A Conversation on Self-Care for Artists with Shamir and Weaves' Jasmyn Burke

The two musicians discuss self-nurturing and how important that is for artists during this current, decidedly bleak time.

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Dec 12 2016, 3:45pm

All photos by the author

Though the dance pop from Shamir might not seem to have much in common with Weaves ' weirdo punk, the two artists are helping lead a DIY charge into the mainstream. Both take traditional songwriting conventions and turn them around, stretching them to new places: for example, Weaves' "Shithole" is a thematically dark punk track that is distinctly rooted in pop and Shamir creates spritely and earnest electro-pop on tracks like "On the Regular." Recently in Philadelphia, I joined the two musicians on a night out to see New York's Mitski perform at the First Unitarian Church—an example of how the independent nature of the City of Brotherly Love is leaking into the way we think on a daily basis. Afterward, we cozied up at a spot down the street called El Rey to talk about something that can't escape from any of our minds: the shadow of Donald Trump's hair stretching itself across America, and what that means for music. Both Shamir and Weaves' Jasmyn Burke shared their thoughts on why, in this daunting political climate across North America, it's vital to understand the importance of self-care and love, and how art can play a role in that way of thinking.    

Noisey: To start things off, how do you prioritize what you need and not get caught up in bad energy?
Jasmyn Burke: I think you just have to try and put yourself first. It's hard on the road because you're always performing and you have to be "on" a lot of the time. I think you have to just make a point of relaxing and taking a nap, just thinking about little things that you enjoy. On the road I'll go by myself to get a cup of tea and just go to a bookstore. Just do things that make you feel good and make you feel like a human because tour can be intense.  
Shamir: When I'm on tour I normally like to explore where I'm at, walk around, find places to eat. It's what I call mastur-dating, which is when I just go somewhere and have a date with myself. Get away from everyone. Now that I'm off tour I have more time. Being off tour you wake-up like "what do I do next?!" It feels like you have nothing to do but you be also have a lot to do, that in itself can be hard because then you get used to this pushed routined. Now I have to get myself together. It's hard.  

What does self-care mean to you? What comes to mind when you hear those words.
Burke: It's funny because when you say that I just think of soap and creams. I just feel like those help calm me down. Get a little coconut oil going and just relax on your bed. But also taking care of your mind and your body and feeding it properly. You can get into this rut of sitting around a lot on the road, you have a lot of downtime. I bring a book every tour. I'm reading Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, which is amazing. It's nice to have books and give yourself nice facials. I love soap. I just really love a beautiful smelling soap to bring on the road. A soap that reminds me of home when I'm feeling homesick. What about you?
Shamir: Self-care has been a huge thing for me lately, or at least in the past year. When we think self-care we think outer: being healthy, keeping your skin together, all of that. But I think it's so much more of a mental thing first. I became so unhealthy because I wasn't mentally together and would binge eat or drink more, or whatever and that's when I started to gain weight. Once I stopped going mad and got my mind right then my body got right. Mental health should be a priority, because then everything else falls along. Once I was out of my slump and was off tour, I wasn't drinking as much. I'm gluten intolerable but would still eat gluten. I'm very strict about it now. I drink kombucha. I do all that stuff just because I want to! Another big thing that helps me be centered is having real friends, especially in this industry where everyone wants something from you. I try and keep real and honest people around me. People who like me for me. I'm a fucking human!

Everything is so cross-pollinated with the internet between the pop worlds and the indie worlds. Do you feel that you're expected to keep up with these major label artists who have more resources?   
Shamir: A lot of people think I'm weird because even though I'm an independent artist I have pop music appeal, so they think the next step is for me to want to play stadiums and take over the world, but when I started making music my bedroom I didn't do it for the fame. I just wanted it to resonate with people and so that already surpassed my expectations. Now knowing that I have even the cult following that I have, I just want to focus on my art and making good art, putting that out into the world. It's not a competition. I wanna give a shout out to Anne Donahue who wrote about how older pop artists are all about beefs but the younger pop stars now are more chill with each other. It's so true. I toured with Troye Sivan. I'm tight with Halsey. Alessia Cara is the fucking sweetest.  We're all on different levels but we're all just trying to push each other to be great. The older generation always wants to make it a competition like Hunger Games. It's really gross. I think the new generation is going to change the music industry in general and make it more of an art space.
Burke: We really don't sell albums anymore, so there is more of a community-based element happening. You can't really be in music for the money, especially if you're an indie artist. I don't think artists will have that sort of lifestyle again so it's much more communal and about spreading love. It's funny because people see your internet life, see you have tons of plays on YouTube and everyone assumes you're rich.
Shamir: Now we literally have to rely on making good art. That's the reward.

There is this conversation about expectations, whether it's those of fans or critics, that aren't necessarily realistic. In the past, there was these larger than life characters—like Bowie or Prince—and with that there is a level of projection and inaccessibility. Now with social media, everyone wants everything and every part of you. People can start attacking you in your Twitter mentions because you retweet something political. It can add to a negativity that can get in the way. 
Shamir: Even though we have such open conversation forms when it comes to the Internet, I think people are still scared to speak up. I had a viral tweet about Hillary Clinton a few months ago and I got so much heat from people who didn't get it, but the tweet was purposely made for someone who looks like me and feels like me and lives America. In the end though putting that out there made me feel so much more comfortable because those who also have a similar experience as me and my skin tone hella agreed. Instead of using social media to try and get everyone on your side, I think we should try to look at it more as a place to find other people in your tribe that get you. I don't use social media for validation. If you get me and you fuck with me then I fuck with you and then we're fighting the same battle. We've got to continue pushing to make the world a better place.
Burke: Its sort of like freedom of expression versus commerce and trying to commodify artists. It's about finding that balance because you want to just say what you want to say but then there's also this weird element of your team wanting you to build followers and utilize it so that you can build your audience. It's hard because people also are anonymous so they can turn on you and they wouldn't say it to your face. They may come up to you and be like "I love you!" and that crazy's the thing about Twitter and trolls.
Shamir: You're in a band. You guys have a band Twitter. For me I have people in my ear trying to control my social media, but I constantly have to remind everyone that like I've had my Twitter since I was in eighth grade, which is now my official Twitter. I have to remind people that yeah I'm a musician but I'm not an item. You can't just take this away from me because I come from a digital age where Twitter was my diary. You can't just turn into a big corporate thing.

On that topic, how do you practice self-care in this digital age? Shamir, you're getting called out right now because you're choosing to go phoneless, which I see as an amazing practice of self-care.
Shamir: My phone broke on my birthday, which was November 7th, and election night was the next day. What happened, happened, so I'm not rushing to get a new phone now. I can only imagine the swarm of people desperately trying to get at me and I'm saying sorry right now in advance for whoever tried to hit me up, but it was almost like the universe was caring for me. I feel more at peace because the whole situation is still fucking with me, but I feel like it would be worse if I was swamped with information.

All that information can affect you so much. It feels really hard because you want to be informed but you can get sort of caught up in this stream of sadness that feels like a heavyweight and it's very difficult to break out of that space and not get kind of sucked into it.
Burke: One thing I do like though is when you see a protest with ten thousand people in New York. I forgot how tangible things are actually really important. Seeing visuals not just having people retweet it or be angry. There's a difference between those two worlds. I also think with self-care, getting off of your phone and going to a local community meeting if you feel like you don't feel represented is important. It's time to actually talk to people in real life and communicate how you feel. We've been doing this tour and it's been pretty intense, even though we're Canadians. These Mitski shows are safe spaces; [they] are very liberal. Having people come up to me and saying, "thank you for helping me feel better in the tough time, I'm having a tough month, I can't believe this is happening." That human connection is so much more important and impactful than the Internet. We grew up on phones and the Internet and so it's hard to go back but sometimes when your phone breaks or your screen dies you're like "Oh wow! I forgot about living!" I'm enjoying things, I'm not checking my phone for a text message, or getting mad because I don't get a text message. All of that contributes to mental health stuff. With our generation there's a lot of depression and anxiety and I think phones and the Internet are really connected to that.
Shamir: The older generations always talk about how millennials are so depressed and full of anxiety but they have been the ones pushing technology into our faces at a young age. Everything is evolution. Millennials are the trial guinea pigs. The next generation will learn how to deal with mental health and technology better.  We weren't born with it but early in our life it took over and we're still learning how to cope and how the two can co-exist.


We can see a video of someone getting unjustly shot. I feel thankful that we live in an age where there is an awareness but at the end of day these cops are still getting away with that. I find that sometimes our generation can get caught up in this depression cycle of consuming this terrible shit to a desensitized point and we forget that we can do more than just tweeting something. Instead of overloading ourselves with violent painful footage, we can go make positive change.
Shamir: The protests have been so beautiful. The first night I was out marching it was just so beautiful to see so many different faces of colour from all walks of life trying to combat hate. They tell us millennials don't go out an march and then we do they're like "shut up!" What do you want from us?! The polls show that our generation didn't vote for Trump and it's the same thing that happened with Brexit. I get shit for saying it but honestly we are constantly being weighed down by older generations. We need to take over and promote positivity, creativity, self-help, and self-care.
Burke: Even in the music industry, we're both doing eclectic music and are eccentric people that probably twenty years ago might not got record deals. I think the mainstream is ready for us and that just shows you people want change and they want to see people that represent them onstage. It's not just like one particular type of music, we don't have to just be soul singers. We can be whatever kind of people we want to be and that's really exciting. I think people feel a little bit lost cause they don't feel like they have a voice. Most millennials voted for Hillary Clinton and she had the popular vote so I don't think all is lost.
Shamir: I have a question for you, Jasmyn! I had a guitar in my hand since I was nine and used to  do country music. I didn't think about how I was the only person that looked like me at the honky-tonk. Even my family would tell me "You sound white! You need to sing with soul! Come on Shamir." I just want to know who was a person that helped you realize you don't have to sound a certain way just because you look a certain way?
Burke: Honestly? Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was really important for me. She looked different and she was doing something that was so out of the box. No one had seen a punk rock lady that looked like that, I just felt like wow I can identify with her. Just seeing somebody that's not just blonde with blue eyes, not fitting into a perfect ideal of beauty. I had never really seen that before.
Shamir: She wasn't trying to be sexy. She was just bad-ass.
Burke: And she had courage!
Shamir: Sexy in her own way.

I've seen her live, deep throating a microphone and then rubbing the mic on the crotch of her leather pants. I literally just got chills talking about it right now. I remember watching the "Down Boy" music video and being amazed by this woman claiming her sexuality. So unapologetic. Maybe it's cus I'm a privileged white girl but I didn't even see her as a minority. I just saw her as rock and roll.
Burke: The word minority is like this weird thing because I think if you are technically a minority, you don't view yourself like that. I don't think the color of my skin or what I look like should automatically put me in this box. I want to be somebody that everybody can identify with because we're just human. Shamir, who was that person for you?
Shamir: My person is a little corny because I did start off in a folk-country background and I was desperately searching for someone who was doing that who looked like me. And this person looked literal like me, Tracy Chapman!
Burke: Ya!
Shamir: I remember watching "Fast Car" on VH1 or something, I think I was seven, around that age, and was just like "This is me! I can't talk to the boy or girl. Oh my God, she's got a really deep voice but she's also like very feminine." I was so overtaken because it was so me on many levels, not even just music and being a person of color but my voice & the way she writes her songs. The honesty. I remembered after discovering her and telling my mom about her, it was a good moment for us because I said "You know how you tell me I need more soul when I sing? Do you know who Tracy Chapman is?" And she was like "Of course!" I was like "Then why do you bag on me?"  and she was like "You're right." Tracy Chapman will always be my person.

Are there other specific artists you listen to when you're feeling emotionally confused? Are there certain self-care records or self-care albums that help you?
Shamir: I always say my favourite record, and it is my favourite record ever in life, is Cut by the Slits because it mixes so much in there and I love a mixture of genres and vibes, everything. But right now specifically? My whole thing is embracing imperfections, my album lately that makes me feel better about art that I'm making also has been Nico's first record. I love her voice and how imperfect it is. That imperfection makes it so real and it carries her feelings and emotions so well. That's what I want to do with my music and my new album. I like pop music and I'm wanna make a pop record but less perfection.
Burke: It's those little flaws that make us human. It helps us identify with others. I love like anything Patti Smith. When I listen to her there's something so passionate and beautiful. Raw and authentic. It's spiritual.

She doesn't fit into that conventional box of femininity either.  
Burke: She's not going to let you sexualize her. She is a sexual person but she has the power over it and there's a difference between being somebody that is being gawked at and objectified, and someone who is like "I'm strong and I'm proud." No matter how you define your gender, there's something that's really powerful about that. And then like contemporary...I just like hearing modern women making really cool music. I love Alvvays and U.S. Girls. I think Meg [Meghan Remy] from U.S. Girls a very important artist.

Do you consider your artistic practice a self-care practice?
Burke: Making music is the most cathartic thing to do. All your worries go away when you make music. I think if you're an artist and you're doing it full-time, that's the only thing that keeps you sane. You have to do it and you couldn't live without it. I just don't know how I could function without being able to express myself in that way. That's probably the nicest thing about being an artist. Having people like what you do [and you] get to do what you love, which is just insane. Not a lot of people get to do that. 
Shamir: I write all my own songs and there's just something so therapeutic about singing. All my songs mean so much to me. Ratchet is a fun album but even like a fun song like "Make A Scene" people think it's  just a little pop song or like whatever but it's about being under twenty-one in America but also being adult, yet still being chastised for being young.
Burke: We're making pop music and we're not white people. There are not enough people in our sort of genres that kids can identify with. It gives people self-confidence. The past few shows other girls with afros have come out and it's just beautiful. I think that's the most heartwarming thing, someone else that sees you and sees themselves in you.
Shamir: Representation is everything, like when I see other non-binary people at a show. When it comes to being non-binary it's super weird because I don't feel like girl but I also don't feel like a boy but I also don't want to be a boy but I also don't want to be a girl. Like… am I weird? I thought I needed to go to some camp to fix me, which is the saddest thing ever. When non-binary people come up to me at a show and thank me for being myself, it almost makes me cry talking about it now.
Burke: Because it needs to happen! They need to be able to identify with themselves. Somebody that comes up to you and says that they now feel like they can be who they are, that's just all the more important. You start to realize when you tour that your music is one thing but it's so much bigger than me. I'll get teary eyed because it's just so much bigger than what you even thought you would be doing in your room as a teenager but then you realize "oh I guess what I always felt other people felt but they maybe just didn't know how to say it" and you're articulating that and that's really powerful.
Shamir: And that helps with your art because you have that responsibility. You just want to help and speak  the truth. You don't do music for just you anymore. It's for them too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Kate Killet is a documentary photographer living in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter