Face Time: Shawn Colvin

Singer-songwriter, clotheshorse

July 13, 2012

In 1997, Shawn Colvin hit it big with her song “Sunny Came Home,” which told the tale of a tortured housewife driven to arson. While it might have seemed like an overnight success to some, Colvin had been performing around the world for more than 20 years, battling all kinds of demons along the way. Her new book, “Diamond in the Rough” ($25, William Morrow), chronicles her journey from a music-obsessed child to a Grammy-winning artist. She’ll be at the Birchmere on July 19 and 20 in support of her new album, “All Fall Down.”

In the book, you say life started when you heard the Beatles.
They were so great! My older brother wasn’t into rock and roll, so I hadn’t heard Elvis or the other popular people of the time. I was not unlike several million teenage or pre-teenage girls who were completely enamored of these guys. I was obsessed with them. They were so brand-new, and I had never heard anything like that.

How did things change even more once you learned how to play the guitar?
I always loved to sing. I sang in the choir; I sang along to all the records I had. But when I learned the guitar, I could accompany myself. I had something else to learn, and I was becoming enamored of acoustic singer-songwriters.

You’ve battled alcoholism, depression, anxiety, failed relationships. How did those struggles impact your songwriting?
It took me a while to learn to write well and to write in my own voice. But I think, especially with the relationships, that it was just great fodder for my songs. It’s painful, and I wanted and needed to express my longing or my pain or my frustration or my bafflement. Deep feelings impact what you want to write about, and oftentimes those deep feelings are troublesome.

What’s your favorite place to perform in the D.C. area?
The Birchmere has been so good to me, and the audiences have consistently come out to hear me. That’s incredibly gratifying, that there’s a base of fans that has been with me since before I made my first record. It’s very touching. Wolf Trap is also awesome — being there is a great feeling. But I have a lot of nostalgic affection for the Birchmere.

You also have what you call a clothes fetish. Explain!
My mother sewed for us, then I learned how to sew. I love fabric— the different weaves, the different weights and the prints. I love the sculpture of clothing. Unfortunately, this is my cross to bear: I appreciate a well-made, well-designed garment, and they’re not cheap. To me, it’s art.

Has your teenage daughter had any influence on what you wear?
It’s kind of the opposite. She likes the way I dress and borrows things from me, and she lets me style her from time to time. She’s too young. I can’t wear her cutoffs and Converse.

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