An Interview with Shura
On December 8th, Rescue Rooms will play host to Shura’s first Nottingham show, on her first full UK tour. In preparation, we chatted about touring, travelling, life after the BBC Sound Of poll, and the answer to the question everyone is asking- “has Shura released her album yet?”
Citing a range of influences, from Madonna to The National to Janet Jackson and Elton John, Shura’s unique sound is impossible to pin down. Mixing together elements of pop, indie, and R&B, Shura blends synths, guitars, keys, and soft, earnest vocals into her own brand of electro-pop, which has been remixed by bands such as Warpaint and Jungle. For fans of Jack Garratt, Jessie Ware, and Låpsley, or anyone who likes pop music that’s both pensive and danceable at the same time.
For people who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe it?
I would describe it as introspective awkward pop music with an indie leaning. I used to say that it’s a bit like an eleven year boy with an acoustic guitar trying to make music that sounds like Mariah Carey, but I don’t use an acoustic guitar so that’s flawed already; awkward pop generally in the vein of Grimes, I feel like she’s awkward pop too.
So you’ve recently been on tour in America, what’s that like? How do USA shows compare to UK shows?
It’s super exciting! It’s exciting and it’s weird being in places like New York and LA, because we see them in films all the time or even computer games! American crowds are interactive crowds compared to London. Places like Manchester are quite vibey, but London is quite “chin-strokey”. In London you have to impress because people there are like “Last week I saw Sigur Ros, so impress me!” Americans are super excited that you’re there. They know that you’re not there a lot so they like to chat and take selfies. It’s bizarre, I’ve been recognised in LA. Like, how do you know me?! I’m not even really famous!
Am I right in saying that this next tour is your first proper regional tour in the UK? Are you looking forward to it?
It’s super exciting! I’m a massive traveller, I love going to new places. I like to experience a city in the way that someone from that place would. I’ve been to Glasgow, and lived in Manchester for some time, but we’re going to some cities I’ve never been to before; Nottingham, Birmingham. I’m super excited because I’ve almost seen more of USA than I have of my own country. Doing this UK tour is important though, connecting with your homeland. Playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire is exciting because that’s where I live!
I think the first time I heard of your music was the BBC Sound of 2015 poll in January. How has life changed for you since then? Has there been a massive impact on your life or career in 10 months?
The Sound Of poll exposes your music to people who wouldn’t necessarily find it, be looking on Pitchfork or Fader. They can discover you and make a judgement. It isn’t just music fans judging, it’s the BBC, our biggest media organisation.
On some level it does change things, it wasn’t really until that happened that I ever got recognised on the street. It opens doors, because if you’re on the Sound Of poll you must not be absolutely terrible!
With stuff like that you have to take it with a pinch of salt. An organisation saying you’re brilliant is a great, great thing and it helps you a lot, but it doesn’t mean you are brilliant. That’s a really important thing to remember, to keep your head down and keep doing what you were doing before that happened. In the end it doesn’t mean anything. There are people who win, but there are people outside the poll who will go on to do great things and they’ll have never been given a Sound Of nod or a Brit Newcomer Critics’ Choice Award.
I’m a real believer in not believing in your own hype, I think as soon as you start believing in your own hype that’s when you get complacent. When you get complacent, you start releasing stuff that isn’t good, and no one wants you to release stuff that isn’t good. It’s important to do your best, otherwise there’s no point.
Talking of releasing things, I know your album has been in the works for a long time, dare I ask how close it is to being finished?
I’ve been working on it for a long time now. I’m kind of towards the end, 80% done. I’m a massive perfectionist, and I’m not very prolific or very fast. At the start of the year I thought that 2015 would be the year of the Shura album, but we know that’s not going to happen now. It’s funny how you miss your own targets. But, as long as you’re missing them because you want it to be the best it can be. You’ve got to make sure you get your stuff right.
If 5,000 people buy my album that means only, like, 10 of them are my family so that’s incredibly exciting! Even if 500 people buy my album, I’d be excited to be honest. I don’t know how excited Polydor would be, but I would be really happy because it means it’s not just my mum my dad and my twin brother!
You started out writing music in your bedroom, making music on a small scale. Since you’ve started touring more, being away from home, has your process changed?
Most of the gigs we do are flying gigs at the moment, we’re not on a tour bus so I don’t have a lot of time to write. I’m looking forward to getting on a tour bus next year and bringing a guitar and laptop and doing stuff on the road. But basically I’m writing when I’m not touring, interviewing, remixing, gigging. It gets hard, because you don’t want to be writing about being on the road, being lonely and missing home on your first album. You haven’t earned the right yet. No one really responds to those themes, because the people buying records aren’t on tour feeling lonely in the same way.
I’m not a very prolific writer, I write about 15 songs a year then pick which ones to use. I couldn’t write about stuff not happening to me. I have to find time to experience real life because the only thing that is interesting for me to write about is real life and human relationships. Its all well and good getting on well with your touring party, but no one will get your in jokes if you write a song about it.
When you put a song on the internet and 20 million people hear it, you don’t plan for that, so you just have to keep running and you have to change your plan of what the next 365 days is going to look like. I thought I’d release that song then maybe go away for 6 months and write my album, but once I got signed, I needed to put out something else. Then you have to write at least twice as fast as you did before. You have to make sure you write enough material to be on the record, and some to be released. It’s an interesting kind of puzzle.
This tour that we’re doing in December was meant to be earlier in the year, but I was still writing my record. It was a really horrible thing to have to do, pushing it back. I could have done my shows in October but not finished my record. Then all these people are coming to the show to see the same songs they’ve seen you play at every festival.
Or, I could wait a month and there’d be new songs, we’d be that much closer to a new record. People want to see you live, but they really want an album. There’s not a day that goes by when someone doesn’t ask when the album is going to be released- not yet!
I like your website hasshurafinishedheralbumyet.com!
I’m looking forward to flipping it! I went to my label asking if they minded spending £6 on the domain. They’re the best! £6 for a joke. You can’t take life too seriously!
Final question, If you could go anywhere on tour where would you go?
My dream is to go to South America. I spent 6 months there after I finished University to explore myself, and I’d love to have an excuse to return. I think it would be really fun to go to Russia to play because I’m half Russian.
Shura plays Rescue Rooms on Tuesday 8th December.