Published Date Written by Timothy Gillis
Shanna Underwood has been busy lately. In addition to gigs around town, and working the third shift at L.L. Bean's, the musician has been hosting a new open mic at Port City Blue on Congress Street on Tuesdays.
"It's an open mic with a twist," she said. "And one featured artist in the middle." The twist is something she calls "Open Rounds." Three people who have signed up to play are selected at random, and then they play "in the round," that is, they each take turns to play a song, while the other two sit back or try to play along with them.
"The other musicians sometimes will burn on each other's stuff," she said.
Underwood has travelled a long road to wind up back where she started. And the music scene has changed quite a bit since she moved away after high school.
"I've noticed a huge difference from when I lived here before," she said. "You can be a working musician, and don't necessarily need a day job. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm close."
She plays regularly with Devon Collela, a cellist from Boston.
"He's not what you would expect. He takes the spot of where an electric guitar would be. He can switch between leads and bass lines, so he changes constantly during a song. I feel really fortunate that he likes the music," she said.
She also jams with Drew Wyman, on bass, and Kris Day, from Jerks of Grass. Her brother, Kirk Underwood, plays electric and slide guitar. He's a great singer, she said, so she lets him at the mic, also. "He does great harmonies," she admits, but family life for her has not always been so harmonious.
"I'm quite a bit older than him," she said. "I had an unhappy, disjointed household. I was
gone as soon as I could be, so we didn't play music growing up. I was gone before he started playing."
She was fairly disconnected from her family while she travelled, and never thought she would move back to Maine. She worked as an archaeology field tech for eight different companies — five of them folded in 2009 — and went to Korea to teach for two years.
As part of her travels, she always found herself looking into the local music scenes, and found that there are huge parts of the country that don't have much to offer at all.
More settled now, she has chosen a name for her band: Wanderlost. To fans and friends, she sent out a studio rough cut, complete with scratch tracks, talking, giving of directions, and all that good stuff for their entertainment.
"I think it's interesting to hear the process, and not just what will end up on the final record," she told them. "Unfortunately, there isn't any swearing or name calling on this track. That's being reserved for the B-side. We've been plugging along on an oldfashioned reel-to-reel tape, and should have a final product by the fall." The track features Day on bass, Colella on cello, and John Nunan (of Welterweight) on drums, as well as a surprise appearance from an "amazingly talented, albeit kind of drunk, mandolin player who insists on being identified only as Braxton Hicks."
Underwood moved to Nashville at age 24 to learn to play guitar, sing and write songs.
Her first album was called "Shanna and the Hawk," with Hawk Kallweit.
"His dream was to move to Nashville, so we did," she said. "He stayed about eight months, but I stayed there for almost 10 years."
Her next LP, "Fieldnotes from a Caravan," was recorded in Nashville and finished in 2011. Then she moved back to Maine.
"I was moving back and forth, doing my usual route to play summer shows in Maine and then never left. It wasn't my intention to stay," she said.
She felt the difference between playing once a month in a round in Nashville and playing three times a week here. Down South, she was seeing a lot of music and getting the constant inspiration to improve, but she couldn't resist the chance to play regularly.
She is about halfway done with a new CD, and hopes to have it done by Christmas. She's recording it at Acadia Recording Company, in Portland, with Todd Hutchinson.
Regarding the Portland music scene, Underwood says, "We're lucky in that we do have it here," adding that Blue is a big part of that. "There's a strong community there."
There is still a disconnect with some fans, however.
"A huge part of Southern Maine thinks live music is going to the Civic Center. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of people are making a living with music, with art — that you don't have to be famous to be making a living."
For upcoming gigs by Underwood, visit http://www.reverbnation.com/shannaunderwood.