Tolan Shaw, best known as a member of the New Archaic, crafts songs based on travel and life experiences. He earned a bachelor's degree (a double major: international relations and Spanish) at USD in 2011, later becoming engaged to his fellow grad Sarah Vahalla,
The New Archaic won Best New Artist at the 2009 San Diego Music Awards, and were nominated in 2012 for Best Alternative Album, for their debut full-length Movers and Fakers. The band has opened for acts such as Switchfoot, Dashboard Confessional, and Third Eye Blind, though not all gigs go swimmingly.
“I was playing at Soma...I guess I hadn't put on my guitar strap quite right, because in the middle of a song, as I was rocking out, it slipped and fell to the floor. Luckily, the guitar wasn't really harmed, it was just brutally out of tune. The best part about the story though is that it fell at a fairly climactic part of the song and I remember the weird noise that it made, and thinking, damn, that noise actually kinda worked in the song! I tried to play it off cool, but it was a pretty rookie move by me.”
Shaw’s solo work is inspired by travel, spiritual discoveries, nature, and big questions of life. He sees music as a way to delve deeper into his own journey through life and to connect with others, writing
directly from the heart. Though differing from the music of the New Archaic, his solo performance is equally as captivating, exposing raw emotion and soul and brimming with dynamics. Shaw began to refine his solo show in 2009, performing at local coffeehouses and opening for touring artists such as Matt Costa, Jon Foreman, and the Format.
After winning first place as Best Songwriter at the 2011 San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, Shaw took off on a songwriting journey through Latin America, traveling through 11 countries, 72 cities, and more than 300 hard boiled eggs. He followed that up by touring Latin America with his fiancé Sarah, teaching English classes by day, while writing material for his self-titled solo album at night.
In early 2012, Shaw began recording solo CD with members of the New Archaic and In Motion Trio, along with producer Jeff Berkley (Berkley Hart). “Most of the songs off my first solo record are inspired by a seven-and-a-half month trip to Central and South America,” says Shaw.
The 24-year-old says the lyrics on his CD were “inspired by that life-changing journey...represents where I’m at in life — unsure which direction to take but focused on staying in the moment and letting things be as they will. The instrumentation and songwriting is inspired by ’60s and ’70s R&B and soul. My friend and ex-bandmate from the New Archaic, Joe Harrison, helped arrange the horn parts, and the horn section from his local Afrobeat group, In Motion Collective, played on the tracks.”
The album cover features a performance pic shot at Lestat’s. “I’m using the gramophone as a logo and branding shtick for a few reasons. I came across three old gramophones at a rummage sale that I use onstage as a cool visual. They’re old-school looking and kinda match the inspiration and vibe of the music. Plus, since the instrumentation includes a four-piece horn section, the horn of the gramophone is a good representation of that.”
In June 2013, Shaw took first place in the San Diego County Fair Singer-Songwriter Contest. The following May, he released a new single and video, “Be My Girl,” directed by David Brooks and recorded at local Slithering Serpent and Studio West.
His single “Eyes” was played every day as the Local Break song on 91X for the month of October 2014, also made available as an FX-heavy music video. "I will be visiting Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona playing solo shows, with my wife as the tour manager [and] companion," Shaw said of his upcoming April/May 2015 tour. "This will be to support and promote an EP that I will be releasing in the Spring, most likely late March, early April."
The April 3, 2015 release party for his Chin Up EP took place at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center. Several weeks later, he became the first 2015 Discovery Tour Winner, earning a slot on the Emerging Artist Stage at Kaaboo Del Mar that September.
The 2016 video for his single “Change the World” incorporates segments from his Wandersong series, a nine-segment travel-music video series that took four months and 28,000 miles to create. “I put it all together with my laptop and my GS Mini Taylor travel guitar. The cameras and the mounts were provided by GoPro,” Shaw told the Reader.
In early 2018, his music was heard on TV shows including "Good Day" on MTV's Undressed and an SDSU recruitment ad, and "Eyes" and "Never Met You" on CBS' The Young and the Restless.
Shaw relocated to Nashville, TN in Autumn 2018. "Excited to be touring this year again with BoDeans, this time playing IN the band as acoustic guitar player/backing vocalist," he posted online in early 2019. "Hopefully I can feed my Pickleball addiction on the road as well."
In summer 2020, Shaw reported "Last week, I found out a song I co-wrote with Marti Amado Corr for German film and TV company Sonoton Music was placed in an end scene of a Turkish TV show on Fox Turkey called Sen Çal Kapımı," says Shaw. "A week later, it has 100k+ plays on Spotify, is number six on the Top Viral chart in Turkey, has 250k+ hits on YouTube, and hundreds of people from Turkey and other foreign countries are reaching out about the song! What a cool way to connect globally with people through music and media."
Shaw released a new single in early 2021 called "Slide Away." "This is where I found myself a lot the last year," he says, "writing and producing music by myself in my little bedroom studio. Trying to stay productive. Trying to either fight the dark, negative feelings away, or use them as expression through the songs, depending on the day. I’m blessed, and don’t have a lot to complain about, but I know all of us were mentally feeling the effects of so many unknowns, questions, and isolation. Not sure about you but I typically ignore those feelings, push through them, and put on a smile most of the time. But I’ve learned how to sit in that space and be okay with it. It’s okay to feel shitty. It’s okay to not know what to feel. It’s okay to feel that heaviness that some days we might just not be able to explain. We all feel it in one way or another, at some time or another. Keep on, fellow human. Things are looking up."
The pandemic required hustling to keep up the paychecks, but also provided time for reflection. "Time and again I’ve been asked 'what are you? Who is Tolan Shaw? An artist? A writer? A performer? Pop? Singer songwriter?' And I get it. Lately, I’ve released songs via my pop solo artist project, had a songwriting credit on a newly released country song, written and produced a Christmas EP, finished two kids songs for a production music library, wrote songs with a group of talented peeps at a sync songwriting camp, worked on my alternative rock side project, sung two jingles, played guitar for a bunch of demos, and performed live at the Bluebird in Nashville. And you know what? I love doing all those things. I love that every day is different. Am I crazy and all over the place? Maybe. Is it inhibiting the industry from knowing what to do with me? Maybe. Do I need to pick a lane? Maybe. But for now I’m wearing a bunch of hats, because it’s the only way for me to work full time in music."