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Artist to Artist: JJ Voss chats with Shantaia

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

by JJ Voss

It’s hard for most people to understand why artists/musicians would choose a to embark upon a career in a business that is as volatile, sometimes cruel and seemingly impossible to catch a break in. When it comes to the “lifers” in the world of music, those who do it for a living rarely make it a conscious choice; it often times chooses them. Shantaia’s path thus far is a testament to this. At the time when most of us are learning how to talk, she started singing lessons. “My Mom says I started at two and a half years old, they put me in singing lessons, I had ( she says) very good diction and pronunciation”Shantaia continue, “as the years went on I started taking classical training in the Royal Conservatory program.” From competing in vocal contests all around Saskatchewan to recording her first full album at the age of 13 to opening for big name headliners and playing some of Canada’s most notable festivals, Shantaia has a lot of experience under her belt and all of this before the age of 23. I met up on Zoom for a conversation with the pride of Spiritwood, Saskatchewan to shoot the breeze and gain some insight into her journey.

JJ Voss- You come from a musical family, has that helped in your development as an artist?

Shantaia- “Ya, Brodie Siebert, he’s doing very well for himself. It’s kind of funny, cause growing up his older brother Riley was the one who got me into country music; he taught me how to play guitar and he used to accompany me on Telemiracle and all that stuff. He was doing the competitions and travelling from one side of Canada to the next, he brought me along on his journey and then as Brodie got older I think he was like 16 or 17 when he finally realized he had that musical talent and that itch to get on stage and then he started. There’s a lot of musical talent in our family”

JJ- Was there an artist or an album that had a profound impact on you that made you say “ Ya, I want to do this for a living”. Who are your biggest influences so far?

Shantaia- “ To begin with, Martina McBride was my biggest one. Her “Waking Up Laughing” album was on repeat for me. And then I listened to a lot of the oldies that my grandparents would have playing like Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, all of those ones probably on cassette tape at that point. But ya, I think Martina McBride though was definitely the first one that I was like ‘I wanna be her on stage’, the brown hair, the big voice and a lot of people would make that comparison.”

JJ- In your bio it says that you wrote your first song at the tender age of nine when your Grandpa was ill. It was about losing a loved one and what it would be like when they are gone. Now that’s heavy stuff to cut your teeth on as a songwriter and especially at the age of 9. As an artist, do you find yourself, these days, handcuffed by the current trends in Country Music when it comes to subject matter and the themes that are considered marketable?

Shantaia- “ya, I think that we feel that pressure especially as an independent artist because your always trying to find a way to stand out but also fit the mould and there's just this fine line that we’re always told to be careful on and .… there’s a part of me that hopes that Eric Church and artists like him that will go and push against the mould and not necessarily always just write what radio wants to hear or write what their fans necessarily want to hear and try to keep a little bit of those roots and the authenticity. I hope that I can be able to hone in on that, I know some of my stuff will sound more commercial but I’m trying to find, with my next project, what I want to write about and what I want to sing about because I think with my last project I was really trying to find this balance between having songs pitched to me for recording and feeling like my music and my writing wasn’t quite good enough or it wasn't “winning”. So I’ve really spent the last three years honing that craft again and getting confident in my songwriting and now I’m at a place where I'm just gonna record my music and cowrite my own stuff so I think I’m finding that authenticity”

JJ- You can follow trends in the industry and (if you’re lucky) achieve five minutes of fame or you can dig deeper and build a foundation to develop authenticity as an artist where the pay off is a life long career. Problem is, the industry isn't keen on long term development, It’s much more akin to chasing trends and instant gratification.

Shantaia- That’s the tricky part about the business. Trying to find a team that wants to grow with you and not see you lose yourself in the process of building something great. I think I’m getting closer to that and I’ve had my agent stick by me for three years now just watching me slowly put the building blocks in place and growing. He never rushed me into anything and never just dropped me because things weren’t happening so I’m lucky that I’m starting to build that team. I had to change a few things and rebuild again but we’re slowly getting there.

JJ- You’ve had a couple of early records in your teens, but In April you released a new EP called “ Chapter 1” Tell me about it.

Shantaia- “ ya, I think this is the first time that I actually knew what I was doing you know? ‘Chapter 1’ speaks about things that aren’t just about love. There’s a song called ‘Dry Whiskey’ that’s very close to my heart and authentic. I’ve had family members that have struggled with alcohol abuse and those types of things. ‘Paper Town’ is a song that was pitched to me but also very relatable and all about Nashville. If you’ve heard the song you probably were able to connect to it that way cause you are a musician. Even in the pitching process of the songs, I was trying to find songs I could relate to and being called ‘Chapter 1’ I was moving out of a really long roller coaster ride in my music career and my personal life that I felt like I'd finally hit some closure and was able to look back on that chapter and put it out to the world and still be proud of it by moving on to the next chapter.

JJ- I’ve heard it said that the first few releases from a performer are an exercise in character building. Establishing who you are and what you are about as an artist. Which song from the new record would best represent who Shantaia is as an artist at this stage of your career.

Shantaia- “ I think my current release ‘Two Cents’, it has something to say and is still relatable for people who might be going through a toxic relationship and they’ve got a friend that’s looking out for them. I think that stylistically the song has some of those pop/new country elements to it that kinda just like shows my sass, my personality and my character a little bit more. I also co-wrote the song so it’s just more of a home run for me because I relate to it on a personal level as well.

JJ- last September you had your first showcase in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival. For anyone in the music biz, playing in Nashville is a BIG deal. What was the impact of that show on you?

Shantaia- I was really surprised that I was chosen for that. When I got the news I was over the moon ecstatic, I hadn’t been to Nashville in 3 or 4 years and I think I kinda forgot what a feeling of community that Nashville has. So going back there it was really like the first little building block for me to say ‘OK, I’m gonna make the move down there’. It just put a lot of things into perspective for me and it’s a little bit of a different world there for sure”

JJ- There’s just something about that town. It’s hard to explain but there’s definitely some kind of magic in the community spirit there. My preconceived notion was that there would be a competitive vibe among the musicians and writers, but I came to find just the opposite.

Shantaia- “ya, I totally agree. That seemed to be my experience as well. I think part of it is survival mode and knowing how to work with everybody and anybody because you just never know where that might lead you and being open to the opportunity. Because I think the moment you’re selfish and you’re not trying or putting your hand out to help others, there will be a lot of hard lessons that are gonna come your way. So I’m really trying to have an open mind. I know it's going to look different with Covid because you can’t just go out and meet people but it’s good to get to know the people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with and writing with more on a personal level and we’re starting to build something with each other.

JJ- In light of your move to Nashville, what direction do you envision your career going? Are you shopping for a major label artist deal? or publishing deal? What are your initial objectives in the first year?

Shantaia- “ I am working with a guitar player/producer here in Nashville, we’ve been recording together and are managing to incorporate Canadian musicians and still having it feel like ‘Home’ to me as well. I really just want everything to happen authentically and I don’t want there to be this pressure on myself to need to get a publishing deal or need to get a record deal. I think that’s everybody’s end game but I’m just really enjoying the hustle and the grind. I’ll probably wind up really broke wondering how I’m gonna pay my next bills but I’m excited for that part of it too and to be on this journey. I think my parents raised me to work my ass off for anything that I do, so I’m really excited for that. It might sound crazy but we have to be a little bit crazy in the music industry to get somewhere.

The ladies of Canadian Country have been kicking ass on the international level over the course of the last 5 years and with Shantaia’s talent, work ethic and natural charm she’s well along the path to cementing a solid career in the music business. I’d wish her luck but she doesn’t need it, she’ll make her own.

- Photos courtesy of Nicole Romanoff

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