Cher Dunn is a music blogger extraordinaire from Philadelphia. Check out her interview with Shura below and follow her blog mylifeinsound.com!
It was love at first listen when I first heard British beauty Shura’s synth-pop ballad “2Shy.” I made sure to see her live at SXSW and after she made an airplane hanger filled with people dance I knew I had to get the scoop on how she got started, her writing process, and what she is currently listening to.
Shura’s music has a sense of nostalgia. You can tell that she’s an 80s-90s girl. I wanted to know when she started playing music and what inspired it. “Growing up, I come from a really creative family. We just had a lot of music in the house. I’m a twin. My mom said she had ‘two-in-one.’ She said to me, ‘I just didn’t know what to do with you. You get these two living creatures and you have to go home and I didn’t know what to do.’ We didn’t have iPads then,” Shura explains before continuing, “She just used to play music and dance with us because that would keep us entertained. So we used to dance to Madonna, Elton John, [and] Tina Turner. So I grew up with a lot of classic singer-songwriters being played in the house.” Not a bad line-up! Shura continued, “My dad had an Elton John-style piano that he painted all white. He used to sit us down and play. So we weren’t a musical family [in the sense that] none of us are trained musicians, but music was a big part of growing up.”
Shura turned thirteen when she finally decided to start writing and performing music. She explained, “My dad plays the guitar as well, so I think when I was thirteen–you know how you go through that phase when you’re thirteen and you’re like, ‘God, I’m being bullied at school for having big eyebrows and I haven’t started shaving my legs yet, and everyone thinks I’m weird… I’m going to be a badass!’ So was like ‘Oh, I’ll just pick up a guitar! I can be like the girls from Josie and the Pussycats- because that’s what I thought was a badass when I was thirteen. Just so skewed when you think about it.” She smiles slyly before continuing, “So I picked up a guitar and started writing, about puberty. The trials and tribulations of going through puberty at an all-girls school in Manchester.”
I had to ask Shura about the music scene in Manchester. I went there last year and found so many local musicians I thought were incredible at open mic nights. “That’s how I learned my stuff!” she exclaimed. Shura continued, “My dad used to drive me down to a pub when I was sixteen-so I was too young to be in there- and I would play a set at an open mic night and he would take me home so I could go to school the next day. Everyone was just like ‘Whoa! Why is she in here? She’s alright! But what the f***? She’s so young!'”
Manchester has been a music hub for some great bands including The Smiths, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Oasis and one of my favorite bands, Everything Everything. “You grow up with such an amazing musical heritage like The Smiths, all these amazing indie bands who have something really interesting to say. You can’t grow up in Manchester and not listen to The Smiths it’s just impossible. Obviously, The Hacienda and all the clubbing…it’s still got a great music scene now. It’s got a really interesting electronic music scene that’s coming out at the moment.”
But how did Shura find her sound? “The moment when it all started to make sense was when I stopped always writing on the guitar. I started playing synthesizers and I got really interested in synths. I started writing on an instrument I didn’t know and that opens up a whole different world for you.” She continued, “You don’t know what you’re playing. You just play what sounds good to you. Starting to write on something I didn’t understand probably was the moment where it brought everything I learnt as an acoustic singer-songwriter and everything I learnt in terms of doing remixes and producing. It was like the glue that put everything together. I could still have guitars- but it’s kind of like, I guess like the ‘sandwich bread,'” Shura interrupts herself, then laughs “such a boring way of describing…’sandwich bread’? Am I drunk?” SXSW is a rough enough week of survival as a music fan, I always wonder how artists survive running around the city playing so many shows with so much free alcohol at every venue.
“You know, I feel really lucky I’ve played so few shows. I’ve played five. My friend’s band HINDS have played fifteen!” she emphasizes before continuing, “They had like four a day! I had two yesterday and that was intense. We came here to this hotel in between and I slept on a sofa for 20 minutes, [thinking] ‘where am I going to get this energy for this show from?’ The thing is- as soon as you get on stage, even if you’re sick and you’ve got a cold, you forget about it five minutes before you go on stage because you are so nervous, excited, and you’ve got a really obvious task to perform. Then everything sort of goes away.” Everything that comes with touring and playing such an expansive festival seems to be worth it when she’s on stage. “The in-between bits can be kind of hard and exhausting, but the shows just happen and you know from the second chord what the vibe of the show is going to be,” she said.
After writing all her music on her own, I wondered what is was like putting her band together. “It’s so important with bands to want the same things from a night. So we’re all quite well attuned to one another. Sometimes we’ll be like, ‘let’s go out and head-bang to Courtney Barnett! Or, we’ll go, ‘Can we go home and just drink beers and chill the f*** out?” We both laugh before I told her she just mentioned two of my favorite things. “What, Courtney Barnett? Have you seen her here? I got her drummer’s drumstick! Can you see that red mark at the end of my finger? That’s a splinter from the drumstick,” she says. Shura then explains, “The thing is, I was so drunk and I was right at the front head banging as if I was fifteen again…with my friend Phoebe who is now covered in mud…don’t know where she was last night. Luke the guitarist in my band was like, ‘Oh yeah, here’s the drumstick from Courtney Barnett,’ and I was like ‘What? I totally forgot that I’d done it, but I was like flying for this drumstick in my drunken stupor. But yeah, she’s great I saw her and HINDS this year who I think are brilliant. They’re wicked. But Courtney [Barnett]’s such a badass. She’s got such a swagger on stage. It’s really nice to see a girl go up [on stage] and just kick butt.”
She continued, “We have this band that’s doing really well in the UK called Royal Blood and it’s kind of rock-pop, and everyone’s like, ‘this is so badass!’ and I’m like, ‘Go and see St. Vincent or Courtney Barnett and tell me who’s more badass because 100% it’s the ladies.'”
SXSW had so many incredible female-fronted and all female bands playing it was hard to fit them all in the week’s schedule. But playing festivals herself, Shura noticed the lack of female artists in this summer’s festival line-up. “There’s so many festivals where there is only four girls playing. I could put on a whole festival of just girls and it would be so good. You know what? I would like to have some boys there too because I want to have Tame Impala and I want to have The War on Drugs. But I guess Kevin Parker [of Tame Impala] has got really long hair…” she laughs. That festival sounds amazing. Someone make it happen.
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