Shane McAnally: True Colors
Updated: Oct 12
“So many dreams that I had as a kid, I didn’t even know I was putting into motion. You kind of have to make up what you want your life to look like.” - Shane McAnally
Shane McAnally knew exactly what I was talking about when I told him that mine wouldn’t be a typical interview. I wasn’t interested in the timeline of his multi-faceted career. I wanted to know how living his truth brought him to where he is today. Shane is most known for being a Grammy Award-winning country music songwriter. His songs, performed by country music's elite, have earned over 40 number one singles to date.
Clearly as a child, the foundation for his life’s work had already been laid out. His earliest memories are of being six or seven years old making up words and melodies and singing them to his mom. At around ten, the songs he made followed a real structure that no one had shown him. He was fascinated by songs on the radio and how they were laid out.
“It almost felt mathematical to me. I knew where hooks were supposed to go. I knew where choruses were supposed to be repeated. I was just imitating, but I still understood. So, it was obviously my calling, you know?”
Born in Mineral Wells, Texas, in 1974, Shane never had much of a relationship with his dad. His parents were 18 when he was born. He says his mom was able to switch gears and focus on raising him but his dad just wasn’t there yet. His parents divorced when he was 12. As a young adult, Shane had animosity toward his father, but today sees him with different eyes.
“I understand my dad a lot more now that I’m older. He’s not a bad guy. We just weren’t close. My dad wasn’t really a part of the story. Although, creatively he’s been a huge part of the story because I think whatever I lost, whatever I missed out on in my childhood, that longing has driven me. The validation that I sought from him is a big part of what has made me successful.”
Being raised in a world were homosexuality was considered a sin, had Shane looking for God at an early age.
“I mean, you know I grew up on the 'great search.' I know now that it was my being gay. I was so religious as a kid I would go to church by myself, with either the neighbors or I would get a ride. My mom wasn’t religious. I was on the 'great search’ for something. I just felt out of place, and that God could fix me. Ultimately that has turned into a spiritual path.”
As a teenager, Shane was talented enough to compete on the television show Star Search and perform in the country music resort town of Branson, Missouri. At 19 he dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to pursue a music career. “There was an opening in my soul saying this is where you want to be.”
At 23, he signed a publishing deal with Curb Records and released his self-titled debut album. Shane was careful to keep his sexuality under wraps. He didn’t want anything to stand in the way of the fame he craved. He was the opening act for bands like Alabama and Kenny Chesney and shared the same manager. Even so, his album flopped.
Shane decided to head to LA and try his luck there. He played the bar circuit as “Shane Mack” and developed a following. Living in the gay epicenter of West Hollywood showed him a whole new way to live. “In LA, I started to very lightly hint at my sexuality in my songs. Almost like a wink but nothing blatant.”
It looked like his career was on the rise when the 2008 financial crash hit. Shane’s car was repossessed. He lost his home. He continued to live in his house surrounded by packed moving boxes. He could no longer hold up the facade of success that he had fallen into. Waiting to be evicted at any moment, the only piece of furniture in use was his bed. Shane didn’t know it yet, but his luck was about to change.
Enter Atlanta based Michael Baum. He and Shane met on a weekend trip to Palm Springs. They began dating long distance.
“He showed up right when the cracks were getting too big. There was no way for me to pretend that I was rich. And so I had to just tell him the truth. I don’t know what my life would be if he hadn’t walked in when he did and say, ‘You are fine the way you are.’”
Later that year, LeeAnn Womack recorded Shane’s song “Last Call.” That was the break he needed to hightail it back to Nashville.
Upon his return, Shane stepped back into the closet. He shifted his focus to songwriting. He didn’t want potential collaborators to worry about whether he was writing about a male while they were writing about a female. Because of Michael, that was short lived.
“When I moved to Nashville our relationship got more serious because we were only three hours away. One of the things that he said early on was, ‘I don’t think I can do this if you’re in the closet because I don’t really know where we can go if your career is based on a secret.’”
That’s when Shane stepped into the light. “It’s not like I officially came out or anything. I just stopped hiding. And the truth is nobody cared. Everyone already knew.”
Shane attributes the taking off of his songwriting career with his decision to own the rainbow. In hindsight, he sees that hiding his sexuality hindered how he wrote.
"When you're not being honest about who you are as a person, it's going to translate. I think the number one thing people pick up on is inauthenticity because something is not reading as the truth. So that really held me back in every aspect. When I came out, everything changed because it made my writing more honest.”
Being open about their relationship allowed a calling that Shane shared with Michael to be set in motion. They wanted children.
“Everything just happened so seamlessly. We had a surrogate. We had an amazing agency in California that walked us through the entire process. We had our wedding, in the middle of the pregnancy. And we’ve joked so many times that the wedding was 10 times harder than having the twins. The entire thing took 14-months.”
Shane is not shy about sharing his son, Dash, and daughter, Dylan, on Instagram. “The thing where it feels like I’m most in my body, ‘like this is where I’m supposed to be,’ is when I’m with my kids.” He hopes that sharing his reality will give others the courage to be who they are.
Being fully himself has been the catalyst for so many blessings in Shane’s life. He has learned that he likes the role of cheerleader. He has a real talent for bringing the best out in people. Being part owner of publishing company SMACKsongs and Monument Records gives him opportunities to help other songwriters and performers make their dreams come true.
“Having number one records, or all the things that I’ve gotten to do – is never going to fix what led me to chase those things. Ultimately, what fixes those things over and over is seeing it happen for somebody else. That’s really where I find peace, you know.”
Recently Shane announced on social media that he has been clean and sober for a year. He said he is committed to having his outside match his insides. Just one more shade of true shining through.
Text and artwork © Sue Shanahan