Sunnyvale-based singer Shanna Gilfix, and her bandmate Richard Adoradio, posted on their Myspace page that ‘music is the remedy for the mundane.’ Working through, acknowledging and processing common emotions in fresh ways has become part of their style and purpose. They hope to create danceable, ‘listenable’ music so people will have fun – and also find strength through realizing they are not alone in whatever they might be going through at the moment. We at Synchronized Chaos discussed music and the creative process with Shanna recently and would like to share her thoughts.
Describe some of your musical influences. Does a musician set out to emulate someone else, or does it just happen?
I’ve listened to some musicians for so long that I can’t help but be influenced by them. When I start writing I never think, oh, it should sound like something or another.
Richard and I feed off of each other while we are playing and composing, and when we’re performing we want people to feel something. I need to be feeling it also so people in the audience can relax into a song, deal with the emotions and know that it’s okay to feel the way they do.Each song is a chance to acknowledge and release something you’ve been holding on to.
“Questions Never Lie” is my favorite song to perform…it helped me through a time in my life when I wasn’t sure what I should do. The piece took over a year to write. Richard asked me to finish the piece, and for some reason I just couldn’t and it stayed unfinished for months. So he started writing something else and that naturally fed into the song. The lyrics reference a Zen center we visit … where they encourage you to just sit with yourself, take some time to figure things out. And it’s okay if that doesn’t happen for awhile.
Each song explores a different type of emotion, or sometimes just helps people to feel good. We like to leave our listeners with smiles on their faces.
You make many of your hit pieces and new compositions available online. How do you believe the Internet has affected your music?
Well, I’ve actually Googled a lyric from one of our songs to see if anyone else had said it just that way before!
It’s seriously amazing to see the response to music we’ve posted online, I feel totally validated by the Internet. It’s possible for us to reach half a million people there, and to have fans in Cairo, Japan, and Colombia. If we go on a world tour there will be people who remember us from YouTube! And it’s great to see others helped by our music, people who go through bad breakups or other issues who know they are not alone in what they feel.
What advice would you have for an aspiring musician?
Play, go to open mics, surround yourself with incredible artists, don’t be afraid to collaborate. Keep trying new things, have fun. If it’s not fun anymore, it’s not worth it anymore.
Also you have to prove you can handle the business aspect, pull off shows where people come, build up your own fan base. My brother is a business consultant and has advised us along the way, and we get exposure through iTunes and house parties.
Music or lyrics first?
My mom! We grew up making music together. Also I was part of the choir in school and now I’m learning music theory with a voice teacher.
How has it been different to work in collaboration with Richard?
Well, he’s an amazing musician and our styles are fairly similar, but we complement each other. I’ll do a lot of long slow emotional songs, and he’ll drive us towards a faster, more fun pace.
Some people stick to slow sad songs, just express emotions. But onstage you need to entertain people. There are certain dynamics which work, within a song and within a set. It’s a matter of balance, and your audience should get chances to get up and dance.
We get a similar response from people around the world, people tend to say they were moved by the songs. So far everyone from everywhere has tended to say similar things.
Why did you choose music as a medium as opposed to writing poems, etc?
Music touches me, and I love it. I love performing. I feel the most expressive through music. The best shows are with our home-crowd…people who know and love us.
Recently we had a few difficult shows, where people didn’t know what to expect – but it was a fun challenge. We went on a show on the radio, landed a last minute gig and played that night.
But the biggest challenge is writing the songs. Are they good enough? I just go by when all the words are there, when it flows and feels right.
How did you choose your style of music? Why acoustic soul, instead of say, punk rock?
I wrote the kind of music I like to hear, and I don’t like punk rock! I looked to become encompassed in a single genre – but what would that be? Acoustic soul seemed to fit, that rich deep pure organic sound you get from, say Alicia Keys or Lauryn Hill.
Also I had to learn rhythm by playing drums. A singer needs to know rhythm to know when to come in after the music starts. I started not being so good at that, but I practiced and can do it now.
(Shanna also offered me drum lessons at this point 😉
Do you feel being a musician has changed you as a person? Do you respond to situations differently having a musical outlet for expression?
I try to leave people feeling appreciated and understood. Richard and I relate to each other through music, and we hope it helps us understand what new people in the audience might need to hear. Music is a conversation to us, where we want to listen as much as play. I appreciate being listened to and want others to be heard and have their feelings and desires acknowledged too, offstage as well as onstage.
Share some stories from your travels and live performances…favorite memories? Funniest thing that has ever happened to you on the road, most poignant memory, etc? Anything interesting in how others respond to your music?
Well, for one thing, Richard lives in a 24 ft trailer, and that’s where we do most of our composing…We write lots of music there, cook amazing meals with crazy ingredients.
Funny stories…one day we were busking on the street, playing out there with the guitar case open for donations. And this little girl came up and asked for a dollar! Her mom rushed up and said, no, you’re supposed to give THEM a dollar! But she was so cute and all…
We get interesting reactions when we play on the street. It’s a good exercise for us mentally to learn how to engage a [distracted] crowd. People in our society don’t often publicly stop to hear street musicians for some reason…they’ll sit a bit away so no one will know they’re listening…but we know and we can tell they’re enjoying themselves. Sometimes it takes a few people to stop first before others will stop..no one wants to be the first. There’s even a story online somewhere about a famous violinist with the symphony who played to packed-out halls when people paid for tickets, but when he played in the subway no one clapped or even stopped.
Synchronized Chaos: Interesting comment on our production-oriented culture…we don’t want to be caught standing still in public for free, unless it’s at some kind of organized event we believe we’ve earned the privilege to enjoy.
Facebook photos are online of us busking in the city…check online at FB under Shanna Gilfix.
They’re also putting on a benefit show for the Boys and Girls Club afterschool/mentoring program sometime in May…Shanna volunteered as a mentor in the past and totally endorses the group. Look out for the show…also there’s a show in San Jose Friday, April 10th, check her Facebook page.