Wisconsin native and 15-time Madison Area Music Association award-winning artist Shawndell Marks grew up surrounded by music. Singing and playing the organ in church, with extended family members at family reunions, and learning how to harmonize with her mother in the backseat of the family Ford Escort shaped her early music education. As a teen, she performed nightly at the Wisconsin Opry Music Theater in Wisconsin Dells singing songs by country icons Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. While studying music at UW-Madison, Marks fronted the classic rock /country band Thunder Road performing in bars & festivals throughout the state and opening for acts such as George Jones & the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
After the death of her father to mental illness, Marks turned to songwriting as a way to cope and process the loss. Her first album, Remnants of Crazy produced by Chris Mittlesteadt and released in 2005, in part is the result.
Her second album, Little Things, an EP made up mostly of voice and piano, was released in 2011 which also features Marks' experimentation with layering various synth sounds. Included is a rendition of the fan favorite 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'.
In 2012, Marks began working as an instructor and band coach for Madison's Girls Rock Camp, a week-long day camp. Campers ages 8-18 of all skill levels learn an instrument, are put into bands, compose an original song, and at the end of the week perform their song with full PA and light show.
In 2014, Artists Alive, Inc. presented a production of Tear Down the Wall, a dynamic and well-received multi-media live music concert experience for the benefit of children's music and arts education. Marks served as background vocalist and keyboardist.
In late 2016, her third original album was released. LP Broken Dam is a reflection of what happens when you break out of comfort zones, speak arduous truths, and do things not everyone understands. Several Madison powerhouse musicians were invited to be a part. "My material has been relatively heavy and ballad-ish for most of my career. I wanted the influence of others to shape something new. Dan Kennedy brought tasty, edgy guitar licks and poetic, concise lyrics to a track entitled 'Wishbone' while Meghan Rose and Emily Mills of Damsel Trash added grit and sass to the song ironically called Sweet. Beth Kille and Jen Farley offered their lightness and love to Stand Close to Me. Producer Jake Johnson of Paradyme Productions turned out to be the perfect co-hort to help break out of my old mold. So kind. So efficient. So open to trying whatever I threw at him." Previous bandmates and uber talented, kind humans Paul Isaacs, Al Buttner, and Joe McCloskey are also featured. (PS. She misses you guys.)
Broken Dam touches on the difficult but important subjects of mental illness with Not My Father and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with the atmospheric Sparta about a soldier returning home. The album has been nominated for five Madison Area Music Awards including Pop/R&B Album of the Year, Pop/R&B Song of the Year (Restless), Unique Song of the Year (Heart Afire), Alternative Song of the Year (Sparta), and Cover Song of the Year (Jolene).
Marks was voted Best Female Vocalist 2017 and Pop/R&B Performer of the Year 2018 by the Madison Area Music Association and local patrons of music.
Keys to Unlock Your Dreams, an instrumental piano album designed for study, focus, or sleep, received 2020 Unique Album of the Year by the Madison Area Music Association.
Her latest release is part pandemic project, part experimentation. Punk Ballads is already receiving praise for its provocative concept: reinterpreting testosterone-heavy angsty punk songs as dreamy, emotional piano ballads filmed and recorded live on an analog tape recorder. The album was produced by commercial director and creative Jayson Moyer who returned to his home state of Wisconsin after living in Los Angeles and several trips around the globe. Born out of Moyer’s curiosity of what the disquiet, male-dominated guitar-heavy punk of his youth would sound like from a softer, but no less emotional, female perspective on the keys of a piano, punk ballads is a multi-sensory experience. Each song was filmed at various locations around Sauk County where crowds should be but are not because of the pandemic: beautiful and historic Al Ringling Theater, The Village Booksmith in downtown Baraboo, Sauk Prairie’s Freethinkers Hall, a gymnasium, and a high school hallway. While most of Marks’ previous albums were produced with full bands in well-equipped recording studios, Marks and Moyer were interested in exploring a stripped-down approach to production, using only 2-3 microphones to record voice and piano or Fender Rhodes. The result is boldly imperfect, raw and soothing, gravel and honey. See full project here.
Marks now fronts her own original band and is involved with several area music projects including Girls Rock Camp, trio Gin, Chocolate & Bottle Rockets with gal pals Jen Farley and Beth Kille, Gold Dust Women, The Mascot Theory, Kerosene Kites, Teddy Davenport, and various studio projects, most recently on Tony Bonanno's latest album. She has been nominated for several Madison Area Music Association awards, including Keyboardist of the Year, Best Cover Band with Gold Dust Women, and Best Vocal Ensemble with GC&BR.
The Shawndell Marks Band includes John Christiensen on bass, Dan Kennedy on guitar, Brady Bachmann on cello, and Jenna Joanis on percussion.
She lives in Baraboo, WI with her daughter where she is a musician, instructor, and returning college student pursuing a degree in Music Therapy.