An entrancing voice and charismatic presence are the perfect ways to define singer/songwriter Shira and her recent show at Rockwood Music Hall on January 26. Shira captivated the audience by playing tracks from her upcoming album, Subtle Creature, as well as chatting with the crowd in between each song.
Sitting on the stage basked in dark red and purple lights, she crooned and jammed out on guitar, breaking from her normal routine of sampling and electronic influences. She played singles like “Heartbeat is a Prisoner,” “Dark Snow,” and “Tiptoe,” making sure to provide a background on the process behind the songs and what they meant to her. It was a more intimate setting for what felt like a personalized show—watching her perform and engage with fans, you recognize immediately she isn’t holding back; she has an honest connection with music, and delivers it as such.
After seeing Shira perform, I pretty much knew I had to talk to her, even if just for a little bit. Luckily I got the chance to have a brief email interview with her, which can be seen below.
Nicole Ortiz for AudioFemme: I remember at your show you mentioned that you have an album coming up. Can you tell me about the album and the work that went into it? What’s your favorite song on the album?
Shira: I’m releasing “Subtle Creature” this August 2016! I’m so excited about it. It’s been two years in the making. I wrote primarily on the Roland-404 Sampler, then added a ton of textures: drums, electric guitars, synth, cello, horns. It’s turned out to be a really undefinable, genre-switching album. I got to work with some of my favorite artists: the sister-trio Joseph, Shannon F. of Light Asylum, Neon Music of Youthquake, Jamila Woods, Mal Devisa, and cellist Emily Dix Thomas. My favorite song is the title track. It’s eight minutes long—the longest song I’ve ever written and produced. It really got away from me and started doing it’s own thing. It’s got like four verses and two choruses and tons of swimmy instrumental sections! I tried to reign it in and hold it down, but it refused. I like work that guides the way and demands you to stretch. Now when I listen to it, I hear an epic. I trusted where it was going (eventually!), and it lead me somewhere far vaster, cooler, stranger.
NO: I know you’ve been considering making another music video as well with a director whose work really spoke to you. What do you hope to show through this collaboration?
S: I recently saw the video for the song “Relief” by Wilder Maker directed by Evan Cohen. It’s an incredibly patient, inventive video. We live and work in such a fast-paced culture that, to see a video that sort of asks the viewer to lean in, that doesn’t beg or hit over the head, really stayed with me. I immediately got in touch with Evan. We’re both excited to get lost in the creative process together, to make something tender and unexpected.
NO: During your show, you mentioned a song about your grandmother and also spoke openly about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which resonated with me as I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. Do you think this awareness and openness come into play in your creating process? How do you think it affects your music?
S: If we’re lucky, our art makes us more honest. It demands us to look closer at ourselves and the world. There’s a realness, a rawness it desires. It acts like a friend who would never let us fool ourselves. I know that it’s a choice I make to reveal parts of my personal life, including my health, but in some ways I don’t feel I have a choice. To be quiet, or stealthy, about vital parts of my being feels like choking myself, my truth. It’s just a part of my nature—I feel compelled to be honest. I know that when we risk honesty, we reap intimacy. I have no shame about my mental illness, and I want to welcome others into the conversation. That’s why I speak about it. As for my music, it’s a literal record of my life—how amazing is that? To have a lifelong sonic diary. When I look back on my life, I’m excited to have literal “records” of 2002, 2006, 2010, and so on and so on. When I look back, I want to see/hear where I was at truthfully, not a costume of where I was at. This requires a certain willingness to be transparent and take risks.
NO: I see on your site that you also create poetry, art, offer classes, and have a zine—you’re kind of an artistic jack-of-all trades! Do you ever showcase these pieces as well? Which outlet do you feel the strongest connection with?
S: Each outlet fulfills a need. Sometimes I don’t want to talk or think or make a sound, so I draw. There’s a quiet, a privacy, that my whole being desires. That’s why I endeavored on my SQUARES project, a year-long visual diary built of 1 x 1 inch squares. To daily enter that quiet [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][and] just be with myself. Sometimes I need to untangle a moment that got stuck—often that’s where poetry comes in. I’m working on a poetry manuscript, “Odes to Lithium,” which is entirely composed of praise-poems to the medication I take. Nearly every poem in that collection is me running my hands along a moment of stigma, mistreatment, or misunderstanding and breathing new understanding into it, or at least acknowledgement. Then there’s music—that’s like getting set loose in a candy store. I just lose myself. I never had a sister, so maybe it’s a bit like that, having a sister—I make a sound, [and] it becomes separate from me, almost like another’s voice. There she is—I listen to her, I hear what she has to say, I feel less alone. Ultimately it’s all about connection. Connection to myself. Connection to others. The Zine, the classes I teach, the work—it all fosters that, just from different angles.
NO: Do you have any other upcoming shows planned, or are you going to tour anywhere?
S: Yes! I constantly play in New York. You can always check my site for updates. I just got back from a month-long Writing Residency at Vermont Studio Center after touring the Midwest with Andrea Gibson. I’m cooking up plans for spring and summer shows as I get closer to the album release.