JOSIE DUNNE *CANCELLED*
with Willie Shaw
Downstairs, All Ages
DOORS: // SHOW:
Saturday May 30, 2020
When most effective, music possesses an almost supernatural ability to take listeners on a vibrant journey. Listen closely to a well-constructed song, and an artist’s pathway to the present comes into laser-sharp focus. To that end, if ever one was curious where Josie Dunne stands at a given point in her life, her sophisticated and ever-soulful songs told the tale. Songwriting then, for the 22-year old breakout singer, has always been a matter of “deep diving into who you are as a person,” she offers. Because you have to be super self-aware to figure out your sound.” Having worked as a professional songwriter since age 16, and now on the cusp of releasing Late Teens Early Twenties, her soul-baring second EP for Atlantic Records, Dunne says in so many ways we have been and are continuing to play witnesses in real time to her self-discovery.
"You're hearing me grow up — the real growth spurt," the singer says of her meandering road towards finding herself and, in the process, her unique brand of soul-infected pop. On Late Teens Early Twenties, a collage of sweet-and-sticky pop and timeless soul, "You're seeing me learn these lessons for the first time," Dunne says of her warts-and-all storytelling that, in conjunction with an electrifying sonic evolution, makes her one of the most thrilling, buzzed-about young pop stars of the moment.
To hear Dunne tell it, Late Teens Early Twenties is the clearest distillation of her sonic and lyrical maturation. The process of constructing To Be The Little Fish, her debut EP released last year via Atlantic, was a soul and sound-searching process Dunne likens to a healthy dose of trial and error. Only a teenager at the time, she experimented with a mélange of sounds and styles. Not until she wrote and recorded "Old School," that EP's centerpiece and her breakout single, did she feel she'd truly found her musical voice. "When we wrote Old School," she says of the sticky-sweet single directly inspired by her parents' relationship, "everything shifted. I was like, Boom! That's the direction!" she recalls, noting how prior to its completion she'd felt compelled to write for any and every genre, but in pinning down what made her tick -- fresh and funky soul music with a contemporary pop flair-- she finally felt at home.
Music instigates introspection and often teaches us a thing or two about ourselves. Flaunting expansive vocal range, eloquent songcraft, and endless charisma, California-born and Nashville-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Willie Shaw composes relatable pop anthems from real stories. Wrapping emotion in rhythm, he makes an empathetic connection amplified by swaggering falsetto, slick grooves, and pops of colorful production. Signed to CAA and Career Artist Management, his 2020 independent debut EP introduces this striking style.
“My music is meant for listeners to discover or remember things about themselves,” he explains. “A song can give you a boost or make you think, but it has an ability to encourage looking inward—acting almost like a mirror. That happens when the emotion comes through the instruments and the notes. That’s what I try to bring.”
Hailing from Orange County, Willie first identified the potential of music at home. Possessing an impressive voice of her own, mom sang backups during sessions at the famed Capitol Records studio in Los Angeles. In high school, Willie found his voice. Focusing on baseball, football, and basketball at the time, he enrolled in a concert choir class. In order to salvage his grade from a “B” to an “A,” he took the stage and sang Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine of My Life.” Not only did he secure the grade, but his teacher invited him to join honors choir. For the next four years, he split his time between the baseball diamond and choir practice, running back and forth to both. “You rarely picture the athlete guy singing,” he smiles. “It felt like High School Musical!”
Attending William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, he played baseball at the college level in addition to writing and performing. Beyond regular gigs at the student lodge, he busked in colonial Williamsburg, playing covers for three hours a night outside of a popular restaurant who appreciated the bump in wine sales! In the process, he developed a charming presence and considerably honed his chops.
“By busking, I discovered what people like to listen to,” he goes on. “That’s where I started to learn how to sing different tunes for certain types of crowds.”
Upon graduation, he picked up and moved to Nashville. By day, he held down an accounting gig for NASA. At night, he devoted countless hours to songwriting. Drawing inspiration from Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong, he worked towards fashioning a signature sound. As he cut his teeth, a successful 2018 audition for The Voice opened a series of doors. By serendipity, he met Jeff Gregg at CAA and signed to the world-renowned agency. A publishing deal with Warehouse West Entertainment followed. During CMA Fest 2019, he attracted the attention of Career Artist Management [Maroon 5, Big Boi]. With these pieces in place, he got right to work on his debut EP.
Now, the first single “Falling In Love” struts forward on percussive handclaps, shimmering keys, jazz-y guitar, and dreamy talk box produced by Robopop [Lana Del Rey, Andy Grammer]. Willie’s voice stretches from a breathy intro towards an ecstatic and engaging chant, “I can tell that we are falling in love…brush it off girl, I’m not making it up.”
“It’s very sensual,” he says. “When you listen to it, you hopefully feel a lot of things. It’s meant to capture the excitement of the moment when you
know you’re head over heels about somebody.”
Elsewhere on the EP, lightly picked acoustic guitar resounds on “Sunday Call.” Co-written and produced by Adam Friedman [The Black Eyed Peas, Mike Posner]. His storytelling takes center stage as he details a family ritual and directly speaks to his parents in the lyrics.
“Every Sunday, I have a check-in phone call with my mom and dad,” he states. “If I missed it, I’m sure my mom would send a S.W.A.T. team after me. I’m taking inventory of my life and asking them what it was like when they met and how they knew it was right. It’s a very personal story.”
On the other end of the spectrum, “Rhythm of a Woman” swings from finger-snaps and a doo-wop groove towards a hypnotic hook about “when you realize the person you’re dating is crazy, but you love it.” Meanwhile, “I Always Knew” paints a vivid picture and speaks to eternal love above faint guitar as he adopts “the perspective of a groom on his wedding day.”
In the end, Willie Shaw might just make you realize something about yourself as he soundtracks his journey (and yours).
“Songwriting shows us things inside we either didn’t know were there or we forgot,” he leaves. “It’s a wonderful thing. This is my way to connect and remind you how great life can be.”