In The Moment - With Shura

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In The Moment - With Shura

Noisey sat down with Shura to talk about her relationship with her own anxiety and awkwardness, and why she believes those things are an important part of her life.
July 29, 2016, 10:45am

Kopparberg believes that life's what you make it. That opportunity lives in every moment and all we have to do is be open to it. To see, do, feel and experience life to the fullest and share it with the people we love. There's even a saying for it in Swedish, Fånga Dagen. With the festival season upon us, In The Moment is a celebration of those artists who do it to the fullest. Those who have risen to where they are through creativity and ingenuity. Those who do it for the love of doing it. For our first instalment, Noisey sat down with Shura to talk about her career, her latest album and where's life taking her.

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You don't really associate the word 'awkward' with pop music. When you listen to the charts, you tend to hear lyrics about confident declarations of love or making the first move. For Shura, the Manchester born singer-songwriter (and producer), real-life just isn't like that. We're all plagued with doubts and fears - it's totally normal - and one way to be happy is to embrace these feelings as a natural part of life.

This is clear in her song "Touch", which gently unpacks the hesitations we all feel when love is thrust upon us. The track was a breakout hit in early 2014 - much to Shura's surprise - heaping on the pressure for her to release a debut album. Despite it all becoming too overwhelming at one point (she suffered a panic attack soon after "Touch" blew up), she seized the day and didn't disappoint. Nothing's Real came out earlier this year. If you sometimes feel like life isn't quite falling into place, then you'll identify with its approach to indecision and uncertainty. We caught up with Shura recently hoping to talk about her time in the Amazon spent walking a puma for eight hours a day (seriously!) and how she learnt everything she knows about production by teaching herself through Youtube tutorials, but true to form, she took things in a braver, less expected direction, and talked at length about her relationship with her own anxiety and awkwardness, and why she believes those things are actually an important part of her life.

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Hi Shura! Tell me about growing up - what were some of your musical influences?

My mum is Russian. She grew up in an era where she didn't have access to western music in the same way they do now. So it made her very curious about certain genres of music, so for instance my mum was really into Pink Floyd because growing up she didn't have access to it, so when she finally did it was very exciting for her. A lot of the bands that I grew up listening to were because of my mum rather than my dad, which would have been more obvious.

So because she had that music withheld from her for so long, it was really exciting to discover it all for the first time?

Yeah. Imagine having a banana for the first time - my mum can actually remember that! She just never had access before she came to England. I can't imagine that because I've always had exotic fruit, pineapple, mango, whatever, it's just a part of my upbringing. But my mum actually remembers the first time she ever ate a banana.

When did you first start writing songs?

I first tried writing songs the same time I started learning how to play music. I remember my dad always had guitars lying around - he played guitar and he played a bit of piano. When I was about 13 I thought I should try to play. I guess at 13 you're looking for an emotional outlet, you're a teenager, it's a bit awkward at school, you kind of want to be cool, and one of the things that I thought was super cool at that age was music. If i learned to play the guitar maybe I could fit in, or maybe I could be one of the cool kids. So I just decided to teach myself. I didn't suddenly become cool, but it did open up a new world to me which was really exciting.

From a musical perspective, did Manchester influence you in a way that, say, growing up in London wouldn't have?

That's definitely true. It has such a hugely rich musical heritage. When I was 16 or 17 I worked in a record store, and I was realling into The Smiths, and I really wanted to be in a guitar band. I make pop music now but that wasn't what I started out with. I was very into the social commentary and everything that Morrissey had to say, and the way that Johnny Marr played a guitar - it was all fascinating to me. A lot of that early fascination and obsession still applies to the music I make now.

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You've once described your music as 'awkward pop' - what do you mean by that?

Lyrically, I felt like pop music didn't really represent the kind of person I was. I felt that it was always supremely confident. It was always about empowering you and that felt very foreign to me - the idea of, say, going to a party and being all confident and hitting on someone. I wanted to make music that represented the kind of personality that I am, which is sort of shy and socially awkward. The pop music I make could be described as slightly more left field. I didn't make it in an expensive studio and I didn't make it with a very talented producer. A lot of it was done by me in my bedroom. It has sonic missteps. So I guess 'awkward pop' is representative of it not being this perfectly shiny thing.

Given all the sonic missteps and the sort of DIY approach, I'm guessing you never expected the reaction that 'Touch' got when it came out?

I didn't expect it at all. I think if I'd known I would've maybe waited a little bit longer before putting it out, and I would've prepared the rest of my career a little bit more and planned it around the success of that song. It was a demo. I put it on Soundcloud, I didn't put it on iTunes, I didn't put it on Spotify. So of course I was massively surprised. But then again that's just how it is. You can't predict that. I mean people sit down in so many meetings where they go, 'how do you make this go viral - what content do we need?' People can try and try and try to do that, but actually it's all guesswork, because if we knew the answer to that we'd be doing it all the time. We can't ever quantify or predict a reaction like that. I remember feeling like I'd dropped the ball - but in a fun way - and I was picking up all these pieces and being told to 'run!' It was very exciting but it was also like 'oh my sweet mother of God I've got no idea what i'm doing.

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Is album's title track Nothing's Real a reaction to the sudden success becoming too overwhelming?

It's really hard to say. Having been a person who's never had a panic attack to being someone who has, it was really difficult for me to figure out what the trigger was. I still have them now and again, but when I do I'm never panicking about anything, that's the great frustration. I'm not there like 'I wonder how people will review my records?' OK. BAM: panic attack. It's just very unexplained. But I'm sure that having that pressure to release something else after 'Touch' probably added to my anxiety. But the song 'Nothing's Real' wasn't about that. The song was just about ending up in hospital and not knowing what the fuck is going on.

When I listened to the album I felt like the overriding themes dealt with ideas of uncertainty and hesitation, which I think a lot of young people could identify with…

As a child you always think, 'by the time I'm twenty I'm going to know what I want to do and I'm going know who I am and I'm going to know what I want to be.' You just assume that when you get older everything's going to be easier. That's just not true. If anything I'm almost more confused than I was when I was 13 - about who I want be, or who I am even. Which is a kind of strange disconnect with what it is you imagine will happen. But I don't know if that's true of everyone.

Do you reckon it's possible to see those uncertainties and those anxieties in a positive light?

Definitely. I remember immediately after I had a panic attack I spoke to someone about it and I said 'I just feel so anxious and I feel like I want to go back to being this person that I once was, that made all those crazy decisions'. And then she said 'well, what have you done this last year?' 'Well, I released a song, I've been touring Europe, I've done this, I've remixed Jessie Ware, I've done that'. And she was like 'it sounds like you've been on a bit of an adventure. You're having an exciting time.'

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I thought actually you are right. Sometimes you can feel trapped and all it takes is a shift of perspective to go, hang on, I am still brave. I am still making decisions that are important. I am still going out and doing stuff, just in a totally different context. Sometimes you just need to shift your world view. It's not always a negative thing. That's why I ended up calling the album 'Nothing's Real'. I don't think about that experience [the panic attack] now as being incredibly negative, because it made me realise that I needed to deal with stress differently. It's not always bad news.

What sort of advice would you give to someone who's having those doubts and fears?

It's difficult because everyone's experience is so different - everyone's life is so different. But for me I found that just talking about it helped. It sounds really simple and obvious. But I just didn't talk about stress with anyone. So say when your friend is going through a breakup or relationship catastrophe, it's very easy to sit there and listen to them and just go 'how about this', 'have you thought about that' and 'what about this'. Whereas when you're the person going through it you're like 'this is irreparable!'

It's almost like you need to take a step back, step outside of yourself, and just be kind, and think well if I saw this person I'd say let's just sit down, have a tea, let's talk, relax. Whereas when it's happening to you, you think 'oh my God get a grip, I'm failing because I'm exhausted or I'm failing because I'm stressed.' it's like, nah. You have to have compassion for yourself. We aren't forgiving enough of ourselves.

Given all that's happened, has your outlook on life changed? Or do you still have the same worries sometimes?

I think I'll always have worries. That's totally normal. I don't know whether we have a sense of entitlement as humans that says we need to be happy 100% of the time, but we go through a lot of different journeys and periods in our life where it's ok to be down. But I did experience an incredible relief when the record came out. This thing had lived inside me since January. I knew what it sounded like but I was just waiting to hear what everyone else thought of it. It's a really weird emotion, like being in a little box with someone going, 'we're ready to go in 3,2,1', but that '3,2,1' lasts for months. I feel more relaxed, but I'm sure I'll worry about something again. It's normal. It's a normal human thing.

Read more 'In The Moment' articles here​​.