moments of connection and catharsis.
for fans of Kacey Musgraves, Maggie Rogers, HAIM, The Paper Kites
Stream: “Headlights” – Shannen James
There is a real truth to throw the ‘spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.’
Sun-soaked and cinematic, Shannen James’ debut album is a beautiful, breathtaking reverie.
Life’s little moments deserve their time to shine, and on Patchwork the ephemeral becomes eternal as one of Australia’s brightest lights turns her rays toward our intimate, innermost experiences. Patchwork is for dancing in the streets, and spinning circles on your living room floor; it’s for singing your heart out until your voice is hoarse, your lungs are dry, and the tears are streaking down your face. It’s a record of poetic self-expression and radiant revelry: A soul-stirring celebration of the vulnerable and the visceral that promises to light a fire deep down inside.
Woke from a dream
You weren’t next to me
Everything feels different now
Caught in a web on your side in the bed
Even colder than it was somehow
Down in the dark
Lost with no spark
Wanna wake up when it’s over
Drifted so far
Wanna go back to the start
So I’ll find a way to where you are
In your headlights, I go blind
‘Cause I’d risk it all to see you one more time
Though we never had a chance to try
I’d travel on this road forever
– “Headlights,” Shannen James
Released February 2, 2024 via Ivy League Records, Patchwork is a charming and charged collection of songs ready to be the soundtrack to our own dusty roads. Shannen James’ debut album arrives three and a half years after her 2020 debut EP Arrows, which Atwood Magazine praised at the time as “a dazzling, intimate outpouring of fresh grooves and hot feelings.”
The same can easily be said of Patchwork, whose expanded scope allows James to soak up the full spectrum of life experience. The resulting album is a cohesive and cathartic rollercoaster full of thrills, chills, and emotional spills – and whether she’s basking in an anthemic high or aching through a brooding low, the Naarm/Melbourne-based singer/songwriter ensures her audience feels intrinsically connected to her in every song.
“I’ve dreamed about having my own album forever, so this is really something!” James tells Atwood Magazine. “This record is really a collection of songs of experiences from a lot of my life so far that have been created, molded and shaped into a 12-track record. It’s quite vast in its storytelling and sound, while it equally feels intimate and familiar, like a warm hug.”
“To be honest I never really go into my music with any specific vision. The times I have tried, I have never come away with what I really intended, so rather I make what I like and don’t use the stuff I don’t like! But in saying that, the thing I really did want to capture in this album was the different sides of me as an artist and how I don’t feel I fit in just one lane. Although yes, some songs were pulled out and added throughout the process, because sometimes it is a little bit of trial and error to see what 12 will work and what makes sense for me as an artist. There is a real truth to throw the ‘spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.’
A self-described “album gal,” James doesn’t need Patchwork to fit into any one box, so long as it represents her.
“It’s something I’d want to listen to driving down the coast at dusk, looking out over the water, and I hope people can go and do that when they listen to it too,” she says.
“I think my favorite thing so far from what people have said, is that everyone really likes something different on this record. Out of the singles that have come out in the lead up to, I’ve been really surprised that there isn’t just one front runner. Like a lot of albums, there is usually a clear collective favourite, but it so far seems like there is almost something for everyone. Not to say that everyone likes my music of course, but that the people that do are all seeing different sides of me on this record – which was the plan!”
The title Patchwork came to James one day as she was writing out a page’s worth of what the album is about, and what it means to her. “I stumbled on the idea that everything from the process of making this record felt like a lesson in patchwork,” she explains. “Stitching together many different ideas, textures, styles, stories and then working with a lot of different people and figuring out how it will all come together to feel like me. I also had so many songs to pull from and work with on this that literally, I had so much material to work with, it was just a matter of chopping it up and creating a full picture with what I had.”
Highlights abound on the journey from the album’s bold and bustling opener “Headlights” to its achingly confessional conclusion, “Old Mixtapes.”
A cool confessional with Americana roots and beautifully intimate lyrics, “Breakfast with You” (one of Atwood Magazine‘s Editor’s Picks) is as unapologetic an embrace of self-worth as it is pure, sweetly seductive fun: James delivers a grooving country-tinged tune, full of twangy guitars and smoldering, soothing vocal harmonies that all but demand head-bobs and toe-taps. “I want to be alone,” she howls in the song’s radiant, soaring chorus. If it’s intimacy she’s after, it’s the intimacy of solitude: That joy one gets in the company of oneself, reconnecting with who we are away from the world’s noises and romantic (or not-so-romantic) distractions.
Further highlights include the smoldering power-ballad “I Don’t Mind,” a song about giving yourself space and time in moments that are too exhausting and all-consuming, and the breathtakingly beautiful ode to summertime “Longest Light,” a gorgeously glistening ballad that wraps around the ears and the heart like a soft sonic blanket: Its warmth and tenderness has the power to bring a hush to the noisiest of crowds, and is sure to be a moment of connection and catharsis in James’ live shows from here on out.
In the album’s penultimate song “WYCB” (“when you coming back”), James pours a heavy heart into a weightless and emotionally charged homecoming anthem inspired by the music of HAIM and a desire for reconciliation.
And on the impassioned, aching anthem “This Mess,” a spirited eruption from the artist’s innermost depths, which she candidly calls her obligatory quarantine song:
Sick of always talking to a screen
‘Cause all the connections are weak
And all my friends are busy learning new things
But nothing’s sinking in for me
Am I asking too much now, baby
For you to come and save me from this mess?
Things are starting to get rough, baby
I can’t handle this, I’m losing it
‘Cause all I really want is
something physical, something I can hold
And all I really need is not to be alone
Not to be alone
‘Cause all I really need is not to be alone
“I would say ‘Superstitious’ was a real big one for me,” James says on the topic of favorites. “Probably because it was maybe the hardest one to get done, as it was all made in COVID. The songwriting, producing, recording, mixing was all done over Zoom with my friend and cowriter Dylan Nash. It was the most technically difficult to pull off, so the most satisfying.”
As for lyrics, she highlights a line from the album’s finale, ‘Old Mixtape,’ that continues to resonate with her: “‘I know you hated the small talk, would you please pass the salt?’ I really love lyrics that are based in the mundane reality of life, so this one was a personal fav of mine,” she smiles.
I wasn’t looking for you
I was keeping to myself
Didn’t need nobody else
I wasn’t searching for it
Oh, but serendipity
It came looking for me
Suspicious of the view
Oblivious to you
Couldn’t stop it even if we wanted to
Now you got me superstitious
Holding on to all of my wishes
Just in case, I wake up
I wanna make sure there’s enough
Crossing all of my fingers
Didn’t know what I was missing
‘Cause if we fall down to luck
I guess I’ve spent all of mine up
Ultimately, Patchwork stays true to its names as a series of stunning snapshots – seductive little snippets of a life lived unapologetically and to the fullest.
“I hope that people enjoy it! I hope that they feel like they understand the fuller picture of who I am as an artist and might give them an inkling into what’s to come for future Shannen James music,” James shares. “There are so many things I want to try out and experiment with, so I hope this record allows me to do that in future, if people are open to hearing lots of stuff!”
“I think this album has really taught me that, make what it is that I truly like and then all the rest is a bonus if other people like it too. One other thing I think it taught me is a lesson in the art of timing and letting something be. I have so much music I want to share, and I would say this process was probably drawn out more than what I would have hoped. You could keep adding and changing things forever waiting for them to be perfect, but songs are meant to capture a moment in time, they are what they are in the moment. Finish it and move on to the next thing.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Shannen James’ Patchwork with Atwood Magazine as she goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut album!
Stream: ‘Patchwork’ – Shannen James
:: Inside Patchwork ::
This song came about by a common love for The Cure, with co-writers Hatchie and Joe. We were sitting in a Brisbane hotel room and started off with this very iconic ‘Close To Me’ type drum groove, which set us on the path of writing a travel-to-the-ends-of-the-earth journey song to find that one person you never got the chance to really tell how you feel. It’s a melancholic emotion mixed in with hopefulness; will I make it to them before it’s too late.
Breakfast With You
This song was born out of a little guitar riff I had recorded on my phone that to be honest, was rather simple, yet there was something so catchy about it! With some finessing and playing around with the amazing Xavier Dunn, it morphed into more of a country-esque groove. I knew I wanted to write about this idea of a person who just can’t get the hint that you aren’t interested in them regardless of all the signs, like turning down many breakfast dates! Brutal but honest. We went on to write the song in a day loved how playful and cheeky it was, both lyrically and musically. It was really exciting leaning into the country flare in this song and as well as the music video, as I’m inspired by so many amazing country pop singer-songwriters. This one fed my ego a little, being able to live out my Shania Twain dream.
I Don’t Mind
At its core, this song is about allowing yourself to have the space and time you need to recoup and pull yourself together in moments that are too exhausting and all-consuming. I wrote this song almost 5 years ago now, which seems crazy to me, but I remember at that time I had this overwhelming feeling of not being able to give 100% all the time. I felt like I was letting myself and others down. But when it comes down to it, it’s almost impossible to be the best version of yourself day in day out and that its sometimes okay to wake up at noon, lounge around the house in your pjs, fall asleep on the couch again until its dark and not achieve anything that day. At the time of producing this song, I was heavily into listening to The Paper Kites and was obsessed with their use of melody in their raw instrumentation to really capture an emotion and lead you into the song.
Pip Norman and I had been working on another song together when one day he sent me a fairly formed instrumental he had sitting around. It had these awesome Haim-esque plucky guitar parts and an 80’s, almost The 1975 synth, so it was immediately something I wanted to work on. I started just riffing on the instrumental and have the voice memo that has a lot of the melodies and lyric ideas that ended up in the final song. I find with my songwriting, usually the initial ideas are the best ones as they aren’t overthought or manufactured. The lyrics that just came out in that first voice memo were ‘Every moment you were near me, I could see it all coming, and I can’t even believe it that I’m out here for nothing’, and the chorus riff ‘let me break it break it down for ya’. So instantly the content of those lyrics felt as though I was singing to a person who had maybe done me wrong in some way, and having to set things straight or have a hard conversation with. There are so many moments like that in life, when you let things go on for too long and fester until there’s no other option than to cut it off or break up some kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise.
‘Space’ was one of those rare moments when the whole song comes together in a day. It doesn’t happen every time or that often, but when it does it feels kind of magical, like there’s some invisible energy force at play, spurring you on in right direction and everything just comes to you. That was ‘Space’. It’s about those last moments you spend with someone you love that you will cherish forever. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. Some don’t get that chance but, when you do, it’s a mix of a million different emotions all at once. A desperate plea for time to stand still, a hopeful goodbye that there might be good news around the corner, thank you’s and laughs about all the good memories, and gentle squeeze of a hand that you may never hold again. It’s painful and it’s beautiful.
‘This Mess’ feels like my obligatory quarantine song, not really on purpose, but was hard not to write about it going into sessions when there was a break in lockdowns. I didn’t want to write a sad-sounding song, lyrically it’s very much based on the feelings of uncertainty and longing for togetherness. I really think if the last few years taught me anything it was how human connection is truly the most important thing, to me at least. And this song is just a confirmation of that realisation.
Alex Wildwood and I had never worked together before this and we got hooked up in a zoom writing sesh. I remember us talking about having a chorus where everything dropped out, as that was something I hadn’t really done or had on this album. Sometimes, when you sit back and look at the songs you have as a whole, you can see any gaps or missing moments you wished you had. There’s something really captivating that draws you into a chorus when it’s just a vocal and a bass. Especially for this song, where on the surface it’s about someone you can’t really connect with as much as you might try to, but when I dig deeper it’s really about myself being the protagonist as well as the antagonist. Fighting those inner battles with yourself and how those different thoughts and emotions are sometimes at a battle between each other.
This is one of my favourite songs off the album. It’s always had this warmth and comfort to it I’ve loved and been drawn to. I wrote this song with Dustin Tebbutt in his living room in 2018. I really loved Dustin as a songwriter, so this was a real treat to sit with him and write this. I would say this is the most metaphor-based song lyrically on the album. We were playing around with the idea that my love for the summertime and all that comes with it is personified and how it reminds me of all the best moments with my partner and the connection we have and how I truly feel at my best during that time. The seasons are like my mood ring, where my personality and behaviour changes because of it and its saying I want to hold on to the summertime because that’s where I feel most like me, but when it changes and we go through the ebbs and flows, will you be there to hold me up when I need it.
I’m really proud of ‘Superstitous’ for many reasons, one of them being that this song was completely written, recorded and mixed on zoom with Dylan in Sydney. Everything was feeling a little grim at that point in 2020, particularly living in Melbourne, so it just felt right to try make something that was uplifting and fun. For me, it’s about looking back at those initial moments you meet someone and fall in love and just think of how perfect everything aligned for that to happen. Almost like there was a higher power at play watching over and bringing you both together. Then subsequently not wanting to lose or disrupt the good fortune that came your way by doing something that may be deemed superstitious. We wanted the production to be just as energetic to match those feelings and excitement in those early stages of a relationship. The drums really drove the production and we spent a lot of time just refining ideas, back guitar riffs and synths, to make them all bounce from one to the other.
There are people in your life that you don’t see for years, but once you catch up again it’s like no time at all has passed. The ease and comfort that not all relationships have. I think this was the first song I ever wrote with, now my somewhat longtime collaborator, Robby De Sa. The thing I love the most about working with Robby is, from this very first song together, he’s always understood my references and inspirations I draw on. Haim was one of the bands I mentioned to him that I loved, so in the early stages of this song, he really understood my love of organic instrumentation and melodic hooks, but still keeping it fresh. You can definitely hear some of that inspiration still scattered throughout the final version of this song.
‘Old Mixtapes’ was written in one day, at the end of last year in Brisbane with Tom Eggart, and I instantly felt in love with it. People come in and out of your life for whatever reason, and sometimes you can’t help but wonder, if it were a different time and place, would things have worked out differently? Life is full of wonderful relationships, some last, some don’t, some are good for you, some aren’t. I’m forever evolving and what you learn from other people is the biggest part of that process. It’s the final song on the album, and the most recent edition. It’s raw and honest, and it leaves the record in a way that makes you want to go back to the start.
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© Ellena Paskevicius
:: Stream Shannen James ::