Shannen James talks debut album ‘Patchwork’, Fleetwood Mac and jam donuts

Shannen James swings by Happy to relish in her debut album Patchwork, a project she rightfully describes as “vast in ideas, styles and textures.” 

Shannen James has officially made her mark with Patchwork, a sprawling debut album that finds the Melbourne talent at her most resplendent.

We’d had the morsels of greatness before, from the stunning acoustics of Old Mixtapes to the alt-pop drama of No Fix. Not to mention Headlights, the shimmering lead single that offered a taste of what was to come. 

Shannen James interview 'Patchwork'

Now, Patchwork arrives in its full glory, unveiling Shannen James as the bonafide star we knew she’d become.

The singer-songwriter even cemented her status with collaborations with fellow stars in Hatchie and producer Pip Norman, who has worked with the likes of Troye Sivan and Odette.

What’s more, we’ll get to relish in Patchwork later this year, as James has teased an imminent tour across the east coast for April.

Below, Happy Mag caught up with Shannen James for a deep dive into the genesis of Patchwork, the influence of Fleetwood Mac, and creating a record that’s “vast in ideas, styles and textures.”

Catch our full interview with Shannen James below, and scroll down to listen to her debut album Patchwork.  

HAPPY: Congrats on your forthcoming album release, what are you up to today?

JAMES: Thankyooouu! Cannot wait. Well, this morning I met my brother, mum and nephew for a coffee at the market and had a cheeky jam donut for breakfast. So the day is off to a pretty good start. 

HAPPY: Tell us a little about where you live, what’s the scene like?

JAMES: I live in Reservoir, Melbourne. Born and bred. Currently living in a shop at the moment. There’s no actual shop in the building, but we have the whole place to ourselves, which is pretty cool – maybe I could open it up as a Shannen James store.

There are quite a lot of artists and musicians I know that live around the Reservoir and Preston area (hello Depreston), because a lot of people want space for studios and to be able to work from home and still be close to all the action.

Honestly, it’s great, because you can just jump on a tram or train and you’re in the now-trendy Thornbury, which has everything you want with great bars, food, live music spots.

It’s just a few stops away from some of my fav live music venues, Northcote Social Club and Northcote Theatre. Love it here, would recommend!

Shannen James interview 'Patchwork'

HAPPY: Who are your musical influences, and how have they shaped your sound?

JAMES: I think my influences vary from the music I listened to as a young girl, what my parents listened to and then what I’ve loved myself as an adult. They all seep into what I make, voluntary or involuntary.

Although I would say the biggest influence to the actual sound of my music to date would have to be Fleetwood Mac. I vividly remember the first time I heard Dreams and thought to myself ‘that’s possibly the best song that will ever be made’. 

HAPPY: You have condensed a decade of music into 12 tracks. How did you decide which songs made the cut, and what themes or experiences tie them together?

JAMES: Hahah yeaaah been a long time coming. Honestly it was a really fun process looking through all the demos and songs I had in the bank and surprisingly, the chosen ones really stood out which was helpful.

There was some discussion on a few others that I actually got produced, but then ultimately decided they didn’t quite work. For me, it wasn’t as much about what songs go together, but rather songs that weirdly didn’t!

And I mean that in the way of, I really wanted this record to have variation. It’s vast in ideas, styles and textures because, as you’ve mentioned, it is a decade’s worth of songs and I wanted the record to represent that. 

Shannen James interview 'Patchwork'

HAPPY: This album marks your first co-writing experience. How did collaborating with Hatchie and Pip Norman influence the sound and storytelling on the record?

JAMES: They are both so incredibly talented at what they do.

I think one of the most admirable things that pretty much everyone who worked on this record with me possesses, is that they didn’t try to add their own sound or style, but rather facilitate the space and time for me to really carve out what it is that I wanted.

Then naturally their own quirks and nuances create different tones and ideas that I would have never stumbled across by myself. 

Shannen James interview 'Patchwork'

HAPPY: Can you tell us a bit about the recording process?

JAMES: Half the reason for this album being titled Patchwork stems from this idea of how the record came to be. A lot of it was done during the two years of lockdowns, so there was no real method to the madness at that time.

It was just, get it done anyway we could. So many zoom writing sessions and recording in my home office, to days in the studio working on prod and vocals, many many emails of mix notes and changes, to adding brand new songs in last minute… and so on.

It was made in, I guess an unorthodox way due to that being the only way it could happen! And I think again that really makes the album have this feel of variety and bending genres and styles, but it all feeling cohesive and like me! 

HAPPY: You bring a little bit of country into the pop realm. What draws you to country music, and how did you weave its influence into your sound without losing your indie-pop essence?

When I think back to when I was a kid and the artists I was drawn to specifically due to their tone of singing, these names come up… Leanne Rhymes, Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow, The Chicks, Stevie Nicks, The Corrs.

At the time I don’t think I necessarily knew that they were country-sounding singers, I just knew that when I sang their songs, it felt right.

Although I do remember not really liking that about my voice at the time, because country wasn’t really the cool sound, at least not for young 10-year-olds. (Wait a few years till Taylor hits the scene hey! Haha.) 

So to answer the question, I’m not really actively trying to add in more country, it just naturally sounds that way sometimes.

But I do tend to offset the twang of country-ness in my voice with more indie, pop sounds, which I think balances it out for me and then lands in that fluid mix of the two. 

Shannen James interview 'Patchwork'

HAPPY: Any touring plans coming up?

JAMES: YESSSSSS! I’ll be touring the album in a small east coast run in April. This will hopefully be the start of much more to come as I have my sights set on some big shows! 

HAPPY: Lastly, what makes you happy?

JAMES: Truthfully, my family and friends and my dog, spending time with the people I love and experiencing life with them is the best thing ever.  

Check out tour dates here.