Melbourne’s own, Shelley Segal has been one busy singer-songwriter. The spirited artist made the move over 12 months ago to go and live in LA, and in that time she has been writing with different artists, performing constantly, has opened her own publishing company (already locking down a sync deal) and has been touring the US to promote her latest offering, ‘Somebody Like You’. We chat to Shelley on her return to Australia and her new release.
Hey, thanks for chatting with Forté. Congratulations on the release of ‘Somebody Like You’ and the subsequent tour. This song has a lot of raw energy and a rockier aesthetic, how much of a departure was this from your usual more mellow tones?
Thank you – I’m loving the tune and the feel of this new record. I’ve always had a bit of rock in my folk. Past tracks from my first album like ‘House With No Walls’ and ‘I Don’t Believe In Fairies’ are pretty much as heavy. I think what feels different with this track is that it’s my first band record. I’ve worked with session musicians for my previous releases but I’ve been playing with this awesome crew for a few years now and touring interstate together and I think that definitely comes out and adds something really special to this set of tunes. Shout out to these monster musos: Haydn Meggit (drums), Rod Bustos (bass), Lauren Bell (Vocals/flute) and Adam Rigley (keys/synths) and special guests for the recording XANI (electric violin) and Daniel Wayne Spencer (electric guitars).
The lyrics for this song are beautiful yet quite heartbreaking. This emotional depth has resulted from some traumatic experiences in your past, was it a cathartic experience to write this track?
Yes, it was incredibly cathartic as songwriting often is. The song is about family interfering in a relationship. I come from a traditional Jewish religious family and upbringing. When I was 18, my family told me that I needed to break up with my then-partner because he wasn’t Jewish. When I sing this song, I feel like I’m standing up for myself, for my love and my choices and for the freedom to do so. It makes me feel powerful when I sing it. I think the heaviness and rawness of the track compliments the empowerment of the lyrics, the strength but also the rawness of the hurt.
Born in Melbourne and now based in Los Angeles, how do you find the move has affected your music? How does the music scene compare to home for you?
A really big difference is the collaborative approach that songwriters have here. Writers of all genres are wanting to collaborate to expand their networks and their catalogues by writing together and it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve written so many new songs with so many different artists and writers. It opens me up to directions that I would never have taken on my own and introduces me to varied aesthetics and tools for writing. It’s been a massive growth and learning curve for me. I came here to work on my career as an artist but also to grow as a song writer. I’ve had international artists recording my songs – I’ve written for an Emmy award winning web series. It’s been incredible. The songs I write on my own for myself as an artist haven’t changed in their direction or intention but I would definitely say I’ve absorbed and learned a lot so it will be interesting to see how that comes through.
The release of ‘Somebody Like You’ is quite timely in regards to the ‘Yes Vote’ results in Australia. Do you find that your song can resonate with the struggles of those in the LGBTI community?
I do find that it resonates – people have shared with me after shows or interviews. It’s analogous in that you are being told who you can love and how you can love. To hear that from the people closest to you is incredibly hurtful and painful. Individuals, families and groups can be afraid of those they consider different from themselves; a different religion, a different race, a different sexuality or orientation, gender or religion. All these things that can provide a rich difference can also be a source of fear and divisiveness. I think we are moving towards more acceptance, even if it doesn’t feel like it in our personal lives, the overall arc is moving that way. The outcome is something so precious to celebrate but there was also so much hatred and vitriol that came out of the campaign. Progress won’t happen on it’s own and so we need to keep fighting and to push back against hatred, discrimination and prejudice, where ever we find them.
Your work to date has led you to collaborations with highly respected performers such as Carl Cox and Adam Levy. How do you feel about connecting musically with artists of such ilk? Is it daunting, exciting or both?
It’s very exciting and it’s a big honour to work with really talented musicians, whether they are household names or not. Both of those artists made me feel very comfortable working with them and so I didn’t need to feel nervous. I did get very excited when Adam mentioned he’d worked on Ani Difranco’s last album (swoon). I did feel nervous about collaborating but I think that’s because it was early in my career of co-writing. Doing something new for the first few times can be daunting for me.
You have been very vocal and outspoken in regards to your support of the Atheist movement, especially on your album ‘An Atheist Album’. Do you find that your strong stance is a constant source of inspiration?
Absolutely. I’m very passionate about putting my worldview and my politics into my music. For me, that’s a huge part of what it’s about. Political artists and protest songs were always what resonated with me most deeply as a young person. I loved pouring over lyrics that would challenge me, that would make me think or give me a new perspective. Music can provide so much. It can express what we cannot say with words, it can make us move, dance and feel alive. I try to make music that does all of that but most of all I like music that makes me think and so that’s a main focus of the music that I write. Challenging and leaving my religion was a difficult time in my life but I’m so grateful for that period, for what it taught me about questioning and being skeptical and the drive that it brought it to my music.
As with any outspoken performer, there are always detractors. Do you find you received more vitriol in response to your anti religion standpoint or your misinterpreted lyrics from the song ‘Morocco’?
I’ve learned a lot from all of the backlash I have received. Namely that no matter what you say if you put yourself out there you are going to get it every time. I expected to receive criticisms and negativity from my first (atheist) album but then I received the crazy response from ‘Morocco’ which was even worse. Hundreds of insults and angry threats. After that I released my body positive single ‘Sidelined’ only to receive amazingly crude and insulting responses from an online hate group that targets overweight people with a goal of keeping them out of the media. I’ve become pretty immune to it now and am mostly able to ignore it. Except for the ridiculous ones that I screen shot and share with my friends. I wish trolls could know how much they made me laugh sometimes. I’m sad that people like that are out there but I’m able to not take it to heart. I know that it’s always going to come so I just have to really think things through and if I can back my thought process and the resulting work then I have nothing to worry about. If I’m wrong I can learn from that openly and honestly but I can still stand by my work and I can hold my head high.
Thanks again for chatting with us, any hints about what you’re working on at the moment?
Well, I’ll be back for some VIC shows this January which I’m really looking forward to. I have the upcoming EP that ‘Somebody Like You’ is from which is a pretty epic record, I’m really excited about it. I’m also working on a collaborative project with a biologist from Washington State about the Puget Sound Watershed. It’s a conservation EP that will combine with animation and 3D elements to educate people about the Puget Sound and the animals that live there! My 9 year old Captain Planet fan self would be proud.
When & Where: Yard Bird, Bendigo – December 29 & Cally Hotel, Warrnambool – January 4.
Written by Daniel Jubb