Many musicians have used their celebrity to bring attention to the ongoing needs of Hurricane Katrina victims in the southeastern United States. Folk-rock singer Shawn Mullins has a personal connection to New Orleans, Louisiana, which led him to dedicate his latest album to that city's musical spirit.
Shawn Mullins included the traditional folk song "House of the Rising Sun" on his latest album 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor. The 36-year-old singer-songwriter has many friends in New Orleans, including Mike West, who owned the recording studio Shawn worked in before Hurricane Katrina struck last year.
Mike made it out of the city, but his studio was destroyed.
"We recorded about half the record in New Orleans at a studio called the 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor. So, I named my record after it, after the hurricane came through and wiped that area out. That was kind of my homage to my friends and musicians and the folks around that area," he says.
Shawn Mullins was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. During the early years of his musical career, he released seven albums on his own label. They included his 1998 breakthrough album Soul's Core. A radio programmer in his hometown sent a copy of the album to many other stations, which led to several offers from major record companies. He was signed to Columbia Records and, soon after, earned a Top 10 hit with its single "Lullaby."
Mullins wrote 12 of the 13 songs on 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor. He explains what inspires his songwriting, saying, "People are definitely inspirational, and the road is. We spend so much time on the road. You meet and see so many people. They're in so many different types of places, whether it be a nice theater or a truck stop. Sometimes you're in the back of a rock club next to a dumpster, and you're watching a homeless person collect trash. And that's an inspiration in a way in its own. You go, 'How's this person surviving,' you know? There's all types of things that inspire me, but it's almost always other people, not myself."
Shawn says he wanted his latest album to have an "old-school" sound, and not resort to using computerized effects. He accomplished this by using only live instruments in the studio.
As for his long-term career goals, Shawn admits he isn't driven by thoughts of commercial success.
"Become a better artist and a better songwriter, that's really my goal. It's not really to sell a zillion [many] records - hopefully I can - but I think the main thing, the focus is the music," he says.
Shawn collaborated on the album's first single with Glenn Phillips of the former folk-rock group Toad The Wet Sprocket. It's called "Beautiful Wreck."