Three chords and the truth is what it takes to write a perfect, raw country song. Now, how does that translate to the Broadway stage? Eight-time Grammy nominated songwriter Shane McAnally joined forces with his longtime friend and seven-time Grammy nominated songwriter Brandy Clark for a challenge outside of anything they’d ever done before — to write a Broadway musical score. Now, the pair are Tony Award nominated for their hilarious, captivating and honest lyrics that audiences have fallen in love with in Shucked. “We started out just sort of doing what we were already doing…I think we got a little scared and we got a little intimidated by the shows we were seeing and the size of their scores, so we started to chase more of a Broadway sound, and none of those songs held on when we were trying to be anything but ourselves, which is the truth in life. It’s the truth about our show,” Shane explained in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife at the Tony Awards’ Meet The Nominees event.
Shane and Brandy were sought out by Tony Award-winning writer Robert Horn over 10 years ago to collaborate on a country music-style musical. “We went back to the drawing board [after the first production] and said let’s just write ’em the way we would write them in Nashville, and we’ll let the music director, Jason Howland, take over and do the part of making them sound like they fit in this world, without compromising the songs,” he continued. The result has become a soundtrack of songs that are strong enough to stand alone as singles, even by some of the top-charting artists Shane works with the most — like Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town and Carly Pearce. “It almost feels like we made an elaborate 10 year record, and we intentionally had some of those songs that we felt like could stand alone,” the three-time Grammy Award winner recalled. “‘Independently Owned,’ ‘Somebody Will,’ ‘Walls,’ these were songs that we wanted to be able to pull out of the show, and people still to feel it, because then, hopefully, that would take them to the show.”
At the same time, the score makes you wonder why the rawest form of storytelling — theater — and a genre solely based on storytelling — country — had never seen this kind of collaboration before. “The only thing that’s different is that a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to say in the country world we get to say here!” Shane laughed, when thinking about the similarities between the two medias. “I mean, there’s a lyric in the opening number that talks about corn being the same going in as it is coming out. We certainly couldn’t get Blake Shelton to say that line.”
As for creating the perfect country-Broadway song, Shane said his usual ‘algorithm’ needed to be adjusted. “The one thing that goes in the algorithm is ‘don’t tell the whole story in three minutes,’ which is we have been our whole career. Now, we only get to give a little at a time and That’s hard for us!” he recalled. “Still, it’s the authenticity. Even if a song feels so specific to a character, there has to be some part of us, some truth in it, or it won’t translate. So, I think that the algorithm is just keeping it real.”
Shane McAnally is part of HollywoodLife’s Tony Contenders series, in which we interview the biggest current stars on Broadway who are in contention for the upcoming Tony Awards on June 11, 2023.