The concept of gorgeous girls in music is nothing new. A Playboy Playmate on the Turntables though? Now we're onto something. Alaskan-raised Colleen Shannon definitely wasn't born into a life of Celebrity. It wasn't until she was 13 years old, relocating to California, that she became inspired by her new surroundings and the sounds of that locale. Shannon befriended members of now-defunct band Sublime who helped her realize a fascination for DJing and from there she honed her craft, developing a niche audience of her own in Los Angeles.
When I first got the call from Sony Music to interview DJ Colleen Shannon, I didn't know what to expect. I did a bit of Wikipedia-ing and Googling, but other than finding some generic bios, time lines and sexy photos, I still walked away knowing very little about her. And then we met today during a brief gap in her schedule prior to her gig at the official LG Fashionweek Closing Night Party in Toronto. Petite, self-aware and effervescent, Shannon surprisingly was a grounded contradiction to the Party Girl persona she projects in her promotional shots.
Known as "The World's Sexiest DJ", we both knew the topic of sexuality would be unavoidable today. She had her first brush at widespread notoriety after being selected as January 2004's Playboy Playmate of the Month, but more importantly, she has the distinction of being the magazine's 50th Anniversary Edition Playmate, which I asked her to elaborate on. W denotes Mr. Will-W., and S denotes Shannon.
W: So tell me, what's involved in being selected as Playboy's 50th Anniversary Edition Playmate? I mean, that's pretty significant considering the magazine's iconic history. Was there campaigning involved on your part?
S: Well, I was selected out of 30,000 girls who were up for consideration. I think what made me stand out though was that I had a career as a DJ, which was unconventional and that made me different from all the other girls. Thematically, I fit in with the direction the magazine is headed today.
W: You live a pretty jet-set life having toured the world as a DJ. Just browsing the Tour Section of your website I see that you've been through most of Europe, The Caribbean, Hong Kong, Turkey and as far away as South Africa. Do you find yourself consistently adjusting your sound to the audience you're playing for?
S: Oh yes. For example, when I visited Turkey recently I was handed a list of songs to play which were popular at that moment and with Canada recently hosting the Winter Olympics, I had to create a moment specific to Canadians. More importantly though, as a DJ I want to influence the audience with my sound rather than just cater to them. Part of DJing is educating the audience.
W: I see that you have a few acting credits to your name. Will you be delving into this more in the future, or has Music pretty much taken over the Driver's Seat of the Star Vehicle?
S: Studying Art, Photography and Theatre have always been a big part of my life. Over the past two years though, with all the flying and touring I haven't been able to put much time into these things I love. The possibilities are endless though with acting. Not too long ago I landed a spot on the television series How I Met Your Mother and I must say it was pretty surreal arriving at Universal Studios and working with that guy (Jason Segel) from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I love that movie!
W: I loved it too! Jason Segel was amazingly daring in that movie. And I loved those musical numbers he did!.... but back to music though. Tell me what the creative process is like for you in putting a Mix together in the studio.
S: Well, first I get my songs together and I listen to them repeatedly. I listen for familiar beats and instruments that mesh well together when I do my sequencing on Cubase (yes, I'm old school!) or Appleton. I rely a lot on my intuition when mixing, but I do invest a lot of time in doing clean-ups.
W: I read that your sound pretty much changes from year to year. Where is your sound at right now and who continues to inspire the sound of DJ Colleen Shannon?
S: Yes, my new compilation Red Hot 2010 has a lot of Top 40, Electro and Hip-Hop influences. I really love Pitbull and when I saw him recently I was like, "Oh my God. I've got two of your songs on my Mix!". If you listen to Red Hot 2010 versus other Mixes of mine, you'd think that they were done by completely different DJs. Like DJ Tiesto, I want to continue evolving and exploring different sounds. The DJ Tiesto we know today isn't the same Tiesto we knew almost 20 years ago. I look up to Paul Oakenfold a lot too and true Scratchers like DJ Skribble and other DMC champions. I really feel that the Art of Scratching is dying these days.
W: True. Dance Music is more about production and mixing now, whereas scratching is something more skilfully demanding and performance-driven. Tell us more about Red Hot 2010. Just skimming through its Track Listing, I see big names like Shakira, Kelly Clarkson, Empire of the Sun, Black Eyed Peas, P!nk, Pitbull and many more. Was it difficult securing the rights to these tracks on your Mix? Was it challenging to pitch it to the label?
S: I must say that Sony Music was perfect to work with in hooking all of that up for me. Everything went through very smoothly without a hitch.
W: I have many friends who are DJs and it is always fun hearing their stories afterward about what went wrong and right. Tell me about your most nightmarish DJing experience ever.
S: I don't usually like to play in Los Angeles so much anymore. Usually when I'm home, I like to just chill. One of my friends, who is a DMC champion, invited me out to do a one-off gig and it happened that on the same night, Dr. Dre was doing a Launch Party for his new club down the road, throwing a wrench in our plans. After a technical glitch had occurred, there was nothing but dead air for a while and that was just awful, but things like this are bound to happen in DJing.
W: Without a doubt. Sometimes these things are just unavoidable, but that's what makes it fun. Tell me what kind of stigmas there are attached to being a female DJ in a male-dominated arena? It's clear that we are progressing in terms of women in Music, but surely there has to be some type of an unsaid pressure that you face.
S: I'm sure many people look at my photos and have a preconceived notion of what I am like, but really my sexy photos serve a purpose and that is to market myself. At the end of the day, when it's midnight at the club, it's purely about skill at that point. I love the pressure of "bringing it". And about my image, I love to play it down on weekdays. If you saw me on the street you would have no idea who I was. On the weekends though, it's all about sexing it up. I don't think that I would ever do the Playboy thing again at this stage in my career. It was something that served as a great opportunity at the time and I took it.
W: What can we expect next from you, Colleen?
S: I'm focusing on Branding and Merchandising. I am working together with Sicmats, to design my own line of Slip Mats for Turntables. I am also working together with one of the animators of Disney/Pixar's Wall-E to design my own animated DJ Girl, who has an electrical contraption on her arm which enables her to Mix. Above this, I'm working with a team to pitch a Reality Show about the world of DJing, possibly to MTV, among other networks. But most of all, I hope to continue evolving as an artist musically and perhaps delve even further into production.
After our chat, we did an impromptu Photo Shoot on the patio. It was mesmerizing seeing how with a touch-up of Lip Gloss and the removal of a jacket that Shannon could transform from the girl-next-door to a playful seductress for the Camera. Needless to say, it didn't take many frames to get a shot she would approve of.
To learn more about DJ Colleen Shannon, visit her official website here. Her Red Hot 2010 compilation released through Sony Music, is now in stores and two lucky readers will be winning exclusive DJ Colleen Shannon Prize Packs featuring a gorgeous, glossy and signed 8x10 of her, plus a copy of Red Hot 2010. To qualify, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address before Saturday, April 12, 2010 at 12:00 PM EST Winners will be notified via e-mail. All information will be deleted after the contest has ended and your information is confidential and will not be sold. Good luck, Mavenati!
(Photo credit: Mr. Will-W.)