It’s quite delightful talking to Shana Tucker.
Sitting in the lobby of the DoubleTree hotel on Hillsborough Street, after a heavy day of performing at ARTS, North Carolina’s recent Arts Day, Tucker is still revved up, ready to talk about her career. But she doesn’t just talk about her career – she talks about her influences and her favorite artists, which can include such unlikely performers as Steely Dan and producer & film composer Jon Brion.
But this is what you should expect from a singing cellist who refers to the music she performs as “ChamberSoul.” That form of music can be found on her 2011 debut album, “SHiNE,” which was re-released earlier this month on independent Boston label Jazz Urbane. “They had partnered with SUGO Music Group for international distribution,” says Tucker. “So that’s very helpful in giving this independent release I was selling out of my trunk new life in a pretty big way.”
Born in Los Angeles and bred in Amityville, Long Island, the 40-year-old Tucker lived in North Carolina for most of the aughts, making a home for herself in Durham. “This is the only place that I’ve seen actual cotton fields in my limited, sheltered life,” she says. “It feels different. It smells different. It’s just a much easier way – easier meaning not, like, hustle-bustle. Not ‘I’m never home because I always gotta be at somewhere to pay for my rent’ and all that.”
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While living in Durham, she recorded “SHiNE” at the city’s Sound Pure Studios. Local Triangle artists helped Tucker in recording her jazzy, soulful and undeniably classical compositions, including guitarist Chris Boerner (The Foreign Exchange, The Hot at Nights), who recorded and mixed the album with Jason Richmond, bassist Pete Kimosh (The Beast, Peter Lamb & the Wolves) and pianist Eric Hirsh (The Beast, Orquesta GarDel). Hanging out with these players led to work with other Triangle-based artists, including the Foreign Exchange, Jeanne Jolly and Shirlette & the Dynamite Brothers.
However, Tucker hasn’t lived in North Carolina for a while. She now calls Las Vegas her home; that’s where she currently works playing with Cirque du Soleil’s “KA” show. She got the job in 2012 when a Cirque recruiter heard her in a radio interview. “The recruiters with Cirque in Las Vegas were looking for a cellist who sang, or a singer who also played cello,” she remembers. “And the recruiter heard my interview on the radio on his drive home. He was like, ‘Yo, we’re looking for somebody who does what she’s talking about.’”
And while she’s grateful for the opportunity in Vegas, she does miss the simple pleasures living in the Triangle provided. “I think I took for granted the sense of community here, not just within the music scene, but also neighbors, you know,” she says. “No one talks to each other where I live.”
She definitely wouldn’t mind moving back to North Carolina, especially to be closer to her 14-year-old son, who is moving back here to go to high school and live with his dad. (“I hope that they’re not going to do an ‘Odd Couple’ situation, but whatever,” she says.) And while she knows she has to keep on keeping on, doing shows and promoting herself in the hopes that more people will take notice of her music, she also has dreams of lightening her workload.
“I would like to, at some point, release one of my full-time jobs,” she says, laughing, “and focus primarily, exclusively, on being a touring, recording artist.”
She’ll be back in the Triangle next week to do a show at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Maybe she’ll also find time to go to a nearby elementary school and teach songwriting and music appreciation to kids, which she has often done wherever she performs.
“For me, it’s kind of like I’m, in a sense, being the artist that came and inspired me when I was these kids’ age,” she says. “I feel like there is, at many times, a wall or a gap or a chasm, even, between the artist and the audience and even, specifically, the kids, you know. At some point, we need to have art supporters in the next generation – not just people that download, not just people that buy concert tickets or festival tickets, but people that actually understand the music. And I don’t know a better way to get them to understand except going in and talking to them about it or letting them touch the instrument or just becoming more tangible or more real as an artist. Plus, it’s fun. Little kids are fun!”
You see – isn’t Shana Tucker a delight?
Who: Shana Tucker
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
Details: 919-560-3030 or carolinatheatre.org