Some bands you rock out to, some you rage to, some – like today’s Headline Act – are more for chilling out to. Ramp up your harp appreciation skills and prepare to drift away with Joy Shannon (and the Beauty Marks)…
I am from the Los Angeles area of California, though my family is from Ireland, so I always have had close ties there.
How did you meet?
All of my wonderful band members have been friends of mine I have met over the years. Daryl Hernandez, who plays guitar with me, used to teach at the same art school I taught at. We met in the copy room and talked about music. Amelia Barron, who sings with me, was actually a student at that art school who I became friends with as she graduated. Then, Jill Cassaboom, who also sings with me, was a tattoo client of mine who became my friend and we bonded over music. Bluebird Gaia, who plays bodhrán on the new album, is a wonderful musician I met when I played some shows through the town Nevada City. I am so excited she plays on my new album. I consider all the creative people I work with, including my dear friend Matt Kollar, who I make music videos with, as members of our band, since we creatively collaborate so much. I met Matt through other musician friends of mine when he was filming a short campy horror film and we hit it off.
How long have you been playing as a band?
I have been writing and performing music as Joy Shannon since 2007, with a backing band called the Beauty Marks, though there have been various band members who have played with us on some albums but not others. Really, it ends up being, whatever sound I want for the album and I invite my favourite performers and musicians to work with me, when it works with their schedules too. This new album, I recorded almost entirely alone, because the concept of the album was about isolation.
Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?
I called the band The Beauty Marks, after birth marks that were believed to be marks of the devil during the 17th century witch trials throughout Europe. If someone had a birthmark, they could be accused to be a witch. I thought, how interesting that by the 20th century we call those birthmarks “beauty marks”. In a way, our name is to reclaim that being a witch today is not an executable offense. But if I lived back then, I would have been in trouble for sure.
What are your influences?
When I was a 11-12 year old kid, I sought out music with passion and unique experimentation. I was utterly bored by what was on the radio. When I discovered Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Gavin Friday and his band the Virgin Prunes, I was blown away. Those bands led me down a wonderful rabbit hole of bands, from David Bowie and Lou Reed, to PJ Harvey, Sex Gang Children, Patti Smith, Bauhaus, and Antony and the Johnsons, who I all adore.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
I am a celtic harpist, cellist and vocalist who writes songs about Irish and Nordic mythology and the occasional Tolkien-inspired ballad. I haven’t met another witch like me.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
In my earlier albums, I used to find most of my inspiration from my own life and more current events, but as I began to delve into my own family and ancestral history, Irish mythology became my main inspiration. The very land of Ireland, and anywhere I go, can feel like it sings old songs to me, and I often find myself writing from emotions I feel in landscapes. Whether they are feelings of longing, sorrow, joy or pain, there seems to be an endless amount of inspiration in the landscape around us all, at all times. In mythology, I find infinite inspiration to try to tell the emotional tales, between the lines of the stories. I often ask myself, how would I imagine that character would have felt, and sing from that place. In mythology, especially when it comes to the stories of goddesses, I find that telling their stories feels important, because they have been forgotten or neglected in the last few hundred years of Western history. I use my music to try to bring some of those ancient women back to life, so that I hope they are not forgotten.
What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?
My goals with my shows has always been to give my audience an intimate and emotive performance of these songs that are close to my heart. I play harp and sing, so perhaps it might be like watching an old witch bard sing her songs. I have played more shows than I can even remember, but my favourite shows have always been ones we have played in nature- like the beautiful folk and metal festival Thirst for Light/ Cascadian Litha Festival.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?
The wildest things I’ve ever done or seen done at shows, would probably be some witchcraft rituals. But those aren’t too crazy to me… music is a ritual and performances are ceremonies. Some of the most wild performances I have seen have been done by the band T.O.M.B and then, of course, the incredible band Heilung. They really bring “making a show a ritual” to another level of ancient, shamanic catharsis.
What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?
I play Dusty Strings FH36B Celtic folk harps, which are custom made for me, with internal mics and stained black. I also have a lovely black Harpsicle harp, which is my small travel harp. I have an old german cello I record with but I use an electric cello in live performances for creating drones with some pedals.
What, if anything, are you plugging/promoting at the moment?
We release our new album The Cave on Dec 21, 2020. I recorded this album in Copenhagen with the incredible producer Christopher Juul of the band Heilung. It’s an album that was inspired by some experiences I had in some caves, used for ancient rituals. I was so inspired by these ancient sites that I began to research the shamanic uses of caves in Irish history and wrote all about the mythological symbolism of those places. Recording this album with Christopher Juul was truly a dream for me. Ever since I heard his music, I wanted to find a way to collaborate with him and it was just so inspiring to watch him create with my songs. I also was able to work with the wonderful illustrator Adrian Baxter, who designed the album artwork.
What are your plans for 2021?
We plan to release this album on the Winter Solstice, the 21st of December 2020, and then we will create a music video for the song “Cloister” in early 2021. We will also be releasing a live concert we filmed and recorded in the coming months.
If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!
I would love to support Heilung or Lindy Fay-Hella or Rome and have Latona Odola or Horse Cult open for us.
From previous Band of the Day Muscular Child: Dave Grohl, Mick Jagger, Prince – Who would you kiss, who would you marry and who would you kill?
Gavin Friday, David Bowie, Mick Jagger.
From another BotD, Vanity: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Sing loud and proud, don’t worry- your voice is wonderful.
And from Charly&Faust: What’s your underwear colour?