photo by John Patrick Gatta

While David Shaw was planning to release his solo debut well before the novel coronavirus placed most of the live-music world on pause, The Revivalists‘ frontman’s new record couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. A deeply personal, introspective reflection with a pronounced emphasis on self-care, the project captures the struggles so many are facing during the impactful COVID-19 era. In September, Shaw previewed the LP—which is slated for release in early 2021 on Yokoko Records/C3 Records—by dropping two new singles, “Shaken” and “Promised Land.” As he waits for a time when he can tour with his own backing ensemble and regroup The Revivalists (who offered a well-received drive-in show this summer), Shaw caught up with us about his decision to make a solo record, his struggles with addiction and how he’s been able to stay grounded at a time when the entire world feels so uncertain.

You’ve been The Revivalists’ frontman and one of the band’s primary songwriters for going on 15 years. At what point did you decide it was time to step out under your own name?

We recorded the record in March, around Mardi Gras, but I’ve been working on it off and on for some time. And the main thing with this solo project is that I realized that I needed to grow in another way that the band doesn’t really foster. The band is amazing in so many ways—the camaraderie, the teamwork. I have a lot of people I can lean on in these scenarios. But I thought, “If I’m ever gonna get to where I can just really access my full potential, then I gotta be able to see if I can do this other thing while, obviously, still doing the band thing.” And it’s just been a major learning curve because there’s just so many things you don’t think about. It’s also been really beautiful. I’m surprising myself at every turn. It’s scary as hell and fucking amazing all in one!

It’s really cool to be able to start these songs in my bedroom or in the studio and really squeeze it all the way through to the finish, whereas in the band culture we divide things up and work together in the studio. That’s all beautiful, but it’s a very different process for me. It’s been awesome. I’m having a lot of fun doing it. It’s definitely a different sound from the band—my thought was, “We’ve already got the band so I need to come up with something different for my solo record.” It’s a little more personal—that’s something that a solo record has to be. It’s been a beautiful exploration.

Was there a certain song that felt like the start of this new exploration?

When I started to think that I might want to do a solo project, I sat down to write a little something just to see what happened. This was during a tough time in my life. A lot of things were going on in the personal front. I had been on tour and I was not sleeping well. I don’t do so well on a tour bus. It took me a little while to catch up and get used to that lifestyle of being at home. It was just tough, and I said, “I gotta do something for myself.”

I’m just a giver at my core—to where I can sometimes give, almost at the detriment of my own well-being. So I sat down and started writing for me and started building what ended up being the song “Shaken.” What grew out of an exercise in self-care and self-love turned into something completely different. And I realized, “Maybe there’s something more here to explore.” It turned into an [exercise in] believing in yourself, against all odds. I realized that not only are fear and anxiety going to be ever-present, but there is no courage without fear. 

My thought was, “Even if you’re standing there shaking, you’re still standing there.” So that song is now a bit of my personal anthem; it’s about confronting things that scare you, which can be tough in any situation. I’ve learned a ton about myself in the process of making this record and really got myself back on the rails. I was going off the rails there for a little bit.

Your solo record has a pronounced focus on self-care. What are some of the methods you’ve used to take care of yourself mentally and spiritually?

One thing that I started during that time that I’ve stuck with is transcendental meditation. That really helped me keep my head in the game—helped me center myself. I go in and out on that. It’s definitely a practice that continues to grow, so I’m very grateful that I started doing a lot of that. I also do a lot of yoga. When I’m connected to my body physically, I feel the most connected to my mind and my heart as well. So I just realized that physical work—whether that be running or working out, yoga or anything atypical—just makes me feel grounded. It makes me feel alive, makes me feel good, honestly. And so, that is a huge part of my life. Especially these days during quarantine, we gotta all do what we can to keep the lights on in the house in our minds. It’s a tough time. Everybody’s going through something; there is so much to deal with. I am glad I’ve had those practices to lean on.

I also started doing these breathing exercises, the Wim Hof method. They call him “The Iceman.” He has these retreats—he climbs freaking Mount Everest in his shorts. He figured out a way to [trick] the nervous system into not responding to these various environments; our bodies are, honestly, equipped to handle these situations, we just live these very comfortable lives. It’s just like lifting weights—you need to train yourself into making it feel natural.

I started taking cold showers in the morning, which kind of sounds terrible, but I’m a full believer in cold theory. It’s the last two minutes of your shower, and it changes pathways in the brain—it reduces anxiety way more than just waking you up for the day. It will change your entire day. I can put a hefty bet on that for anybody.

You struggled with substance abuse issues and addiction early in your career and, as you mentioned earlier, your solo material presents a more open and honest look at your own life. How did that rough period shape your personal journey?

Yeah man, I was struggling. I was 24 when I moved to New Orleans and that was a trip, man. It’s a beautiful city plus it’s a late-night city and the party got the best of me. I wound up in a situation that no one would want to be in, for sure. I wound up in the emergency room—took an ambulance ride—and spent the whole night there. A lot of people don’t get that wake-up call. You know what I’m saying?

If anything, I’m grateful that it scared the living hell out of me, and I’m grateful that I’m still here and able to talk about it to this day and share my story. And now, 12 years later, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol or cocaine or heroin, or anything like that. I’m doing pretty well I gotta say, and I’m very grateful for that—for my sobriety.

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