There are all kinds of unique indie artists out there making their mark on the musical landscape, but few bring such uniqueness in terms of both vocals and songwriting like Joey Shaheen.
He performs at the Velvet Olive on June 19th.
Shaheen (aka The Wrong Omar) has been touring the U.S. and Canada, singing his ‘sidewalk confessionals of bad choices’ with a tongue-in-cheek curmudgeon persona for old souls of all ages. His latest disc, Zemblanity, was released this past April and features a range of tunes that showcase his knack for penning catchy, pop/folk/country-flavoured tunes.
The curious title of the new disc came along in an interesting twist of events – a line in one of the songs mentions ‘the flip side of serendipity’ and Shaheen wondered if there was a word out there that meant the precise opposite.
According to Wikipedia, William Boyd coined the term zemblanity to mean somewhat the opposite of serendipity – making unhappy, unlucky and unexpected discoveries occurring by design.
Shaheen was thrilled to find the term, and it ultimately became the name of his latest CD’s title track.
As to the disc, it hums along with a pleasant, accessible artistry – things kick off with the sunny, energetic sensibilities of More than Miles, then glide effortlessly into Spit It Out. The cleverly-penned Zemblanity follows – again tapping into a handful of genres that gel together refreshingly well.
“I just wrote the lyrics for it last year and it ended up being a great song. And ‘the flip side of serendipity’ was in there – I googled it, and sure enough the word zemblanity came up, and it became the title of the song.”
Shaheen explains often it boils down to a mix of artistic vision and the harsh realities of keeping to a budget when it comes to recording. “I’d done a tonne of work in my own home studio but I wanted to broaden my appeal and get some A-list session players from Minneapolis to participate. So I went into it with as much of an open mind as I could – not knowing how it would play out exactly.”
As to where his passion for music originated, Shaheen recalled a music-rich childhood shared with seven siblings and an opera singer for a mom. The influences were wide-ranging, and they all seeped their way into his consciousness as his own creative path took shape.
He was about 14 when he started to really find his own voice, and pick up a few instruments as well. There was a natural bent there for sure. “I always wanted to do it – I always wanted to be like Paul McCartney,” he added, laughing. “I really wanted to be like Sir Paul.”
It took some time to find the style that suited him best, and he has explored a number of genres.
“It was a slow steady progress of learning to write for yourself,” he explained. “Early on, I had stuff that was all over the map – ragtime, ambient music, meditative music, hard rock – the whole thing. But you can steer your raw song ideas to a purpose – I’m going to be playing in clubs, this style suits my voice, this style suits my guitar playing and capabilities.”
As a songwriter, it’s been a steady evolution as he’s explored this gift over the years.
In the early years, the focus was on everything being completely unique. Lyrics tended to be written later on. “Then you achieve a certain ‘zen’ where everything kind of sprouts out of you at once. There have been several songs where I’ve had to have a recorder handy because it all comes out nearly at once.
“At some point, you have to fulfill your vision with the tools you have around you. That’s a lot of what has happened with the last three albums. Also, it’s a quest to have portable songs that you can take with you anywhere you want to go – play them on a street corner or just in a wide variety of environments.”
For Sheehan, performing is all about connecting with listeners. He relishes the chance to share his tunes, and it’s a wonderful and stimulating opportunity he never takes for granted.
“The ultimate experiences are solo acoustic shows in a small theatre,” he explained. “The door closes and it’s just you with your 90 minutes or two hours. There is no experience like it – you’re locked in, and you fill every second with a song, a story or a witticism.
“To quote Carly Simon, ‘It’s not what I wrote the song about, it’s what audiences feel when they hear it.’ It’s the magic of engaging their imagination.
“It’s baring your soul a bit, and it can overwhelm you, but it’s a two-way street as (audiences) are allowing you to open up to them. I think that’s the ultimate thing for me, honestly.”