The much-bemoaned Year of Our Lord, 2016, is now gone. On social media, resolutions of hope and determination abound for a better trip around the sun in 2017.
For Shayla McDaniel, rising newcomer to the local songwriter scene, 2017 is all about getting the word out.
“Right now, for 2017, I’m trying to play as much as possible,” she says. “The biggest thing is to play as much as possible.”
McDaniel exudes a simple and practical approach and laid-back manner, lending the impression that, while fairly new to the Knoxville scene, she’s sliding right in.
McDaniel came up locally, learning music with family, friends and at church. A program through her middle school school gave her an opportunity to learn violin, and later, a spare bass turning up at her church took her into the world of guitars. She later bought an acoustic with Christmas money. “I watched a DVD and taught myself from there.”
Forays to local open-mic nights starting in 2013 became commonplace, until McDaniel says, last year, she realized she had “only a handful of songs that were presentable…I was like, ‘I need to stop and write a little bit more.”
What followed was a delve into DIY home recording that produced a series of self-produced singles released on her website throughout 2015, soft jazz/soul beauties like “Coffee,” “I’ll Leave the Light On,” and “Baked With Love.” She plays guitar, bass, piano and programs the drums herself. Fans of Corinne Bailey Ray, Tracy Chapman, Colby Caillat, Beth Snapp and other acoustic jazz and soul artists will find a nice original take on some familiar muted, smooth instrumental and vocal stylings.
The songs are honest, simple, sincere, and warm. Soft, relaxed vocals float over simple jazz chords, a phenomenon McDaniel attributes less to extensive theory knowledge than to the fact that, as an emerging musician, she laughs, “some of the jazz chords had less notes to play.”
McDaniel is a Christian who does not write explicit religious lyrics, but rather, she says, “it’s just a light that seeps into my music.” Indeed, the ethereal soft touch present in the music evokes images of meditation, reflection, and even prayer.
McDaniel recently started playing proper shows at local venues like Central Collective and Awaken Coffee. She recorded an EP, 26 Letters, which she will release at a show on January 27 at new Happy Holler venue/shared work space Modern Studio.
The transition from newbie testing the waters to establishing herself as a known solo entity around town seems to be on the fast track. Knoxville Music Warehouse ranked “I’ll Leave the Light On” in its Top 16 Tracks/Singles from Knoxville Artists in 2016.
McDaniel has had help from folks like fellow upcoming songwriter Daje Morris and praises the Knoxville scene for its openness to new music and willingness to help out new musicians.
“I’ve never been a part of any other scene,” she says, “but here it’s like a big family and everybody’s always trying to help out.”