In The Middle with Shura

Despite pretty extensive touring, our meeting is surprisingly the first time alt-pop sensation Shura has ever played in Leeds. It’s been a pretty rollercoaster ride so far: first single ‘Touch’ went viral after a video featuring various friends kissing and the follow-ups have been similarly well received. “I wasn’t really expecting that and I wasn’t prepared for it. It wasn’t like I had half an album ready to just complete so I needed to write more,” she says when asked about how it’s been touring without having an album in the pipeline. “You release more and then there’s more buzz and then you feel like you should play shows because people want you to. And it’s definitely hard trying to finish a record whilst trying to tour and go to the states and do a remix of Jessie Ware or Pumarosa or whoever it is.”

Remixes form an integral part of Shura’s oeuvre – every track she’s released so far comes with at least two other mixes from the likes of Jungle, Honne and Blonde. “I love remixes. I’m really excited by going to say, Stella from Warpaint who are one of my favourite bands and asking ‘How would you re-envisage this song?’ Why wouldn’t I want to hear what she imagined with a bunch of stems? It’s exciting to hear how a track’s put together, each individual part and just go ‘What is it about this song that I like? What can I create with a snippet of it and can I make it better, or if not better then what can I do to make it different?’”

Speaking of different, Shura has just returned from touring the US for the first time. She says that the enthusiasm over there is refreshing: “In the US they’re just so excited because you’re not from America and you’ve come there. I got recognised in L.A. and it was just like ‘how do you know who I am?’ The one person in L.A. who knows who I am happens to be in the same street for one second and spot me. It’s so bizarre.”

But then again it’s not. For any serious Shura fan, she’s made herself very visible via well-managed social media, complete with myriad photos of her two cats, Winnie and Flump. Shura runs it all herself. “Lots of people don’t run their own, but I really enjoy it. People can tell when it’s not you for a start. It just feels disingenuous.” However it isn’t just about reaching out via social media. During the course of this tour Shura’s generosity is shining through, with a free copy of ‘Just Once’ on vinyl for the first 90 fans. “It’s funny some fans don’t even have a record player but it’s a thing – it can go on their wall or their shelf. With ‘Just Once’ you can’t buy an mp3 or stream it on Spotify, so it’s the only way of owning that. I believe in doing cool stuff that if I were a fan I would be really excited about.”

The amount of “cool stuff” that goes into a Shura show is impressive, really making it an experience for fans. Aside from the free vinyl, she’s got designated glitter reps glamming up the crowd and stays behind for a good half hour after the show’s finished. “I’ll go to the merch stand after every show and speak to anyone who wants to speak to me. I remember being 15 and going to gigs and when the band stayed behind afterwards I’d stay and get my ticket signed. I couldn’t even afford anything but I’d just wait and freak out. It’s really important to connect with the people who like your music.”

Perhaps the reason that Shura’s music has been so popular is its subject matter – a pre-occupation with awkwardness is something to identify with amongst a world of airbrushed pop stars. “I think people really connect to feeling awkward. There’s not a human on the planet that hasn’t gone inside ‘What on earth is going on?’ We have love songs, or break up songs, but there’s not that many songs that are about being really awkward – like is my t-shirt on the right way round and that kind of stuff – super simple, which is what I do.”

Shura’s songs have become and outlet for her uncertainty. “I find it hard to talk about stuff that’s going on in my life and my emotions to a friend or one on one, but it’s easier to say it in the form of a song. I can write a whole song about trying to tell someone that I fancy them but and play it to a room full of 300 people but can I tell them that I fancy them? No. A problem shared is a problem halved: it’s not really yours any more because it’s appropriated by other people.”

While she might be awkward, she’s also pro-active: Shura’s self-taught. When asked what motivates her she says “I’m quite a proud person; I find it hard to ask for help so I’ll try and figure it out myself – I want to be independent. I think my main advice is not to give up. There have been times when I’ve been working full time and at the weekends and in the evening I would make music; I would take holiday just to make music. I never thought I was going to get signed but I still did it because I love it. I think that sometimes you have to be blind to the things that are holding you back. You just have to be too stupid to stop.”

And we for one are very glad she has persisted. The show that follows is delightfully shimmery: a whirlwind combination of soaring synth and rocking guitars, a little rawer live than on record. Watching the crowd during ‘2Shy’ you can see why Shura’s star is rising: as the crowd sing along, while they might be “too shy to say it” to whoever’s on their mind, there’s no problem belting it out alongside Shura.


Eleanor Weinel

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