I’m listening to an advance copy of Shannon Linton’s upcoming single, At the End of the World, and it’s like listening to the coming of spring. After a dark season heavy with negative news cycles and the cold and dirty final days of winter, her melodies seem to spread a healing white light over my senses. With strong and earthy harmonies, and a powerful sense of tranquility, I’m lifted out of a place of apathy and inactivity and set back to a place where I’m able to celebrate art, music, nature, and the larger world around me.
“At the End of the World was written in a one-room, off-grid cabin surrounded by fields of wild aster and goldenrod,” Shannon wrote to me when she sent the single. “It was a place I could imagine myself happy and thriving when everything has crumbled away, and the song literally poured out of me within the first fifteen minutes of my arriving at the cabin. The song is about the ordinary miracles of love and nature that will pull us through in spite of everything.”
Port Hope, Ontario singer/songwriter Shannon Linton is set to release a new five song EP called In Spite of Everything on May 27th. It’s difficult to define what kind of music Shannon creates, making it impossible to put in a single genre. There is a bit of folk fused with Celtic undertones, and a hint of Shannon’s education in classical music peeks through. But perhaps what we are hearing is the sound of Shannon’s creative spirit without any sense of boundaries. “I started performing as a solo artist during the pandemic,” Shannon says. “I don’t have a big established audience yet who expects something of me, so I can just write what I think a song sounds like. I love pop music and folk music, so I’m good with creating all of it. My producer said to me, ‘I don’t want to say it’s pop,’ and I said, ‘I like pop music’ and he replied, ‘Okay, good. Because when I work with country artists, they don’t like that.’ But it’s okay because I like it.”
Shannon released the first single, The World’s Strongest Man, from her upcoming EP in March 2022. A rootsy and emotional song with gospel revival overtones, The World’s Strongest Man is filled with strength and joy through the sounds of Shannon’s layered harmonies. Shannon reports, “This song is the only one that feels rootsy compared to some of the other songs I’ve recorded.”
“It is about my grandfather, who passed away a few years ago,” she continues. “He lived in Matheson in a remote cabin, and other than electricity and a furnace, he had no other modern comforts. He didn’t have a TV, and he fished and hunted and gardened for most of his food. He had a dog who was his best friend, and he was just that kind of person who doesn’t exist anymore. We’re not talking about a person from the 1920s. This was a man who was living like this in the 2000s. He was kind of bottled up, but so full of love and kindness, and he was also very stoic. He had cancer but he was too proud and too quiet of a man to ever say anything about it to anybody. He had it for so long and none of us knew. At the very end he had kidney failure and was told that either he had to have dialysis, or he’d pass away in the next few days. And he said, ‘I don’t want dialysis. It’s better to pass from kidney failure because you just fall asleep, and you just pass away.’”
“When he passed, I just thought that there is not another man like this in the world. This is a special person who would not be known by very many people because he kept to himself. Our family and his sisters and brothers would be the only people that really experienced him and know this incredible person. So, I wanted to write a song about him. It felt to me like it should feel old, like something by the river, or have an almost Gospel choir sort of feel to it. It should sound almost like an old hymn. In the song, I write that he was ‘Given the grace to pass into the night.’”
Shannon’s background in choir is evident throughout The World’s Strongest Man. Working as a choral director, Shannon’s journey in music finds its roots in choir. “Performing in choir has always been something my family does, but I don’t think anybody ever really wanted to be a soloist,” Shannon tells. “I joined choir in my teens with my older sister. I always wanted to do everything she did, and we would sing together while we were growing up. We were in a youth choir, and not one that was church affiliated. In my last year of high school, my voice teacher mentioned to me, ‘You know, you could go to school for music,’ so I applied for music at three different schools the next week. I was going to go into business or journalism, but I just knew my vocal teacher was right and I had no qualms about that idea.”
Studying music in university set Shannon down a very different musical path. “I stumbled into studying classical music, but I had no idea what I was doing,” she reveals. “I was just singing songs. They were pretty songs, and some of them were in French, and some of them were in German, but I didn’t really care. I started to get into opera, and I went down that path because that was where I was. I was a good student, it was challenging, and being on stage was fun. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I had full intentions of continuing in opera, and even auditioned in the United States. But then I realized that I didn’t listen to opera at home, and I wasn’t that excited about it, except for when I was singing. I realized that this was not actually something that lights me up. So, I pulled back and stopped everything for a while. I didn’t know what else to do. “
Retreating from performance for a short period of time, Shannon returned to music after her family had another loss. “Things changed when my mother-in-law passed away a handful of years ago,” she tells. “During that time, I asked myself ‘Why are you wasting time and hemming and hawing about what you might want to do? Just go for it.’ So, I started writing songs, and put together a duo with my friend Steve Jones, who’s a wicked guitar player.”
Performing under the name Northern Hearts, Shannon and Steve created a following, and were selected as participants in CBC’s Searchlight competition in 2019. However, by 2020, Shannon and Steve were going in separate creative directions. “It was great for us both to get our feet wet, but it wasn’t the right thing for either one of us,” Shannon says. “Steve now composes video game music and loves it, and I taught myself how to play the guitar during the pandemic so I could continue as a solo performer.”
“The pandemic changed things for me, and in a good way,” Shannon continues. “It gave me a lot more time to be creative. All my choirs had to stop, and I wasn’t performing anywhere. So, I did a lot more writing. I’ve written a ton more songs over the last couple of years, and then there were these little opportunities that came up that wouldn’t have existed before.”
A major theme in her recent song writing is focused on environmental issues and climate change. “I live in paradise,” she states. “I live on a farm on the other side of Rice Lake and it’s magnificent. I know how lucky I am and can’t let this be spoiled. There is a book that I recommend to everybody called All We Can Save. It is a collection of essays, poems, art, and personal stories by forty different women about the climate crisis. That book really got me thinking and made me understand some things I didn’t know. It gave me a clearer perspective regarding that the crisis is not my fault, and it’s not your fault. One person composting is not the solution, and the idea of a personal carbon footprint is bullshit that was created by oil companies. I bought a new plug-in hybrid car last year, but I can buy seventeen plug-in hybrids, that’s not going to fix the situation. We need to be getting oil companies and governments to initiate major change. It will take all of us pushing for anything to happen. Government and industry aren’t going to change unless we make them change.”
In 2021 Shannon teamed up with musician Saskia Tomkins and writer Katie Hoogendam, under the name We 3, on a yearlong Patreon Project. “My part of the Patreon project was to write a song about the climate crisis every month,” Shannon explains. “I don’t want to preach at people, but I experience a lot of feelings about climate change, and I volunteer in a lot of ways. It’s something that is on my mind a lot and it was coming out in my writing.”
“One of the songs on the upcoming EP is called Endling,” she continues. “An Endling is the name for the very last surviving member of a certain species. I had read an article about a snail that was the last surviving snail of its kind, and how it was in this enclosure, and somebody was caring for it. But this snail was alone and when it died, that species was gone, and it broke my heart. The song is not about a snail, but it came from that story.”
“I also have a song about how maybe it’s not so bad if we don’t have so much, and, without sounding too glib about it, simplification wouldn’t be such a bad thing for many of us.”
While the climate crisis is a very real and important global issue, Shannon’s songs aren’t heavy handed with a message that beats listeners over the head. Instead, she tries to evoke an emotional response through her music that can connect to the listener in a real and relatable way. “The climate crisis is something I like to talk about, but I can’t sit here and talk about it at great length with everybody,” Shannon admits. “They don’t want to hear it, or it stresses them out. You have to get people to listen through the music. I think music has to hit your emotions for you to really care about it. It must stir something in you. So maybe somebody could write a great song about the broader catastrophe, but for me the song is the one about the last snail. Hopefully people will get emotionally invested in that. The first line of Endling is, “The last of our kind will be a woman,” so I’m not pussyfooting around.
Throughout the summer of 2022, Shannon will be doing a small multi-city tour to support the EP, but instead of releasing physical CDs, she struck on another creative collaboration to offer to audience members that want to support her work. “I have no desire to make actual physical CDs,” Shannon states. “It’s lovely when people buy them because they want to support you but, really, nobody wants CDs anymore. So instead, I had another idea which I’m thrilled with. I’m obsessed with a local artist named Janita Wiersma, who lives just five minutes away from me. She has painted a custom acrylic painting for each one of the songs on the EP. Then my friend Nicole Beatty, who has very beautiful calligraphy like handwriting, is writing out the lyrics alongside the artwork. We are going to release a lyric book with the handwritten lyrics and all the paintings. So, if anyone wants to buy something to support us, they can purchase the book.”
Shannon Linton’s music is both beautiful and powerful. It has a strong and important message about humankind’s relationship with nature, and it lifts the spirit and the soul. At its core is her passionate concern about the environment, and her desire to make that connection with her audience. “When I perform, I talk about the climate crisis, but it feels different than having a conversation,” she says. “The audience came here to be hopefully more than just entertained. I want to say something that matters to me, and if it doesn’t matter to you, then it’s okay. But if it does matter to you, you’re going to cry, and you’re going to care, and we are now connected.”
Shannon Linton’s EP, In Spite of Everything, will be released on May 27th, 2022 and she will be performing throughout Eastern Ontario throughout the summer. In the meantime, you can check out her music on Spotify and Bandcamp and follow Shannon on Instagram (@shannonlintonmusic) or her newsletter (shannonlinton.substack.com) for updates..
PHOTO GALLERY BY JESSICA SCOTT