Jordyn Shellhart’s Debut Album ‘Primrose’ Is a Masterclass in Songwriting + Candor [Interview]
Picture this: You’re 10 and you move to Nashville with your family to pursue a music career. At 13 you’re involved in business meetings, at 14 you sign your first publishing deal, at 15 you ink your first record deal and at 16 you’re on tour and making your Grand Ole Opry debut. That’s all very thrilling, right? What if it all comes to a screeching halt when the stress of life and grief causes you to lose your voice? That is what happened to singer-songwriter Jordyn Shellhart.
Shellhart’s early years as a budding artist were unexpectedly tumultuous, as she recalls.
“It was not an easy time in my life. My brother had just passed away when I was 13, so my mom and I were having to live this new reality together of just the two of us, and trying to figure all of that out while also signing a record deal as a teenager,” Shellhart tells Taste of Country.
“There was just so much happening in my world that it was more stress than joy, I would say. And it was not meant for me at that time. Like, that whole life. I wasn’t able to handle it and at a place that was good for me,” the 29-year-old explains. “So I ended up losing my voice for years and had to rebuild my love for music so much. That time really broke me. Even though it had beautiful moments and beautiful things of course, it was more heartache than anything.”
Fortunately, with patience, faith and support from loved ones, Shellhart gradually regained her voice and artistic confidence.
“I always felt like the first time around [in] my artistry, I was clutching it and felt defined by it. I felt like it was my identity and that was who I was, and it was completely enmeshed with my soul. But mostly what it feels like right now is freedom,” she says.
The decision to record an entire album eventually arrived during the standstill year of 2020. During that time, Shellhart’s songwriter-producer, Cameron Jaymes, invited her to record a full-length album together without any expectations or business timelines. She was a little hesitant at first, but decided to take the leap of faith.
“Cameron was like, ‘Okay, let’s just make an album for us and maybe the only thing that happens is other artists hear it and get cuts off it and record the songs that you record,’” recalls Shellhart. That moment, as she reflects, arrived like an answered prayer.
“I was actually praying and [told God], ‘If I’m supposed to do this, would you just show me?’ The classic give-me-a-sign prayer. That’s when I felt in that moment this reality drop in my head like, ‘I have a friend who I make music with, who is asking me to do this and making it so easy on me and figuring out ways that I can afford paying for it myself. That’s a pretty big sign that I should do it.’ It all just clicked,” Shellhart shares with a smile. “I called Cameron and said, ‘I’m ready,’ and we made this album. As soon as we started making it, I felt like I remember who I was as a musician and why I started doing this in the first place.”
Enter Primrose, Shellhart’s long-awaited Warner Music Nashville debut album, which she jokes has been "pregnant and past its due date.”
The thoughtfully written, delicate and compelling concept record is very much inspired by the real-life circumstances Shellhart braved. All 12 songs offer profound insight into the revelatory introspection she’s had about life, people, relationships and existence.
Devoid of any cookie-cutter production, the sonic elements on Primrose mirror Shellhart’s eclectic list of musical heroes, which include Emmylou Harris, Glen Campbell, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer and Taylor Swift. Lyrically, the project spotlights her impeccable songcraft, with poetic, detailed and confessional storytelling taking center stage. Surprisingly, though the songs seamlessly paint a musical remembrance of heartbreak and growth, having a concept record was not part of Shellhart’s initial plan.
“The only intentionality behind this album was the fact that we wanted to record it. Everything else was an accident. I just recorded what felt inspired at the time and I didn’t even mean to make an album,” says Shellhart. “It just took shape. It’s accidentally a concept album that I didn’t mean [to make] at all. That’s really the beauty of the spark of creativity and the intangible forces behind everything that we make.”
Right from the get-go, as soon as the needle drops on Primrose, listeners get introduced to Shellhart’s candid storytelling with album opener, “Amelia.”
“I just like the idea of starting provocatively because I feel like the album is not necessarily for the faint of heart in a way,” admits Shellhart. “If you listen to ‘Amelia’ and you like it, you will ride this wave with me until the very end, and I think this album will mean something to you.”
Lyrically, “Amelia” peels the layers of callous manipulation from the “perspective of an abusive, manipulative person talking to this woman named Amelia.”
“I wanted to illustrate that in a way that would help someone recognize that insidious manipulation of like, ‘Nope, I’m going to call you Amy even though you don’t want to be called Amy,” Shellhart explains.
“Who Are You Mad At” is another song that captures angst and emotional torment, albeit to a different degree. The breezy track, which dropped in January 2023, also served as Shellhart’s re-introduction to the world.
“That song has been pitched a bunch of times, it’s been on hold a bunch of times and people have always loved it in the Nashville community,” shares Shellhart, who joined Warner Music Nashville in December 2021 and has written songs for Cody Johnson (“I Always Wanted To”), Little Big Town (“Suger Coat”) and Kelsea Ballerini (“Secondhand Smoke”). “I knew that it was loved already, so it felt like a sweet reveal to the world.”
Intimate storytelling is front and center on Primrose, especially in the heart-piercing “Maybe Someday You’ll Have a Daughter,” a song about being taken advantage of and emotionally abused by a man. Listening to the raw track will leave one marveling at Shellhart’s songwriting prowess, but also aching for her.
“Losing my innocence / Was not how I pictured it / You tasted like cigarettes / But what I did not expect / Was late that next afternoon / After pacing ‘round my room / After not a word from you / My whole world just came unglued,” Shellhart sings in the unrestrained opening verse with sadness shimmering.
That same tenderness continues in the chorus but with a heavier sentiment. “Maybe someday you’ll have a daughter / Maybe someday you’re gonna watch her / Going out on a date, a little blush on her face / Looking back as she waves and shuts the car door / Then maybe one day she’ll be crying / She won’t wanna tell you why and / You’ll think back to this / Hope that’s not it / Maybe then it’ll hit you harder / Maybe someday you’ll have a daughter,” Shellhart renders with a tear in her voice.
“Every time I play it live or somewhere, it’s someone else’s story. My inclusion of this song on the album is really for those people,” she says. “Me being vulnerable invites other people’s vulnerability and so, I’m just really grateful for this song for that reason. Unfortunately, it speaks to a lot of people’s experiences and that makes me sad.”
It’s this song and the poignant autobiographical closer, “Near Death Experience,” that cemented Shellhart’s resolve to record an album.
“I knew eventually I would make my own album because of this song and ‘Maybe Someday You’ll Have a Daughter’ specifically,” Shellhart recalls. “If I got word that somebody wanted to record [them], I would be like, ‘No!’ I have to tell the story for many reasons. First of all, it’s mine. Second, I think it’ll be kind of weird if somebody else told my story," she adds with a laugh. "Those were two reasons why I knew that someday I’d make my own album. They fueled the whole project.”
Shellhart is a prolific songwriter whose ability to express herself with honesty and vulnerability transcends genre lines. Wearing her heart on her sleeves without inhibition, as Shellhart notes, has never been an issue for her. The only time she struggles, however, is when she feels like she’s “dragging someone else’s privacy into [her] artistry.”
“In terms of my own privacy, I’m not precious about it because the job and role of an artist is to help people understand their lives by sort of self-sacrificing our own privacy. That’s the cost, and that’s the calling, and I’m down to do that. I just feel like I’ve accepted the challenge,” she admits.
Shellhart has truly trekked a long, arduous road to finally arrive at her debut album. She’s risen up from the ashes like a phoenix and blossomed from a young, insecure teenager to a lady who knows the value of her artistic gift, life and purpose in the music business.
“I just try to remember who God is and who God says I am. I literally have to pray, meditate and read scripture every day, and just remind myself that I am one molecule in the universe and that I’m loved and I don’t have to control anything because I’m riding the wave,” shares Shellhart.
Reflecting on the advice she’d give her young self, Shellhart adds with retrospection, “I think I would tell her to just trust the process in every way, musically, personally and spiritually. I would tell her, ‘You are on the right path even when it feels like you’re not. You’re going to end up in the right place.’ No matter what advice I gave her, it would still end up the same way, I think.”
“The only thing I’d change about my life is none of the things, it’s actually just my receiving of the things. I’d just tell her to receive and be at peace because you’re going to be fine.”
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