Welcome to a brand new spin-off from PopMatters’ Brits in Hot Weather feature, cunningly titled Brits in Hot Weather Presents. The idea is to delve a little deeper into the musical souls of the artists we have featured so far and cleave out some tantalising titbits for your delectation. First up, we have singer-songwriter Eliza Shaddad.
Shaddad’s debut album, Future is an achingly tender yet fiercely resolute collection of beautifully realised songs. Shifting from classic indie to crunchy grunge to shimmering dream-pop, it’s a rich musical feast that highlights Shaddad’s varied influences and inspirations. Displaying an artistic depth that can take even seasoned artists years to find, Future marks Shaddad out as a very special songwriter indeed. Now, she’s gearing up for the release of her follow-up EP with the release of new single “Girls”. Here Shaddad tells us a little more about her new material and reflects on her career to date.
What was the first album you fell head over heels in love with?
Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. My big sister was obsessed, and I followed suit. I couldn’t get over the open rawness of the lyrics and the power of the whole sound; it was so emotive. We used to scream/sing it in our bedrooms with the volume so high.
When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I was singing from day dot and writing from eight years old, and I’ve pretty much always been involved in performing, but I didn’t really see music as a realistic career for ages. I’d studied philosophy and moved to Spain for a year to teach English before I realized it was something I wanted to pursue professionally.
Was it easy for you to let people hear your first compositions?
Ha, yes. I wrote a song at eight all about unrequited love, which I sang quite unashamedly to my school in Warsaw during an assembly.
At what point did you think you could make a go of it as a solo artist?
I wasn’t very happy in Spain, and I did a lot of thinking about what I truly wanted to do with my time, realized it was music, and just decided to try then and there. I came back to the UK and applied to study jazz at a Conservatoire in London, learned loads about music, met lots of amazing musicians, and step just followed step.
Looking back at your debut album, Future, did it do everything you wanted it to?
It’s pretty hard for anything to do everything I want it to as my hopes and aims are so high, but Future has opened so many doors it’s been really amazing. The fans and the press were so supportive, and that’s been hugely important to me and my career. Since it came out, I’ve done a bunch of touring, including our first-ever shows in the USA, and working with lots of brilliant new people. More than that, though, I guess it felt like a real line in the sand about me as an artist, and that’s been almost the most exciting thing. I felt like everything leading up to it was part of this statement I had yet to make, and somehow having this album out has made me feel really free – like I’ve proven something, and now I can do anything.
What do you think you learned about yourself in the past year or so since Future came out?
I’ve had a bananas year actually – a lot of change – moving house, moving city, changing production & recording process, parting ways with my long-term collaborators, and label Beatnik Creative. It’s been full of upheaval, and I’ve had to make a lot of pretty scary calls on my own. But I’ve found new ways to make music that means something to me, and a whole new team to release it, and I guess achieving that has given me a kind of welcome confidence that I know what I’m doing.
Now you’ve had time to live with the songs from Future, how has your relationship changed with that group of songs?
I listened to the record for the first time in ages recently, and it’s always funny how a little time mellows your feelings. I obsess so much over every decision, and it’s obviously all such personal material, that it’s hard to be anything like objective when you’re fresh from making it.
Can you tell us the idea behind new single “Girls”?
It’s about having the kind of deep friendship that means you can see through the deepest bullshit.
How did the song start out, a melody, a riff, etc.?
Girls started with a riff. It’s a riff I’ve been messing with for ages, years in fact, and I had this chorus going round and round, I changed the verses dozens of times.
Can you describe the typical journey of a song from the idea in your head to the finished product?
Most of my songs start sort of concurrently. I’ll have a bunch of themes and words being written on the one hand, and then a lot of riffs being played around with on the other. It’s sort of an emotional puzzle, and through a lot of playing around, the two will come together. Except for those times that a song comes out in one piece straight from the guitar riff, they’re not so normal, though. Generally, if I start bawling while I’m writing it, I think I’m tapping into something worth saying.
How does your new material differ from Future?
A lot of the new EP was actually written fairly close to the album, so it’s similar in some ways, in terms of influences, but whereFuture was very much about one person, and one situation, the EP Sept~Dec is about other people. It’s got a wider scope, and it’s also been recorded quite differently. Future was made in a huge live studio with loads of gear and quite short recording bursts, whereas Sept~Dec has been more of a slow burn, tinkering from a home studio with producer Ben Jackson,
Musically, what were the touchstones for you when making your forthcoming EP?
I think my traditional influences such as Tori Amos, Jewel, and Hole almost always shine through the writing. But production-wise, I guess I was listening to a lot more downtempo stuff like John Frusciante, Kacey Musgraves, and Khruangbin when it came to recording this year, and that’s informed the style too.
Did you ever find yourself going too far down the rabbit hole in terms of trying to find the right sound or getting down exactly what you wanted?
Always. Literally, every decision is obsessed over, which isn’t very healthy. I walk a fine line of not pissing people off by being too perfectionist. But in my experience, it’s a weird combination of every decision along the way that successfully makes the record you have in your head. So I think ultimately it’s worth the frustration. But I am trying to relax a bit.
What are the main ways in which you think have progressed on your new material? Writing, understanding, composition, structure.
It’s a weird one to answer as I don’t really think about it like that ever. I aim to write something that resounds emotionally with me and other people. I’m not too fussed about the structure etc. In fact, I’m probably under-academic with songwriting because it’s so tied to how I feel. But I guess with the newer material, I have felt freer to experiment, which is fun and has no doubt affected the composition.
What memorable advice have you been given by other artists?
One thing I remember very well was from theatre director Adrian Jackson from a creative residency a couple of years ago. He demonstrated that if you made retuning your guitar into a show, rather than a frantic please-no-one-pay-attention-to-this moment on stage, then everyone would be calm and relaxed about it. And I think that every time I start getting flustered in a too-long silence onstage:)
What advice would you give someone just starting out?
Haha. I’d need about 24 hours with them. I’d say to get together a body of work that feels like you – like you and you alone, and then the rest of it follows that.
What are the best and worst things about being a touring solo artist?
It’s a lot of responsibility, and that can sometimes suck because you imagine a tour is when you get to just think about playing music. But it’s crazy full-on, and if you’re helping with driving and TMing, then it’s a lot more than just fun shows. But also the sense of achievement and joy when you meet people out on the road who’ve traveled from far away to hear you sing, that’s magic, and it feels especially personal because of being a solo artist.
Who would be your dream collaborator(s) and why?
I’m pretty obsessed with the music of John Frusciante at the moment. His music, the space, the notes, the style and the clarity of the songwriting, and how experimental it can get. Super inspiring. So I think that would make me very, very happy.
What would be your three desert island records?
Ah, very hard to choose three. Right now, I’d take the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack from Baz Luhrman’s film. That collection of songs has been a big influence, and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of listening to the variety. Perhaps Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. There’s enough lyrical sustenance there for many years. And I reckon I’d take a jazz album like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and try and remember all my jazz tutorials and become an absolute beast at harmony on the long lonesome days.
“Girls” is out now. Catch Shaddad live next at Pop Brixton on 6th November 2019.