Michael Hurley, Jeff Tweedy, and Minimalism: Speaking with Joan Shelley

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Joan Shelley is a woman of few words. Her latest release, “Joan Shelley,” is a testament to musical restraint — to minimalism utilized for maximum effect. WOUB’s Emily Votaw spoke to her about recording with the famous Jeff Tweedy in the Wilco Loft in Chicago, as well as her thoughts on coming back to Athens County. Shelley will perform with James Elkington at Stuart’s Opera House on Friday, Oct. 13 in the new lobby at the opera house. Tickets are $17 in advance or $22 the day of the show. Elkington will also open the show.  

Joan Shelley, who will perform at Stuart's Opera House on Friday, Oct. 13. (
Joan Shelley, who will perform at Stuart’s Opera House on Friday, Oct. 13. (

WOUB: Can you tell me more about the influence that Michael Hurley had on your most recent release?

Joan Shelley: I had been a fan of Michael’s for a while. When I was trying to learn how to play the fiddle someone told me that it’s easier if you hum the melody – and that reminded me of Michael’s music. The way he has these playful and wild melodies, and how he mimics them on the guitar and fiddle.

WOUB: Did you see him perform at the 2016 Nelsonville Music Festival?

JS: Yeah, we hung out with Michael I learned that he comes every year to festival – I kind of think of him as the mascot of the Nelsonville Music Festival.

WOUB: Me, too! Could you tell me about working with Jeff Tweedy and the Wilco Loft in Chicago?

JS: I met Jeff in February of last year. We had been thinking about this record, and, on a whim, we asked Jeff if he’d be available to help us. And he was, he made time for us. I had a great experience there. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was Spencer Tweedy on drums. He played drums on songs that he had never heard before. We thought that we’d do a couple of takes, but those first takes were so reactionary, we ended up using a lot of them.

WOUB: Yeah, isn’t Spencer pretty young?

JS: He turned 21 when I last saw him.

WOUB: I guess if Jeff Tweedy is your dad and you have any desire to play music, you will be given that opportunity. But, I was wondering, why is the new album self-titled? And why is self doubt such a strong theme on the record?

JS: It really started as a joke. When we were talking about this album we decided to take a very minimalist approach, and do only what was required and nothing more. This album felt like a real culmination of a couple of things, and self-doubt was one of them.

WOUB: I know that you’re from Kentucky – so I was wondering, had you ever been up to the Athens area before you played the Nelsonville Music Festival?

JS: Yeah, played at Stuart’s Opera House in 2015 with Doug Paisley, but that was my only stop there.

WOUB: Do you have any comments on coming back to the area?

JS: I’m excited to play there because I remember that the opera house is so lovely. I love playing places like that, where they still had the acoustics in mind when they built the place. I’m also looking forward to all the cool people in the area – the people who run the record shops, and of course, Tim (Peacock).