There’s something about a cancer battle that puts things in perspective.
When I first met Brian “Shimmy” Paddock, he was getting his old band, Shimmy and the Burns, off the ground. Despite a knack for a well-written turn of phrase and some uncommonly good workingman’s country-rock, he thought less of his abilities than others did. Even today, he winces when he talks about the band’s early output, but back then, it was all he could do to step up to the microphone and sing.
It’s understandable; he was told in school to keep his mouth shut — literally.
“When I was a kid and tried out for the elementary school choir, they told me I couldn’t join because I couldn’t sing, so for years, I thought I couldn’t do it,” he told me a few years back.
That early criticism kept his musical ambitions under lock and key until his wife went against his wishes and read a notebook in which he scribbled lyrics. She convinced him it was good (she was right), so for his 30th birthday, he bought himself a guitar. But even a locally lauded full-length, “Letting Go,” didn’t completely exorcise his self-doubt.
Digging that sort of negativity out of one’s psyche is no easy task, but cancer provides a mighty strong motivator. In fact, he told me last week, pretty much all of 2018 has erased any concerns he might have about how his music is perceived.
“The year started with my dog getting cancer and going through chemo, even though she was only 5,” he said. “Then I was diagnosed, and two weeks after that, my mom went into hospice, and my uncle died of a heart attack, completely unexpected.”
Now that his own cancer is in remission, Paddock has ditched his nickname (at least on the marquee), parted ways with his bandmates (technically, the Burns — all of whom are still friends — are on hiatus) and cut a solo record, with help from the guys at Arbor Studio (John Baker and Gray Comer). Friday night, he’ll open up for The Black Lillies at what’s arguably going to be the biggest show of his career so far, and more apropos title for his debut full-length couldn’t be found: “Under New Management.”
It applies to his music, of course, but it also applies to his life. Paddock, it seems, is out of cares to give, to put it politely.
“My level of desperation to have some sort of success with my music has increased greater than my shame,” he said with a laugh. “At this point, if people want to feel sorry for me, whatever sells records, man.”
Not that “Under New Management” is a pity project. If anything, it finds Paddock in a place that’s almost unfamiliar territory for him: confident. He should be, given the local talent that loaned him a hand in making it: Kevin Abernathy, Tim Lee, Greg Horne, Baker and Comer, Jeff Bills and Josh Oliver, to name a few. His voice is still on the melodic side of raspy, rough around the edges but filled with the warmth of a sturdy-but-frayed flannel shirt. When he joins Becki Grace of 3 Mile Smile on a song like “Homecoming Queen,” it’s downright pretty, to use a very un-rock ’n’ roll term, and when it’s wrapped in the earthy guitar tones on a song like “Street Lamps,” it finds its niche alongside similar-throated Americana dudes like Ben Nichols of Lucero, B.J. Barham of American Aquarium and Chip Robinson of The Backsliders.
Three of the songs — “Bowling Green,” “Goodnight, Jessica” and “Villains” — appeared on a solo EP he released under the Shimmy moniker a year ago. Inspired by Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” he cut them at home with little overdubs and no editing. Although the raw material was well received, he knew upon its release that the tunes deserved better.
“It was fun, but once I did it and put it out, I was like, ‘Man, that was dumb,’” he said. “They just sound kind of empty, because there’s no bass or anything like that, and I left in all the mistakes. But I liked the songs, and I had more that seemed to go together pretty well, so around the time that EP came out, I started looking around for a studio and someone who could accommodate my vision.”
At the Arbor, the plan for a folk record slowly shifted into a combination of studio augmentation and built a solid foundation that could be replicated with either a full band or in a solo setting. For Paddock, it’s the best of both worlds.
“I really, really want to be a rocker, but the vast majority of my artistic output is much more in a folk and Americana kind of vein,” he said. “That’s what I listened to in my formative years, but playing rock stuff is the most fun for me to actually play with other people. I think this record is a little bit of all of it.”
And because the bulk of “Under New Management” was written before 2018 decided to deliver him a truckload of woe, he’s already looking ahead to his next album. It’s already written, he added, and he’s started demoing the songs. Despite the health struggles by him and his loved ones, however, it’s not all darkness on the horizon.
“I’ve got a bunch of brand new songs, including one that’s a total joke about how Christian Bale is the best Batman,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll put it on there — maybe as a bonus track or a secret track — but when I play it at solo shows, it’s almost always one that people want to talk about. And that kind of kills me a little bit.”