There’s nothing fake about Kendall Shaffer’s honky tonk sound. For the first 10 years of his music career, he cut his teeth in bars and honky tonks as he honed his sound and learned the ins and outs of the business.
With that knowledge under his belt, Shaffer delivered his debut EP The Traditional Revival, five unapologetically country dripping with steel and of life on the road, loss and drinking anthems that are sure to remind you of that 90s country sound that we all love so much.
With the release of his newest single “It’s All Good” in February, Shaffer doubled down on that sound, and also doubled down on his ability to put a humorous spin on what was once a not-so-humorous situation, and proves that sometimes love lost isn’t such a bad thing after all.
We talked with Kendall about his musical influences, which he calls “a big ol’ plate of gumbo,” the pressure he felt as he was releasing The Traditional Revival, the success of his second single “Honky Tonkin’ (Whoever Said It Was Easy),” his plans for new music this year and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
Kendall Shaffer: I say this to everybody: I’m from south Louisina, and gumbo is a hot commodity down there. I like to call my musical influences the same thing; a big ol’ bowl of gumbo. I’m a 90s child; I was born in 1991, so Alan Jackson, George Strait, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley and guys like that were big for me. Merle Haggard, George Jones and Hank Jr. were big as well; I have a Hank Jr. Ruger tattooed on my arm and a Waylon Jennings Flying W on my bicep. As I got older, I started listening to a lot of southern rock stuff. My dad introduced me to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers. I’m a huge Skynyrd fan, I never left those tracks; I still listen to them daily. I’ve hung around all kinds of different people throughout my life, so I can listen to just about everything you can imagine, but country is where I’ve always stayed. If I ever try to venture from it, country is where I always return.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
KS: I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a musician ever since I was a baby. On my first ep The Traditional Revival, that’s me on the cover in my underwear holding a guitar with about three strings on it [laughs]. Ever since I was old enough to realize it was a possibility, I’ve wanted to do it.
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time with your debut EP The Traditional Revival?
KS: There was a lot of pressure, because before I released that record, I’d been playing in bars and venues for 10 years. I had to learn the craft the hard way, which I never complain about. I’m very grateful I did it that way because I got to learn the business side of things the hard way, and I know what not to do anymore. I had high expectations because I listen to so many great artists, and I’d been wanting to put something out that would catch people’s eye. I didn’t want to put music out that I wouldn’t catch myself listening to.
PC: What went into the decision to release “One Sip Away” as the lead single from The Traditional Revival?
KS: I’ve got a team of people around me. I put this band together that I tour with about three years ago. Along with the band, I got introduced to a couple of folks out of Texas, and some guys on the team do marketing in New York. My team got together and we came up with a game plan. There’s a certain format that my radio promoter goes by that he’s been doing for years; his name is Ed Spacek; people might know his name from his sister Sissy Spacek who played Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Ed said when we came out of the chute, we wanted to come out with something great, but we don’t want to blow all the good songs out yet. We wanted to spread them out periodically. He said there were a lot of really good songs that people could relate to on the album, and I was very happy that that was our first single.
PC: You mentioned feeling pressure when you were releasing The Traditional Revival. Was there a level of validation that came with seeing “One Sip Away” enter the charts in Texas and achieve nearly 10,000 streams on Spotify?
KS: I’m completely humbled and grateful to know that people are still out there digging traditional country music. I’m so thankful for everything that happens. I’m sure everybody says this, but I’ve got some of the greatest fans in the world. They’re so loyal, and I’m very thankful for them!
PC: “Honky Tonkin’ (Whoever Said It Was Easy) talks about the struggles of making it as an artist. How true does that song ring to your life and your time playing in bars before releasing The Traditional Revival?
KS: It’s very true. I was playing in the bars and venues for 10 years before I finally released my own music. I had been in two or three bands before, and it never went the right way. Now, I’m with a group of guys who are very seasoned; I pick on them a lot and tell them that they’re old enough to be my dad [laughs].
When “Honky Tonkin’” came about, I was in a relationship with this girl for about three years. I was about midway into my career playing in the venues, and we never saw eye-to-eye about the way I was running things. I was treating things as a party and not as a business, and we just constantly went back and forth. Dating a musician isn’t all cookies and cream [laughs]. That’s where that song came from. It doesn’t really talk about the relationship side a lot, but it talks about how honky tonkin’ isn’t easy. There’s a million other people trying to do the same thing you’re doing, so what are you going to bring to the table? It’s not easy at all, but it’s worth every damn penny I’ve ever spent.
PC: Because “Honky Tonkin’ (Whoever Said It Was Easy)” is such a personal song and tells your story, what was it like for you to see it become a top 10 song in Louisiana and top 40 single in Texas?
KS: It’s still crazy to me, because I tell everybody that I wrote the song as a joke. I found a way to poke fun at a bad situation. If you listen to anything in my catalog, I have a lot of those songs. I’ll be down at the lowest point of my life, and I could sit down and write a parody about it. That’s what that song was. When they told me that they wanted to release that song and that they had such high expectations for it, I kind of just laughed at them [laughs]. When I saw it climbing the charts and saw the streams, reactions and shares increasing, it was surprising. I really do love the song, and it is probably the countriest thing I’ve ever cut. Nowadays, you’re competing with a lot of mainstream artists. I’m not knocking anybody doing anything that they love, that’s just not my style, but I had a little false hope. I thought it was too country for a lot of people. To see it climb up the charts like that and have the success it’s had, it really warms my heart.
PC: “Horses in Heaven” is a song that comes from a real, emotional place for you, with the music video for the song receiving nearly 400,000 views and another 11,000 on YouTube. What do you think it is about that song that has allowed it to connect with people the way it has?
KS: There’s just something about riding horses. I’m no cowboy, but I’m friends with people in the business, and those guys work their butts off. I grew up pretty poor, so I couldn’t afford a horse or anything like that. I didn’t get on a horse until I was about 18. Ever since I’ve gotten to ride horses, I just feel a freedom and beauty that’s unexplainable. When the song got pitched to me, a good friend of mine named Todd Viator’s sister-in-law was fighting cancer. God bless her heart, but she lost the battle. He pitched this song to me, and it was about halfway written. He told me about the situation, and asked if he thought we can make anything of it. He wanted to go in the studio, get people that I’ve never played with before, tell them the story, and see if we could make some magic happen. I finished writing the song and put a melody to it, and we literally recorded it in about 30 minutes.
His sister-in-law actually got to hear the song before she passed away, and she told everybody that she wanted the song played at her funeral, and come to find out, it was.
PC: As an artist, what does it mean to you to have something you were involved with creating touch someone like that and ask for your song to be played at their funeral?
KS: I can’t even explain it. Like I said before, with a lot of my songs, I find a way to poke fun at some bad situations. At one point in my life, all I could do was write sad songs. I was down in a slump, and all I wanted to write was tear-jerkers. Now I’m at a point in my life where if something bad happens, I just kind of laugh at it and shrug it off. To be able to write one of those tear-jerkers again, and to have it connect with people, that brought joy to me.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from listening to The Traditional Revival all the way through?
KS: I hope you get to see a side of me that’s a good side. I hope you think of good country music whenever you think of my name. I think George Strait said that: whenever you see his name, he wants you to think of real country music. I’m the same way, if you see Kendall Shaffer, I want you to think real country music.
PC: You released “It’s All Good” about two months ago, and is another one of those humorous songs. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
KS: That goes back to poking fun at a bad situation [laughs]. I was set to write at guitar player’s house, and we didn’t really have anything in mind. We got out of the truck, and he said “I’m all in, she’s all out, it’s all good.” That song was written in about 15 minutes. I instantly thought of a good buddy of mine who had gone through a bad divorce. I was at his house every day checking on him; he was just a mess. It was the damnedest thing I’d ever seen, seeing a man broke down like that. I started poking a little bit of fun at it, I sent it over to him to get his approval, and he said it was crazy that it was like 10 years ago when that happened, and it’s coming out now [laughs].
PC: 2020 has thrown a wrench into the plans of most artists. Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
KS: I’m hearing festivals will be shut down for the rest of the year. I hope not, because the plan is to tour as much as we can as soon as we’re able to. I’m supposed to be going to Nashville in May to finish the next record. I’ve got some really great songs; this next record is going to top the first one, I think people are really going to like it! We’re staying in the same traditional country groove, but there’s some really hard-hitting stuff on there. We’re planning to finish the rest of the record, tour as much as we can and meet as many people as we can as soon as we’re able to.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
KS: If people would go like all of my social media platforms, that’d be great! I’ve got Facebook and Instagram, and I’ve also got Snapchat and Twitter. I’m not too good at Snapchat and Twitter, and if you get on that, you’ll notice it [laughs]. Head on over to YouTube and share the videos, stream the music, and we appreciate everything everybody does. Getting the music out there is what it’s all about!
*All images courtesy of Kendall Shaffer Facebook Page*