When Tolan Shaw was a freshman at San Dieguito Academy, he was listening to Jimi Hendrix and became inspired. “That’s when I first got into music,” he recalled on a recent Wednesday morning. “I would play guitar and sing, but my voice was terrible. I was not serious about pursuing a career in music until college.”
This April, everything comes full circle for Shaw. Not only is he gearing up for the release of a brand-new EP of songs dubbed “Chin Up,” but he’s also planning a benefit show April 3 for San Dieguito’s music program. Shaw, a 2007 graduate of the school, sees the show as the perfect way to give back to his alma mater and showcase his new material.
“I thought that this was such a cool idea to give back to my old high school,” he explained. “We’re putting together a really great show and are giving the proceeds to the music program. I’m excited.”
Besides the EP and show, Shaw has plenty of other developments to be excited about after a somewhat disappointing introduction to the world of professional music. While attending college at the University of San Diego, he was in a successful band called the New Archaic which was quickly making a name for itself and on the brink of signing a management contract. Unfortunately, that ended up falling through. The band split up and Shaw then became a solo act, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Shaw said the process of songwriting can be cathartic in some ways. “When I’m writing, I start thinking about life and other people’s lives, and the bigger picture. It’s a nice way to get away from it all.”
As a result, he said, inspiration strikes the most when he’s on the road.
“I’d say my No. 1 inspiration is traveling,” he said of his creative process. “When I’m writing, ideas come out when they’re supposed to come out. I could get inspired at 2 a.m., or when I’m listening to other music, or if I’m reading a spiritual book. For me, the lyrics come easier than the music.”
Whatever Shaw’s process is, it seems to be working. He’s been showered with accolades, including winning first place at the San Diego County Fair’s Singer-Songwriter Contest in both 2011 and 2013. He also won first place at the San Diego Songwriter’s Guild Contest in 2012. In addition, his songs have been picked up by programs and advertisements for networks such as TLC and ABC Family.
One song in particular, Shaw’s single “Eyes,” received airplay on the popular radio station 91X San Diego this past fall, which oddly led the track to becoming a hit in Lima, Peru.
“It reached No. 6 on the most-played charts in Peru,” Shaw said with a laugh. “It was cool to see my song up there with U2.”
For now, all focus is on the EP release show. Said Shaw, “This program and school are one of the primary reasons why I am pursuing a career in songwriting and performing, and I am thrilled to bring the music and the community together to support a cause that is dear to my heart. “
His show, which supports the San Dieguito Academy Music Program, takes place April 3 at the Academy’s Performing Arts Center. For more information or to purchase tickets (the first 50 of which include a copy of Shaw’s EP), visit www.sdafoundation.com.