Elvie Shane Once Outran the Cops. He’s Still Trying to Outrun the Holler

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Elvie Shane is poised to become country music's new voice of the working class on his album 'Damascus.' - Credit: Nathan Chapman*
Elvie Shane is poised to become country music's new voice of the working class on his album 'Damascus.' - Credit: Nathan Chapman*

It’s a few hours before I’m supposed to meet Elvie Shane at a racetrack in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when my phone starts blowing up.

The lanky, tattoo-covered country singer, who scored a Number One hit with “My Boy” in 2020, is meeting me to put the 2024 Corvette E-Ray — top speed 183 mph — through its paces, and Shane is texting to say how excited he is to lay down some rubber.

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“I’ll only kill ya once,” he writes. “I swear.”

Shane is used to driving fast. In his younger days, he and a buddy blew by a Kentucky state trooper in Shane’s 1999 Mitsubishi Diamante going 80, with two pounds of weed in the trunk. When he saw the blue lights in the rearview, he pushed the gas pedal even further, terrifying his passenger. “Jump out or ride,” Shane told him. (He rode.) Later, he’d get that very phrase — one you might imagine Ricky Bobby uttering — tattooed on his right shoulder.

When Shane arrives at NCM Motorsports Park to drive the $120,000 hybrid E-Ray, he’s wearing cuffed jeans, checkered Vans, and a baseball hat by Troll Co. Clothing that reads “Support Blue Collar.” The singer is proudly working-class and grew up 45 minutes away in hardscrabble Caneyville, population just over 500, but moved to Bowling Green to attend Western Kentucky University before dropping out to chase music.

Instead, he found trouble. “I kept getting pulled over and getting tickets,” Shane says. “Just doing dumb shit.”

While working at the National Corvette Museum, mowing grass with a grounds crew, he got bitched out for running the weed-eater too close to the sports cars. One day, he caught a snake and let it loose in the landscaping company’s office. He was fired. “We had a mouse problem,” he says, flashing a wicked grin.

Shane doesn’t deny his wild streak. A tattoo of a devil wielding a pitchfork on his bicep underscores his hell-raising tendencies, and when he climbs behind the wheel of the Corvette — I’m riding shotgun — he says something that doesn’t exactly leave me confident we’ll return unscathed.

“If you’ve been in an accident with somebody else driving, that shit will stress you out,” he says.

With those words lingering in the air, we’re off, speeding around the 3.15-mile track, navigating hairpin turns, and nearly catching air over a steep drop. When we hit the straightaway, Shane guns it.

“Hell yeah, this is sick!” he shouts over the growling engine noise as the speedometer hits 103 mph. Shane glances at me: “I bet it’s wild sitting over there.”

He isn’t kidding. After four exhilarating laps, he pits the Corvette and we take a few minutes to decompress. “I’m a Ford guy,” Shane says, catching his breath, “but I’m a Corvette guy now.”

elvie shane corvette track
Elvie Shane at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Hopping into his more modest Ford Bronco for the drive to lunch, Shane steers us to a sports bar called the Overtime, where he met his wife Mandi when he was a pizza baker and she was a waitress. He puts the Bronco into reverse and backs into a parking spot. “You always gotta back in,” he says, “because you don’t know how fast you’re gonna have to leave.”

SHANE HAS MADE A LOT OF QUICK GETAWAYS over his 35 years, some successful, some not. While he evaded the cops in his old Mitsubishi — “I knew those roads,” he says — he was arrested for selling marijuana in 2009 after a roommate snitched on him. When he called his mother that night from jail, she told him to “rot” and hung up. “It’s exactly what she warned me she’d say,” he says. (They have a great relationship today.)

Shane is open about his drug abuse, including prescription pills and meth, during his time living in Bowling Green. One day while high on acid, his pit bull got loose and ran into the neighbor’s house, with a tripping Shane giving chase behind it. He got clean a year before marrying his wife in 2013, put down his guitar, and took a job at the mill.

Then he heard the hard-ass honky-tonk song “You Can Have the Crown” by Sturgill Simpson, a fellow Kentuckian, and was compelled to start playing again. He threw himself into the music of Chris Stapleton, another Bluegrass State native, and the Nashville country-rock trio the Cadillac Three. Last year, he joined the band to co-write and record the stomping collab “Hillbilly,” a cautionary tale about substance abuse.

The Cadillac Three’s Neil Mason says they recognized “a kindred spirit” in Shane.

“The biggest thing that stood out to me with Elvie was the songwriting, because he had his own perspective that he was singing from, and it wasn’t the perspective that I’m hearing every day,” Mason says. “I tend to want to sing about the things that I either feel like I am myself or I feel like are missing from the world, and he’s similar. He’s either singing to something that he wishes there was more of, or to something that he cares about deeply.”

In 2016, Shane competed on American Idol, making it to the first round with a soulful version of “House of the Rising Sun,” and a few years later he signed with Nashville’s BBR Music Group. In 2021, he released his debut album, Backslider, named one of Rolling Stone’s best country albums of that year. The LP spawned the radio hit “My Boy,” a tender ballad about being a stepfather, but when the success didn’t linger, Shane found himself once again reaching for the pill bottle.

“It was first-world problems, dog,” he says of the comedown from topping the charts. “I told my wife, ‘Something’s going on with me, and I have to figure out where I’m going.’ Because when Backslider was done, all I could think about was, ‘That’s not it. I’ve got to do more.’”

Shane ditched the pills and reunited with Backslider producer Oscar Charles to write and record a fresh batch of songs influenced by Johnny Cash and the late rappers Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle. Like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, Shane says he underwent a transformation during the sessions. He emerged from the studio reborn and with a new album he titled Damascus, both after the Bible tale and a type of ultra-strong forged steel.

Released on Friday, it’s a stellar project that aims to bring serious issues back to mainstream country music. Over 13 tracks, Shane sings about the dehumanization of the prison system (“215634”), the rural drug epidemic (“Appalachian Alchemy,” “Pill”), and what it’s like to not fit in (“Outside Dog”).

Many of the songs, especially the gospel-inflected “Does Heaven Have a Creek,” are informed by Shane’s religious upbringing. He says that after losing himself in drugs as a teenager — he was snorting Xanax at 13, smoking weed at 17 — he tried to right the ship by becoming a Baptist preacher when he turned 18.

“They called me the singing preacher,” he says over a midday meal of chicken bites, a Blue Moon beer, and a cigarette he bummed off a guy earlier at the racetrack.

Divisions in the church soured him, and he abruptly left during the middle of one of his sermons. “I just felt like a caged animal, man. I closed my Bible and walked out,” he says. “But I love the church and the foundation that I have from it, and I try to make sure it makes its way into my music, especially with Damascus.”

elvie shane corvette track
Elvie Shane pilots the 2024 Corvette E-Ray at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

While he may have just driven a sports car worth more than triple what some country fans make in a year, Shane has a gift for speaking to those who feel left behind. The Damascus track “Forgotten Man” is a passionate indictment of the unattainable American dream that plays like Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” for the modern age. “Gas is getting too damn high and land is, too/Can’t get your hands on an acre that ain’t handed down to you,” he spits in the lyrics. In “First Place,” featuring Little Big Town, he asks the bartender to go light on the ice so he can get his money’s worth of whiskey. “Between the bank and the budget and the paycheck money,” he sings, “I’m strapped for cash to paint this town.”

Earlier this month, he sang “Forgotten Man” at the opening weekend of the Rock the Country festival, headlined by Kid Rock and Jason Aldean, to an enthusiastic response. When it comes to politics, Shane says he’s “pretty central in my beliefs,” but he chose to perform at the conservative-leaning fest because he says he understands that audience.

“I come from those people,” he says. “And if it would have been a festival with Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne, and Sheryl Crow, I would have understood those people just as well, because I’ve been fortunate enough to come out of small-town, typically close-minded culture and got to explore the world.”

Aside from that night in jail, Shane’s never served time. But he expertly details the bleakness of the prison experience in “215634,” a haunting track that joins country music’s canon of great prison songs alongside Eric Church’s “Lightning” and Cash’s “San Quentin.” “My name ain’t my name no more,” Shane sings, “It’s 215634.”

Shane says he wrote it about a childhood friend who “lived across the holler,” went to prison, and ended up back behind bars after allegedly shooting a man in self-defense while out on parole.

“He started dating this woman and her ex-old man was crazy. He threatened to kill my buddy. So, he acquired a gun the way that felons do,” Shane says. “This dude comes in the house, kicks in the door, just like the song says, and my buddy pulled his gun out.”

“I was talking to him on the phone one day,” Shane continues, “and he said, ‘Dog, they changed my name.’ I said, ‘What to?’ He said, ‘215634.’ Then he said, ‘It’s just like the hollers and the streets in here. You just gotta hustle.’”

Shane jotted down the phrase and wrote “215634” with his cowriters Adam Wood and Ben Chapman. “I didn’t know how to tell that story because I never did any hard time, but when he said that, I knew what it was like to be out in the streets,” he says. “I know what it’s like to grow up in hollers and feel stuck.”

Since then, Shane has been performing shows at prisons and rehab centers, and he’s scheduling more. But his primary focus is on highlighting what he calls the “working-class struggle,” which includes everything from jail and homelessness to addiction.

“What I noticed back home was some of the guys that had the worst problems, that are in and out of jail and rehab, are good ol’ boys who hang drywall, insulation, drive a truck,” Shane says. “I was there for the beginning of it in the Nineties when everything was cool. Then meth made its way into small towns, and now it’s fentanyl and heroin. It’s taking the working class out.”

Like the blue-collar messaging of his favorite brand, Troll Co. — “Dirty Hands, Clean Money” — he wants to remind kids that there’s opportunity, honor, and cash to be made in the trades. “All of us was tricked by CSI into going to college thinking we could be forensic pathologists, you know?” he says. “If I see young people, I tell them, ‘If college ain’t for you, don’t fall into the trap. Get an apprenticeship with a carpenter or go to trade school, learn how to paint a car.’”

We finish our lunch and walk back to the Bronco. Shane doesn’t have any reason to leave in haste, at least not this time, and we start talking about his tattoos as he drives me back to my car. He has “Fast” inked on the top of one hand and “Slow” on the other to remind him to “live fast and walk slow.” “If this music shit don’t pan out, I can direct traffic like a motherfucker,” he quips.

“Hey, I got something for ya,” Shane says at a stoplight, reaching into the backseat and pulling a Damascus CD out of his day bag. He hands it to me and tells me to read the inscription. It says: “You got this if I didn’t kill ya… congrats.”

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