Elvie Shane Takes the Unfiltered Path with New Album ‘Damascus’: ‘I Wasn’t Focused on Writing For a Specific Genre’

In October 2021, Elvie Shane earned his first Billboard No. 1 Country Airplay hit with the tender ode “My Boy,” inspired by his role as a stepfather. The song was certified platinum by the RIAA, and he followed it with his debut album Backslider, further ushering Shane into the circle as one of country music’s most-buzzed about new talents.

But while “My Boy” and its successor “County Roads” were relatively tame odes to family and life lessons learned during moonlit nights on backroads, his new album, Damascus, out April 19 on Broken Bow/Wheelhouse Records, offers a fuller picture into Shane’s struggles and perspectives. Melding elements of country, rock and hip-hop, Damascus follows an arc of emotions, guiding listeners through heavier themes of addiction (“Pill”), prison (“215634”), championing blue-collar workers (“Forgotten Man”), redemption and peace (“Does Heaven Have a Creek”)

“I had songs like ‘Forgotten Man,’ ‘Baptized’ and ‘Jonesin’,’ but it seemed like there was a stark contrast in these songs, sonically and lyrically. I wanted to do something with all of them,” Shane tells Billboard. “I wasn’t focused on trying to write something for a specific genre.”

Kentucky native Shane took inspiration for the album and the album title from a Biblical story, but also from Damascus steel, which is made from forging together different types of steel, making it stronger in the process.

“I approached this album as if I was making a Damascus knife, working with different types of steel—of sounds, and genres that have inspired me. I put them all together and created this album, and the concept frees me up. I wanted a narrative on the album, and I didn’t really have that with Backslider. I had a collection of the best songs I’d written along the way, and I found some kind of concept by the songs that I picked for Backslider, but it wasn’t as purpose-driven as this one.”

For Damascus, which he started working on in 2022, Shane and producer Oscar Charles teamed up to record in a rented home in Alabama, writing and recording with creatives including Ryan Tyndall, Dan Couch and Luke Preston.

Shane is unflinching in probing difficult themes on his new album. Songs including “Pill,” “Jonesin’” and “Appalachian Alchemy” address opioid addiction, giving voice to people who are struggling and seeking solace. The music video for “Pill” addresses opioid addiction, while the song was written essentially as an apology letter to his brother for the years that Shane faced his own hard struggles.

“Jonesin’” was written as Shane, following the success of “My Boy,” slipped back into some of the self-destructive habits that he had previously fought to leave behind.

“All the pressure of continuing to perform was piling up and taking care of my family and everything,” he says. ‘And regrettably, I just wasn’t as strong as I should have been. I allowed things back into my life that I had sworn off years ago. I wasn’t going as far into that as I had in my early twenties,” he says.

However, he describes the night he wrote “Jonesin’” in detail, saying, “I had probably had six different substances in my body throughout that day, and we wrote that song. That night, I was lying awake, and I think I had a resting heart rate of 180 for 20 minutes. I was having a bad time by myself there in the living room. But the next morning I got up and sang that vocal in ‘Jonesin’” and I feel like that is the most of me I’ve ever put into a vocal. It was real and in the moment.”

The defiant album opener “Outside Dog” was borne out of frustration with feedback he received when presenting his new batch of songs to members of his team.

“They were hesitant, like, ‘I don’t know if we need to put this stuff out here or if we should be looking for some other songs.’ And that really didn’t sit well with me,” Shane says.

Shane had moved with his family to his wife Mandi’s hometown in Kentucky during the making of the album. According to Shane, the back-and-forth with his team over the album’s content continued, until he reached a breaking point.

“It got to a point where I had to make a call and said, ‘I’m just going to stay in Kentucky.’ I was struggling with the industry and I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to cutting trees for my father-in-law or go drive a truck with my brother and dad.’ I could play some bar gigs from time to time to still have music in my life, but I was just done with this idea of having to write about very generic or a small set of topics that were able to be covered, to be able to be successful. Everyone on the team wants the same thing. They want to see success — people listening, buying tickets, consuming the music. But I wanted to include topics that I feel get glazed over from time to time. I want to go in and use the right verbiage and tell the stories the way they are.”

The turning point came with the Robert Deaton-produced Stoned Cold Country, a Rolling Stones tribute project, which featured several country artists performing classic Stones songs, including Shane’s rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“They did a documentary and played it for the record label and the team here,” Shane says. “The story I’ve heard from members of the team is when they saw that video, they got more of an inside glimpse into who I am and what I’m about, and they wanted to go down this road — so thank god for Robert Deaton letting me be part of that project because it led to a boost in believing in this project.”

Elsewhere on the album, the more light-hearted “First Place” welcomes Little Big Town — though Shane says it took a little liquid courage to get them to join the song.

“After I wrote it, a friend videoed me and the writers jamming to it. I got just drunk enough to send it to [Little Big Town member] Karen Fairchild on Instagram,” he recalls. “I was like ‘Hey, I listened to “Boondocks” today. Thanks for the inspiration.’ But that was a serious cop out, because what I really wanted to do was ask them to be on the song. So about 20 minutes later — a little more liquid courage later — I asked them about singing on it. I woke up the next day and had a message from Karen saying they would sing on it. They were so great in the studio, worked so hard and sounded incredible.”

The album closes with “Does Heaven Have a Creek?,” which he wrote after thinking about his late grandmother.

“I was sitting outside of my camper in Kentucky at the lake we were living on. I was listening to Tyler Childers’ Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? and Brent Cobb’s And Now, Let’s Turn the Page, so I was immersed in kind of gospel and hymns,” he recalls. “I thought of my grandmother who’s been gone 20-plus years now. I looked up at the sky and was like, ‘Granny, does heaven have a creek where I can swim in my old blue jeans?” And I got my guitar and played that.”

The WME-signed Shane previewed the album on his Acoustic Stories Tour earlier this year. The album’s harder rock moments would seem to be a fit beyond solely country radio, something Shane is also keen on.

“It’s on my bucket list to have a rock single. That would be amazing,” he says.

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