Welcome to Sober Sounds, where we feature emerging sober musicians and talk to them about all things creativity and sobriety!
This month, we profile Massachusetts-raised, California-based singer and songwriter Shane J. O’Dwyer. Shane’s music melds the ethereal with the audacious, resulting in an infectious sound unlike anything we’ve heard before. His encyclopedic music knowledge has infused each song with sonic diversity, the anthemic power of stadium rock coexisting right alongside breathless longing reminiscent of Lana del Rey. Consistent throughout are lyrics conveying themes of passion, heartache, and resilience.
Find Shane’s music and socials at: https://instabio.cc/ShaneJODwyerMusic
It’s interesting that you lead with your sobriety story and struggles. Why is it important for you to do that?
It’s important to me because it’s such a big part of me. When it comes to mental health or depression or addiction, I can confidently say I know what I’m talking about. I feel like I’m a down to earth kind of guy and at the same time, I feel like the mental health field and the alcoholism field can be intimidating to people who could be struggling. I think maybe I can give an easy vibe into that world to other people who are going through it, but don’t know how to identify it. Because when I went through it, I wasn’t sure I could identify it. So I learned to understand what I was dealing with. I feel the need to maybe catch someone’s eye the way that my eye got caught. It wasn’t until the right people showed it to me that I decided to take a look. I feel like if there’s more people out there drawing in the misfits, that could be a good thing.
CS: Seems like you’re trying to get more of a personal connection with people.
SOD: A lot of artists say they want to make other people feel like they’re not alone. I believe in the vibe of a song, even if the lyrics aren’t completely saying what you’re going through. I think the music itself can orchestrate a vibe that can put you in a cozy place. Like with “LDR Life” – Lana del Rey’s music did that completely for me, and I tried to capture this kind of easy going vibe that felt good. So maybe someone could feel comfortable when they heard that song.
CS: That’s a great song by the way! What about Lana’s music speaks to you so much?
SOD: There’s something about that lady’s music. I believe that when people come out with their own specific music, you never see copycats make it. I’m saying their music is speaking for their soul. And I don’t know what her soul is, but I feel like it reflects so much of the music she makes. I really connect with it. It’s the way she writes. And I don’t know if it’s how she delivers her music, or how it’s carried. But I just feel it. I always have, about all of her work. I’ve been drawn in by how passionate she is about music, and how seriously she takes it. I guess it’s everything about her brand, and who she is as a person that I’m all in for. It’s really hard for me to explain but she’s like the big sister that I never had.
CS: And she’s sober.
SOD: Yeah, she’s in the program. I read her poetry book and there was one poem that mentioned it, and I was kind of taken aback. It was really cool.
CS: There’s something about her. When I heard “Video Games” for the first time, it was too close to home, or something. I can’t explain it either. But the imagery that she used, the way she looked, everything about it.
SOD: Yeah, it’s heavy. She’ll put me in a trance sometimes. I’m not even ready for it. It’s my dream to meet her one day, and hopefully have her hear my song. That’d be the dream, but I’d just like to say ‘thank you’ to her for everything. Her album Ultraviolet is probably my number one go to, just in general, of all time. And it was recorded live, which I find even more mind-blowing. Everything about that record is just a gold mine to me.
CS: In your music, I heard a lot going on influence-wise. I heard Lana del Rey, of course. I heard some Coldplay. I heard some classic rock in your vocals too. I was wondering what your other musical influences are, what you grew up listening to and when music first made an impact on you.
SOD: Coldplay, do I? That’s the best compliment. Coldplay’s first album Parachutes is probably one of the greatest albums ever written. When I was really little, like when I first started walking, all of a sudden music was everything to me if you wanted to calm me down, or put me in a good mood. I love Marilyn Manson and Black Sabbath. My favorite band of all time is The Doors. I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan. I love punk, like The Adolescents, The Ramones, The Misfits, NOFX. I’m even in tune with Irish music like Shane McGowan and the Popes, the Dubliners. From Frank Sinatra to Marylin Manson and everything in between. Hardcore, punk, rap, hip-hop. I’m not really a big fan of modern day rap. I’m big on Nas and Wu Tang, and I love 50 Cent and stuff like that. I’m literally all over the place. If I can feel the music, and it doesn’t feel disposable or plastic, I’m sold!
CS: That’s a huge range of influences, and that comes through in your music. I felt like you were drawing from a lot of different things. It didn’t sound like anything I’d heard.
SOD: I appreciate that. Lately, I’ve been really influenced by Zach Bryan. He’s a country folk artist, it’s just vocals and an acoustic guitar. And the way that boy writes and sings… You should look him up. He’ll put you in a good vibe.
CS: You attribute a big part of your sobriety to a phone conversation you had with Bam Margera. Tell me about that.
SOD: He was my hero growing up, he got me into skateboarding. I first met him way back in the day, on Easter, and it was at some bar. My dad brought me to meet him because he knew how much it’d mean to me. I was the only kid there. All there was was like, a bunch of drunk people. And I met him, and I couldn’t believe it. The only thing I had to ask him was what bands I should listen to, because at the time no one was showing me music, and I didn’t really have a route to take. He gave me a list of bands, and I went home and studied all these bands. I kind of just realized how much music runs me and just completely fell in love with rock and all over again.
Then, he was doing a show in my city on his Fuckface Unstoppable tour, and he ended up inviting me into his tour bus. I hung out with him and his friends all night, and so that was like a dream come true. I just felt like I was with this guy I’ve known my whole life. He was special. It was a really great connection I had with that dude. It was like damn, not only now do I know that this man’s human but he’s actually a friend. He’s a great guy.
Some time went on, and my band had the opportunity to play 4th of July at FDR Skate Park in Philadelphia, which is insane, and we had nowhere to sleep that night. My good friend out there introduced me to Bam’s roommate, Dicky. He had my whole band go over to Bam’s house after the show, and they offered the whole upstairs to us. They treated us like kings, and to this day are so nice, and always checking in. But it wasn’t until my using got really bad that I’d be messaging Bam.
I knew he had similar problems, because we suffer from the same things that we overuse. Something told me one night to text Bam. I had never really gotten vulnerable or opened up about my problem before to anybody. Why it was comfortable for me to hit him up about it, I don’t know, but it was obviously for the better. I texted him, and instead of texting back, he just gave me a call. I’m at this party, and I look at my phone, and I just see “Bam” and I’m like, Fuck, I should probably take this. Then 20 minutes later, I’m on my bathroom floor just bawling my eyes out, and he’s just talking to me about what I should do and about how hard this disease is, and he talked to me about his shaman, and how maybe seeking out a shaman would be healthy for me. We talked about sober living.
And time went on. But that night, he inspired me to go to treatment. I had the opportunity to come out here (to LA) to Graceland Ranch Sober Living. I almost wasn’t gonna come. But Bam talked me into it so I was like Fuck it, I’ll go and get sober. And here we are.
CS: Wow, so he really was the direct gateway.
SOD: He just called me to ask me what was going on and like, am I okay? It was crazy. He is a very special guy. It felt really good to say for the first time in my life: Yeah, I have a fucking problem and this is how my life is spent every day.
CS: That’s so surreal. I’m curious about how sobriety has affected your creative process. How did you approach creativity before you were sober? Was it part of your life? How did it change, if at all, when you got sober? And how is it now?
SOD: That’s a good question. I amplified my drug use because I thought it amplified my creative force. Because I’m an introverted person, and I’m lazy, and I don’t wanna do anything. Once I found Adderall and cocaine and liquor, all of a sudden I’m out of bed, and i’m ready to paint the fucking town, and finally, I have this fuel that will get me to do the things that I wanna do in my head. But my body’s too lazy to get up and do it.
CS: Just laziness, or was there fear?
SOD: It could be depression, or yeah, fear of not being good enough or not being able to be social. It could be A through Z. But all that stuff really got me fucking going. And the thing about that sort of stuff like, you know, the first step, it could be easy breezy, and awesome. But the second step you’re getting dizzy and the third step you’re sitting on your ass and you don’t realize it until everything is a mess beneath you.
My band (Dirty Laundry) was my life, and we would be making songs. But it got to the point that I was hiding my addiction from them. I wouldn’t finish projects. If you walked into my apartment, I’d have 11 million canvases everywhere unfinished, like 12 million pieces of paper crumpled up with lyrics all over them, like so much shit going on. But not one thing is finished. It’s like taking a car apart, running away, and not putting it back together. That was my issue. I was a dog chasing his own tail for so long creatively, wondering why things aren’t happening. We’d come out with songs and then I would expect the big record man to poof! from the sky, and just hand me a record deal. I was lacking the awareness that your music is your business. Like the logistics, the real shit — I didn’t have room in my head to even consider these things, because I was in so much self-seeking and selfishness.
So I got sober. And now, when I’m sitting down doing anything creative, I’m finishing it. I’m walking away from things, but I’m returning to them. Before, I’d be up all night with my friends playing beautiful songs. We’re all singing together and had voice memos because it sounded great, but I never listened ever again, because I’m in my head obsessing over this other thing, because I’m high on drugs. Now I’ll be like, at work, and maybe think of a melody and hum it in a voice memo. And I’ll go home and listen to it, and do something about it. I’m finishing things, and that’s a gift from sobriety that I’m so grateful for. Just being able to finish things, and have conversations sober, and things that I thought were completely impossible and I needed drugs to do are being given to me now, and there’s no consequences. That’s amazing.
CS: That’s inspiring. This question fascinates me because people are so different. There’s a myth that if you’re a creative person, you have to use drugs and alcohol, that those things are inseparable.
SOD: I used it to justify a lot of my behavior. In my head it would just be a complete mess. I’d use Ozzy Osbourne as my justifiable answer, as like the model of someone who it’s working for. I’m like Oh, well, it makes sense, I’m like, crazy. I would justify it like I was being, like, Jack Sparrow, and that can be dangerous. And even these days it’s kind of a cliche. The rappers and all these people dying because they’re victims of the same shit. It’s just a false propaganda image that it sells, since the eighties like that Motley Crue shit. But behind the curtain it’s a sad story, and you’re always going to find out the hard way, unfortunately.
CS: What would you say to someone reading this who does glorify that lifestyle? Is there any behind the scenes knowledge that you would impart to someone that wants to be creative, and thinks that’s the way in, or that that is how to be creative?
SOD: I mean, if you’re an artist chances are you’re very stubborn, and chances are you’re not gonna listen to a damn thing anyone has to say if it doesn’t sound fun or if it’s something that doesn’t interest you. Chances are, you’re gonna do it no matter what, you’re gonna do what you want. I encourage you to pass on the things that obviously don’t have a good track record. But if you’re gonna do it, know what you’re getting yourself into and be as safe as you possibly can. Wear a seatbelt, call an Uber, be with healthy friends, and get it the fuck out of your system before it’s too late. And just know that there’s never been a happy ending with drugs. There never will be a happy ending, and if you want to succeed in what you’re creatively passionate about sooner than later, cut all the bullshit off. Drink water and use your instrument every day.
CS: Sometimes certain messages reach you at the right time. That’s why it’s great that you speak about this stuff. You never know when somebody will stumble upon you and have a Bam Margera phone call moment, and feel like “Oh, I really needed to read this right now or or hear that.”
SOD: Yeah, exactly. Lately, I’ve been thinking about parents that bury their kids. I know it’s dark and morbid, but I was watching Mystic River last night with my friend, and that scene where Sean Penn is freaking out about his daughter crushed me. That’s the severity of drugs and alcohol, especially with fentanyl these days. It’s like a new demon to our culture. It’s in everything. There’s been a couple of people I’ve known this past year that died from it. So I don’t know. I just brought that up because that’s the seriousness of it.
CS: It seems like when you hear about people like Jim Morrison who died from drugs and alcohol, it was more progressive. Fentanyl seems so sudden. It’s accidental a lot of the time, people don’t even know they’re doing it. They’re just doing coke at a party once and that’s it.
SOD: Jim Morrison, I believe he died from a broken heart. And it just goes to show why I encourage people to look into therapy and things like that. I feel like poor mental health is the root of why we suffer from these vices that are so easily consumed. If anyone were to hear this, or read this, if you feel any shade of sadness and you have a certain vice to combat, I think the first thing you should be doing is getting a therapist before it gets so late. So many talented people, or even people we’ve never heard of end up passing on because they had a broken heart and didn’t have anyone to help stitch it up for them, and didn’t know these feelings are not unique. There’s a solution. I gotta tell myself that shit every day, too. I still don’t have it mastered but acknowledging it, and practicing certain exercises that we can utilize when we are feeling some type of way, that’s good enough for me.
CS: In your bio, you said sharing your music with the world is part of your recovery. In what way does it help you?
SOD: It keeps me going and feeling like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. Before, it was so hard for me to get music out because I was too busy talking my energy away at a bar. It was like, All right, I’m gonna get sober, and I’m gonna do the things I actually wanna do. So now that I’m sober doing the things I actually want to do, it makes me feel even more that I should keep maintaining the sobriety thing. I wish I knew why I have this obsession of making music and sharing it, but I know enough to know that it’s who I am. If I want to keep being who I am, I have to do the shit that will allow me to be that guy. And sobriety is like 75% of it.
CS: So, music being so important to you, you need to be able to do it, and sobriety enables you to do it.
SOD: I eat, sleep, and breathe music to the point that it’s kind of insane, but it keeps me focused and keeps my head on. It keeps me in tune. I just got my own recording equipment for the first time because I usually have other people record me and produce me. But now I’m messing with it on my own. Like, I would have never in a million years been able to afford a microphone, the laptop and shit so, sobriety is a gift that keeps on giving. I’m grateful to have car insurance. I can pay triple A. I don’t have to pay John Doe down the street for a bag that he fronted me last night so I can get another one tonight. It’s a good feeling. Mine could be music, and another guy’s could be football, but now he can buy a football.
CS: I wanted to know what goals you’ve met with your creative work in your sobriety. And what are you shooting for that you haven’t met yet?
SOD: Obviously, getting sober is a huge one. And even putting music on Tiktok that sounds professional, that is something I’ve been able to do, and properly record my own material without having to rely on anyone. I graduated from a sober living, so I’ve been on my own. I work part time at the sober living and I’m also a full time painter, so being able to spend the free time I do have on music, I’ve been able to do that like, constantly. And now I’m at this point where it’s like a kick off, which I’ve been waiting for for a long time because I’ve been in such structured sober living. Now I’m at the perfect place where I can start formulating my whole plot and making as much music as I can. I’m kind of at the place I intended to be. I simply want to make great music, and hopefully, have a bunch of people listen to it and like it, and be able to relate to it, and maybe help them the way all these people helped me. That’s my biggest dream, because even like, Jim Morrison — when I think about little me, the amount that that dead guy helped me get through, if it wasn’t for all that positive energy I found through all these musicians, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. If I didn’t have that good vibe in those rough times, I’m afraid it could have been a lot worse for me. So my dream is to maybe help another little Shane out there, that’d be my biggest goal. But I mean, I can’t have any expectations at the end of the day. I just gotta be doing what I love to do, and whatever happens happens. But being able to talk about my music and share with people is super cool, and I’m really grateful. It’s all in the universe’s hands, really.