In this series, Trevor Abes sits down with local lights in the Toronto music scene.
Michelle Ronchin is R. Shelley, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter whose Sink or Swim EP dropped last April. She has over five years of live performing under her belt, including a set at Hamilton’s Spring Music Festival 2012. When she isn’t writing or booking gigs, Shelley is booking bands at Oak Recording Studio where she works under industry veteran Damon de Szegheo.
T: When did music enter your life?
S: I taught myself how to play guitar in grade 10; all the boys played, so I thought I could too. I started playing piano and writing poetry many years before that.
T: Why do you make music?
S: For me, I put emotion into a song and that’s where it stays. It’s still a part of me, but it’s a song, removed from me to be presented to an audience. So I love when people relate to my songs, say they like this or that verse and there’s an emotional connection, because then I’m grounded, I’m solid.
T: How do you foster those connections?
S: It’s easy to say “I…I…I…” and sing songs about your sadness and how everything bad happens to you, but people don’t want to hear that. If you say “you,” they hear it about somebody else, and they’re included in the picture.
T: What’s the scene like in Toronto for up-and-coming musicians?
S: It’s tough. In Toronto everyone’s serious about hitting it big. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly; they’re passionate over just having fun.
T: How do you work on your craft?
S: I cross-examine myself about how I feel about a gig, how people reacted, and the energy in the room. If people tell me I did great, but I believe I did mediocre, I’ll think about what I think the most.
T: “Running” is my favorite track off Sink or Swim. Where did it come from?
S: A friend of mine in film school at York asked me to write a song for a documentary she was doing to understand her family’s past through pictures. She told me only that the theme was home. “Running” is my interpretation of home as being at your most comfortable, and it could be anywhere.
T: Who’s on your playlist right now?
S: Right now I’m listening to a lot of Sam Roberts and Serena Ryder. Then there’s the older stuff, your Beatles, The Stones, and Fleetwood Mac. It’s a whole range of things.
T: Why R. Shelley?
S: Shelley is my nickname since high school and Ronchin is my last name. Imagine you’re filling out a form online; your last name comes first, and you don’t want to give your whole identity away.
T: Do you feel ready to make yourself at home wherever you may be?
S: Definitely. I put everything into music, so I hope to get the best out of it.