YOU MAY have seen Rachael Shaner at Trinity's Opry series in the past, supporting Payne Bridges; in fact, you've probably seen the upright bassist supporting damn near everyone around town.
"It's not so much, 'what bands are you playing with?'—it's 'who are you gigging with?'" she laughs when asked how many bands she's in currently.
Sure, she performs alongside Randy Cuba in Southern Maple, contributes bass and vocals to Nightingale News, and sits in with many others, but Shaner is much, much more than a side woman.
She got her start through busking, playing her upright bass down on River Street when she was just 14. From there, she started getting jazz and blues gigs, mostly performing at parties and private events.
An opportunity presented itself in the form of a seven-year contract in Nashville. Eager for a break, Shaner and her then-musical partner and boyfriend signed over their artistic rights to, as Shaner now puts it, "be a pop-singing robot."
Then Shaner's relationship fell through. And with it, the deal.
"Someone threw me a rope, but it was a noose," she says frankly.
The ordeal of getting out of the contract was "like the break of the Protestant Church from the Catholic Church," she laughs.
The original material she'd created wasn't hers to use anymore; Shaner came home and "went into hiding, basically, from Savannah," cloistered on the island, writing an album's worth of songs. It was a crucial healing process, but in the end, Shaner scrapped the material. She finds that her best songs are written after she's been able to take in her experiences.
"You don't write a eulogy at a person's death bed," she compares.
With time to reflect on the writing and Nashville experience, Shaner has approached her original songs once more and is ready to cut an album with Matt Collett at The Garage.
For an intimate look into her work, she's opted for a boldly vulnerable lineup at Trinity: just her and her upright bass.
"I want to bring the bass into the light it should be in," Shaner says.
While bass is often thought of as a foundation, Shaner notes that it can be beautifully melodic in and of itself.
"The versatility is what I want to point out," she says.
She'll sing and play—something that people have said can't be done on the upright bass. Playing a fretless instrument requires quite a bit of concentration; plus, she's not just playing the root chord, she's playing melodic lines. It requires a great deal of focus to hit each note perfectly, particularly while singing a different melody.
"I'm in a really vulnerable position," Shaner says. "But I don't think anyone's going to walk away going, 'where's the band?'"
Above all, Shaner is excited to let audiences experience something new and different.
"When I'm just playing—that's home to me," she explains. "Even if they only catch that for a minute, that's okay." CS
Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m., $10