Shawn Smith (1965-2019)

And you’re wrapped in my memory like chains
For I say that the flowers will always be there in my heart
Like an old fashioned movie with all of you playing the parts

Back in 1993, as fourteen year old schoolboys taking their first faltering steps into the world of making music, we came across an album called Shame. The band’s name was (curiously) Brad. This album would never have entered our orbit but for the fact that amongst Brad’s number was guitarist Stone Gossard, moonlighting from his day job with Pearl Jam, and we were huge Pearl Jam fans. Stone, Eddie and co were (and remain) restless artistic spirits to say the least, and seemed to be constantly plowing their creative energies into a myriad of side projects, of which Brad was one.

We got hold of Shame on cassette – it was always cassettes for us back then – and investigated further. The unsettling cover image, depicting a serious-looking young boy stood amongst a group of nightmarish figures with grotesque, oversized papier-mâché heads, was certainly intriguing, but the music was the thing, and from the mellow, soothing opener ‘Buttercup’ onwards, we were sold. The playing was loose, the arrangements sparse and the songs an eclectic mix of gritty rockers (‘My Fingers’), elegant ballads (‘Screen’) and lean funk (‘20th Century’), but one element tied it all together, and that was Shawn Smith’s remarkably distinctive, at times haunting, always sublimely soulful vocals. To clumsily paraphrase an old beer commercial, certain voices reach parts of you others simply cannot, and, for us, as it did for so many others, Shawn’s achieved that with consummate ease. He played a beautifully understated piano too.

Shame has long since achieved classic album status, and deservedly so, but it barely scratches the surface of Shawn’s output. Like his idol, Prince, he was an astonishingly prolific songwriter and recorded a mind-boggling amount of material. Some of it emerged on further Brad albums (Interiors, Welcome To Discovery Park), gorgeous solo records like Let It All Begin and Shield of Thorns, and his equally impressive work with Satchel and Pigeonhed. Yet, vast swathes of it never saw mainstream release and instead surfaced on the fascinating Skeleton Keys series he made available on Bandcamp (still available on his page, along with a raft of other demo collections and solo releases). All of it is very much worth your attention.


Being such avowed fans of Shawn’s work, we were thrilled and honoured when he joined us on the podcast back in 2012; he was gracious, relaxed, funny and, though humble, possessed a keen appreciation of his own talents, which pleased us and, now that he’s gone, is an oddly comforting thought. He knew how good he was.

Sodajerker On Songwriting, Episode 7 with Shawn Smith

We’ve been fortunate enough to speak to a number of our heroes over the past 8 years, and Mr Smith was and will always be one of them.

Thank you, Shawn, for gracing our lives with that beautiful voice. You’ll be sorely missed.

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