Musically, Shura is an enigmatic beast. She remixed her own disco-infused pop into the echoing and eerie 'Space Tapes', and has worked with everyone from rapper Talib Kweli to Mumford & Sons' banjoist Winston Marshall. Checking out her Twitter, you’d be forgiven for struggling to match up her sleekly produced tracks with the scattier side of her personality.
On any given day, her online content veers from political commentary to pictures of her kittens. It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s difficult to stay on track when interviewing her, and our conversation is no exception.
Discussion of queerness in the industry ricochets from influence to influence, a constellation encompassing Tegan and Sara, campy 90’s films, and the importance of pride. She seems amused when we run out of time, suggesting that this might be a relatively common occurrence. Conceding to a few extra minutes of discussion, we rounded off with some concise thoughts on her album 'Nothing’s Real', out this coming Friday, July 8th.
"...I would feel really dishonest writing a song that was really sassy, or really confident, because I’m not a supremely confident being. I think that’s what people find interesting about what I do; it’s very different lyrically..."
COUP DE MAIN: Many of your song titles are focused on the idea of not knowing where you stand, such as 'What’s It Gonna be?', 'Indecision', and '2shy'. What is it about this indecisiveness that you find so inspiring?
SHURA: I think for me, one - I suffer from it a lot, so it’s something that I experience. Being someone who writes about things that they go through, that’s a recurring theme. Also, because - I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, having to talk to people about it - pop music often deals with subject matter like breakups, or you have songs that are like, "I will love you forever," or "you’re so hot right now," or "I really feel you," or "We should be together." There aren’t that many songs that are like, "I just walked into the room and now I have nothing to say because I feel so awkward because I fancy you so much." There’s not as many songs that deal with that awkward bit about love; about how you can really have such a huge crush on someone that actually is completely disabling. Pop music used to empower you and make you feel like you are capable of telling that person you fancy them, or telling that person to bugger off, or whatever it is. I am just really interested in exploring the weird, awkward parts of it - probably because that’s who I am!
CDM: It’s interesting to listen to songs about the tentativeness and hesitation surrounding relationships, instead of commitment and aggressive attraction. Do you feel like you wear your heart-on-your-sleeve musically?
SHURA: I think it is absolutely me wearing my heart on my sleeve. Also, it is me. It is just who I am. I would feel really dishonest writing a song that was really sassy, or really confident, because I’m not a supremely confident being. I think that’s what people find interesting about what I do; it’s very different lyrically, to something like Taylor Swift, or Katy Perry. It’s like a John Hughes film. A lot of people liken my music to John Hughes, which is kind of hilarious, because I’ve just done a video that’s inspired by John Hughes and 'The Breakfast Club'. It is me just being me, and not pretending that I’m really cool.
CDM: We think you’re pretty cool!
SHURA: People think I’m cool - it’s a virtue of my job! In real life I’m absolutely not cool, but I think if you have the courage of your convictions, and you’re confident in yourself, people will maybe think that you are even if you’re really a massive dork. Everyone has a different job where, to someone else, your job is really fancy! To a lot of people, my job is really fancy, so they’re like, "Oh, whoah, you’re a musician, wow!" Some people go to you, "Oh my god, you’re a journalist!" And some people go, "What, you’re a therapist? That’s incredible!" So everyone, to a certain extent, has other people that you get impressed by, without even having a proper conversation or getting to know them. You’re just like, "Oohhh, they’re a bit fancy!"
CDM: Most of your songs have been about love and relationships, but in the 'What’s It Gonna Be?' video you chose to focus on these topics in a queer context. Queer fans such as myself, have been really excited to see ourselves represented in pop music in a non-bait-y way. Do you feel that there’s a responsibility that comes with representing a minority group? Or are you just being true to yourself?
SHURA: I think it is absolutely just being true to myself. It’s not a political decision. When I made the video for 'Touch' I had no money. I wanted to make this beautiful video of people kissing in slow-motion, so that whoever was watching it could go, 'Okay, this is that last kiss between a couple who are about to break up, or the first kiss between a couple that are in love.' I wanted it to be ambiguous. I just asked everyone that I knew who wanted to do it. Because I’m gay, and a lot of my friends are gay. By virtue of using my friends it became this very queer video. I don’t think that’s how it should be, that someone makes a decision to include people, in the way that no-one makes a decision to include hetero[sexual] people in a script. You include your normal, you write in what’s normal to you. That’s what I’ve done with videos like 'Touch' or 'What’s It Gonna Be?', and it’s been amazing to see the response. A few people said, "Petition for a full-length movie!" And, "Where was this when I needed it ten years ago?" And, "I would 100% watch this film!" I suddenly thought, let me think of a gay high-school movie, and I can’t! I can’t actually think of one. I can think of 'But I’m A Cheerleader', but even that’s incredibly silly, incredibly stylised, and it doesn’t happen in a high-school. It happens outside, because they get removed from it, they get taken away - that’s the whole point; taken away because they’re gay, to 'fix' themselves. I just put it in because it’s normal to me. It was really nice speaking to a couple of my friends about it - it’s always nice speaking to people about how great you are! - but they said, 'What’s really lovely about your music video is that it’s so normal, and so carefree.' It’s like, 'Oh, yeah, that happens, so what? Now we’re riding a bike, now we’re eating popcorn, or spilling popcorn, or whatever.' I’m really glad that I’ve had so many messages from queer boys and girls and men and women, going, 'I’m so happy you made this video, it really helped me. It makes me feel normal, it makes me almost cry.'
CDM: It’s becoming more common for mainstream artists to play up to gay fanbases and deliberately queer-bait them with misleading answers/quotes in interviews - it’s become 'fashionable' in the same way that it’s good for business to be a feminist popstar. Do you think this insincere gay branding makes it easier or harder for actual queer popstars to express themselves truthfully?
SHURA: I think you can argue both points. It’s a really interesting topic. I did an interview with Tegan and Sara recently and they were talking about Katy Perry’s 'I Kissed A Girl'. On one level, it’s amazing. It’s incredible that a popstar of that size can sing a song and make some people feel like, maybe this is fine then. That’s great. On the flip-side to that coin, you can be like, you’re just using something to sell. You can argue both points. There’s a lot in the media at the moment about racial appropriation - does that also apply to sexuality? I don’t really know. What I think, is that we’re at a stage where culturally, maybe it’s seen as cool to talk about being gay or to appeal to people who are queer. Suddenly now, we have - post Ellen Page coming out - there’s almost this cool Los Angeles lesbian scene and it’s almost a trend. Maybe that’s not great, really, but at the same time maybe that’s the stage that we have to go through to make it 'normal' in a way, in ten years time. For instance, me having to speak to journalists about my sexuality, or the fact that there’s queerness in my videos, I’m happy to do it, because it’s just what I have to do by virtue of being an artist putting out a record in 2016. Maybe, in fifteen years - because people like me, people like Tegan and Sara, people like Troye Sivan, are open about it and have to talk about it a lot - it just won’t be part of the conversation anymore, because it’s not weird.
CDM: Do you think our kids are going to watch stuff and not necessarily be grateful for the representation, because of the normality of it?
SHURA: Yeah, which would be great! It would be great if our kids weren’t grateful, in a way, because it was just normal to them. Obviously I think it’s really important to look back at your history, and that’s why I think things like Pride are important. It’s not necessarily about your experience of life, it’s not about whether you find it difficult to be gay; it’s about the fact that people have fought over hundreds of years for this to be okay, and also that there are many countries in the world where it’s still not, and it’s very dangerous to be gay. Hopefully it’s not something that people need to talk about one day, but I totally don’t mind talking about it either. The fact that I can ever be open about it is amazing! It’s great that I don’t have to hide it, but also it would be really nice if, in twenty years, it’s not even a thing. It’s really funny actually, I was about to do my interview with Tegan and Sara and I was like, I don’t really want to talk about the fact that they’re twins or the fact that they’re gay, and we spent pretty much the whole conversation just talking about how much we hated the word 'lesbian'! The thing is, about the word 'gay' or 'queer', you can go, "You’re queer," or, "You’re gay," but you can’t go, "You’re lesbian." You have to go, "You’re a lesbian." You’re a thing. It is really strange!
CDM: ‘White Light’ is the longest track you have released. There is a massively condensed radio edit - did you find it difficult to cut out bits of the song that you care about?
SHURA: Yeah, of course! I remember going to [record label] Polydor and being really excited, like, "I’m going to give them this seven-and-a-half-minute song, and tell them it’s a single and they have to deal with it." I was really proud and excited, and they were like, "Great!" And then they just chopped the end off. I was like, "For fuck’s sake! Of course that’s what they were going to do." I totally understand why there is a radio-edit version - I’m not a huge, incredibly famous person, I can’t command seven minutes of radio time on every station! For me it was really important to make a song that was like that and I totally understand why there is a radio-edit. I just pretend the radio-edit doesn’t exist; the extended version is the song. It shouldn’t even be called the extended version, it should just be called 'White Light', because that’s what the song is, and then the other one should be 'the chopped-off version'.
CDM: Your album has tracks titled '(I)' and '(II)', can you tell us a bit more about these and why you chose those titles?
SHURA: It just breaks up the record. It’s an intro, and then it’s a segue halfway through the record. I called them '(I)' and '(II)' because I guess they’re not songs, in a sense. I could have given them titles, but it felt nice to give them numbers. The reason I gave them numbers was also because I’m twin one and [my twin brother] Nick is twin two. The second one is very much about him and the first one is very much about me, in terms of the samples that I’ve used from family recordings. It’s literally meant to be a representation of me and my twin brother. I was twin one and he was twin two - I was born first.
CDM: And lastly, Coup De Main is based in New Zealand, do you have any plans to tour here anytime soon?
SHURA: I definitely want to visit on this record, 100%. Are there any solid plans in at the moment? No. That is absolutely our intention, to go there, in what would be your Summer. We will see, but it’s really far away and I really hate flying! I’m going to be an absolute mess when I land!
Shura’s debut album, 'Nothing's Real', is out on July 8th. Click here to pre-order via iTunes now.
Watch the 'What's It Gonna Be?' music video below...