For some people, the decision to become a musician is an epiphany, when they know in an instant what they want to do. For others, the process is gradual. Music becomes engrained in their everyday lives and they discover that it is the path for them. Chris Shamkin’s journey to a music career was the latter.
“I love to write and perform. In my heart, there’s no better form of expression. I’m not sure if there was really one moment where I said, ‘I’m going to be a song writer,’” he said. “My parents had this gigantic record collection from the 60s and 70s and listening to music was a daily pastime in our house. I remember picking up my dad’s guitar and thinking, ‘I love this.’”
Shamkin’s music is simple, using just voice and an acoustic guitar to weave warm melodies and relatable lyrics. It is gentle, but always keeps the listener’s attention. For the Long Island City musician, a song can evolve from anything in his life, slowly growing until it is complete.
“It’s ever-evolving. I might sit on an idea for a year, or until I see a whole story take form,” Shamkin said. “The music soon follows, but that’s where I love to experiment with different rhythms and chords, or instrumentation. By the end of the process, the song may be miles from where it started.”
The songs are also varied, not relying on the same tricks for each number, a lesson Shamkin learned during his time in Japan, where he heard a lot of excellent music.
“I learned to listen to and play with as many different artists, and as regularly as I could find,” he said. “Variety broadens the palette and avoids stylistic dead ends.”
Shamkin also formed the band Wooden Nickel, after hosting an open mic in Millerton, NY. It was there that he met singer-songwriter Lance Middlebrook. The two musicians hit it off and formed a duo, adding bassist John Matthews and drummer Ken Hafford to round out the band.
Wooden Nickel keeps the feather-light touch of Shamkin’s solo work, though the addition of a rhythm section and a country tinge creates a strong separation between the two projects.
“Things get more organic and fixed in place when playing with other artists and instruments. Sometimes, an open mind is the best attitude when adding other perspectives to the mash,” he said.
In addition to being a musician, Shamkin has been teaching incarcerated young men between the ages of 16 and 18 years old for the last four years.
“I’m deeply affected by the honesty of someone not afraid to burst into song or rhyme about their stories and situations,” he said. “It’s therapeutic in a way, almost like being able to laugh in the face of hardship.”
Shamkin plans to record a new album this summer and will perform at LIC Bar on Sept. 14.
For more information on his music, visit www.facebook.com/Shamsongs or www.reverbnation.com/chrisshamkin.