Randall Shreve: Devil's in the Details

Randall Shreve lets us into his creative mind.

SOME ARTISTS HAVE THE MAGIC, that certain je ne sais quoi. And Randall Shreve is indisputably one of those artists. Having visited his private studio, Deitra Magazine had the honor of witnessing his creative process, getting an insight into how his mind works and taking a real look at the man behind the curtain. He is the quintessential artist — a dream for any music enthusiast, both through song and the written word.

We meet up with Randall Shreve outside his studio in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Passersby wave out of their vehicle windows. “Everyone is so nice here,” he says of his hometown. But it’s easy to assume that they were waving at Shreve in particular. He’s quite recognizable - with red skinny pants, black buttoned vest and fedora hat straight out of the prohibition era. It’s undeniable that people perceive him as a star. He dresses the part, and his music and showmanship are unparalleled.

But who is Randall Shreve? First off, if you haven’t heard his music (for shame), his albums have ranged from rock/pop to what he is now most famous for — a vaudeville rock infused with cabaret, and a heavy dose of ballads, both lovely and tragic. His songs carry a range of emotion, from dance tunes that conjure many drunken attempts at the Charleston, to powerful hits of rage and despair. Every Randall Shreve fan has their favorite songs of love and woe, their anthems of “Kiss My Ass” and “Fuck You.” And no, that last one isn’t one of his song titles, but shouldn’t it be? 

He spends every day in his studio, a dungeon-like space below a tattoo parlor.

Shreve’s fans embody the true meaning of fanatic. Self dubbed “Sideshow Freaks,” they are his best marketing team, lighting up social media and packing into his concerts with exceptional gusto.

He spends every day in his studio, a dungeon-like space below a tattoo parlor. The studio is set up inside an old bank, complete with vault door and cement walls barricading it from the outside world. It’s dark, quiet and the ultimate lair for a monomaniacally focused artist like Shreve.

Hunched over his recording equipment in his studio, Shreve completely immerses himself in the writing process, pouring over lyrics, revisiting previously recorded songs, creating new sounds and capturing the emotions that he wants to convey. It’s tedious work, but this self-proclaimed introvert loves every second of it. He is truly in his realm when he is creating music.

But flash forward into a live performance. When Shreve steps on the stage, you would never know that he is anything but the "King of the Silver Screen." He is a true performer — every moment, every movement, an extension of what he wants and needs the audience to feel. It’s dark, it’s magical, it’s utterly entertaining. His live performances are always practiced, polished and perfected. But perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and Shreve is always striving to be better at every part of what he loves to do.

The fourth in a line of full-length releases, The Devil and The End has become Shreve’s favorite project yet.

Starting off with his first album, The Cure For Yesterday, he was in more of a rock/pop headspace. Following nearly a lifetime of playing music in various fashions, he was embarking upon a new path that would take him in a direction that only he could envision. He possessed the talent and charm to lure in a slew of incredible musicians to share the journey with him, and make his vision into a concrete reality. The Cure For Yesterday showcases Shreve’s unique vocal ability, and his knack for writing a tear-inducing love song. Tracks like “Forever” continue to be fan favorites, and he still performs “Dancing in the Rain” at his live shows.

The second album in his collection, The Entertainer, brought more of the vaudeville vibe with cabaret-worthy tunes such as “Welcome to the Show,” and the circus romp, “Sideshows.” This album holds many of the gems that have successfully set his music apart. Equally as popular are his solo style ballad “Beautiful,” and the all-time favorite live concert outtro, dance rock track, “Karma Girl.”

“All of the full-length releases have started with the word ‘The.’ The Cure For Yesterday, The Entertainer, The Jester and now The Devil and The End, and that’s been the case intentionally,” says Shreve. “They’re all tied together in some way. I don’t like to give away too much. I like for the listener to be able to create their own world with my characters. I want to facilitate an environment of creativity with these stories. However, I’ll give one direct example of the ties between albums that many have caught. The first album introduces Charlie, a headstrong artist setting out to conquer the world. The second album, The Entertainer, never gives a name to the protagonist — but to me, he’s a darker, more life-ridden Charlie.” 

The Jester is the third installment in this series of records, and — fitting to its title — is full of songs about alcohol, love and the woes of a man in despair over a love lost. Subjects we can all relate to. This is why his fans connect so much with his songs. Not only is the music unique in itself, not to mention impeccably done, but the lyrics speak of moments most of us have experienced.

In “Strange,” he tells the story of a couple drifting apart. The character feels that his lover looks right through him and that he has become a ghost. “Blood” is also a testament to breakups and the mess that couples make of each other when things get ugly. And “Haunt Me” mirrors some grueling emotions of self-reflection. But this album isn’t all dark and gloomy. Because what happens after a breakup? You get over it, and you listen to “Kiss My Ass.” A sarcastic and brutally honest song, it’s the ultimate anthem for anyone getting over their ex.

“I’ve gotten progressively looser with the conceptual aspect of the songs as a whole because I don’t feel the need to be as specific,” says Shreve. “The characters have been introduced and developed. Now I’m giving the details that lead up to the end.”

I like for the listener to be able to create their own world with my characters.

So, what’s in store for this next inspired piece of work from Randall Shreve? Finishing out the four-part story, The Devil and The End is both lighter and darker. An enigma, perhaps, but this album is the statement of someone who has accepted his own darkness, and embraced the beauty inside that darkness.

The Devil and The End has been the most connected I’ve really felt to the characters personally,” says Shreve. “Of course, I’ve always felt connected to them, but this one has a lot less fiction in it — the beautiful and the ugly bits of life.”

The Devil and The End is full of Shreve’s trademark vaudeville sound, with an added element of Motown horns and choppy guitars that lend an optimistic turn coming off the heels of The Jester. Motown is something that Shreve has always loved and wanted to infuse into his music. And now he has done it.

It’s an evolution of the only thing I know to do.

All of the songs on the album have a common theme of “The End.” For the past year of working on this project, Shreve knew that he would entitle the album, The End, and brought that idea to realization in every song.

“As I wrote, I looked for where each song might suggest the end of something. And if I couldn’t find ‘The End’ of something in the overall suggestion of the song, I either stopped working on it and set it aside for another time, or refined it by asking the song, ‘What does The End mean to you?’ Some songs speak of the painful end of a relationship — others, the end of an era. But all of them have a direct or indirect reference to finality. Surprisingly, it is generally my most positive record yet.”

Locking himself into his underground studio, Shreve spends his days and nights immersing himself into the writing process. “I’m becoming a vampire down here,” he laughs. There is no sense of time in the windowless space, which — for an artist like him — is ideal. The main room is lit only by a string of red lights casting a warm, shadowy glow onto various musical instruments: two drum kits, an old baby grand piano strewn with papers and beer caps, vintage posters and vinyl records covering the walls.

“This is where I did all of the writing,” he says. “I wanted to do things my way, and make sure I didn’t get into a position to where I had to do everything really fast, because that’s not how I like records. I like records where I get to think about every step of the process. It’s not the live experience, it’s the studio experience. This will be grittier than anything else has been. And live, we’ll make it even grittier. It’s an evolution, it’s progression.”

The studio has been a fitting space for this project to come to fruition. While many musicians clamor for the clean and pristine environment and the expensive gear of big name recording studios, this would not work for what Shreve had in mind for this record. 

Surprisingly, it is generally my most positive record yet.

“All of the other albums felt how they felt, and they had their own personality, and I feel like this one is going to be more underground. If the other albums were like a band performing during the speakeasy era, this one is them at their rehearsal space, however nasty that must have been.”

Shreve tracks all of the instruments himself in the beginning stages of the recording process, then brings in musicians to re-record the parts. With the addition of these collaborators — some familiar and some new — Shreve is excited to share this project with his fans, both in concert and when he releases the record later this year. (Editor's Note: The Devil and The End was released in September 2015.)

With the new album in the works, Shreve has put together his dream team of talented musicians to star in his live performance band, Randall Shreve and The DeVilles. The live band is made up of Kendra Lane on bass, Rob Geiger on guitar, Zach Reeves on drums and Michael Tisdale on guitar.

“It’s an all-star cast,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to play with these musicians. I’m excited to play with Geiger and Kendra. I’ve never played with them, but I’ve always watched them and admired their playing.”

While these musicians will be playing with him both live and on the record, Shreve has invited some guest musicians to lay some tracks on the album as well, such as drummer Matthew Puttman, bassist Geoff Baker and cellist Cori Edwards.

The many references to the devil on the album come from my personal struggles of faith and internal conflict.

As the final piece to Charlie's story, this album will surely not be the end of what we see from the musical career of Randall Shreve. It marks the end of one era, and the beginning of something even more extraordinary. This album is one that paints a picture of the journey he has traveled — both personally and creatively — and what he has learned about himself along the way. 

“The many references to the Devil on the album come from my personal struggles of faith and internal conflict,” says Shreve. “The whole idea of a being that we can blame our own weaknesses and troubles on is fascinating to me. The Devil is the ultimate villain, but so easy to appreciate. You can’t hate him. He’s you. He’s me. Therefore, he is so very relatable. I, like many, grew up believing the Devil was not only real, but was just waiting around every corner for a chance to steal my soul. It held a great power over me, as the idea was intended to do. To overcome such a deep driven fear, a person must call it out. I no longer give power to the idea of a lurking monster waiting to conquer me and steal me from God. I own the evil that has been in me from the first lie I ever told. It’s me. There is no other. I am the Devil. And the devil I feared as a child is now on my leash.”   DM 

Website + Social Media Links:

Written by Tamara Styer.
Photographed by Matt Loveland.

Special thanks to:
jlofsky — video of "Welcome to the Show"
Brandon Hite — video of "Beautiful"
Red Barn Studio Live Sessions — video of "Evil"

As published in Issue 10 of Deitra Magazine.



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