Words: Dan Carson | Photo: Rachel Lipsitz
“There’s no point in lying about stuff, you know, dollars and bitches. Right now, it’s pound coins and macaroni cheese,” sighs West Londoner, Aleksandra Denton, prodding at the oily ramekin of pasta and sauce in front of her. “This tastes exactly like garlic bread” she declares scrunching her nose and grinning broadly. It’s something of a portentous remark, not because we’ll both be reaching for the Wrigleys later, but because it becomes obvious during our chat, that Shura – or Shu as she’s been known since childhood – will never be the type to write songs about getting paper, or celebrating big big booties.
Born in Moscow to a Russian mum and British dad, young Shu would often dance along to her parents’ Elton John records, but her journey to this point, an album deal with a heavyweight major, gained off the back of a clutch of swooning, R&B torch songs, has been beset by difficulties. “Family things. Relationship things. Friend things. And I’m still exploring all that,” she explains. After a string of collaborations with the electronic producer Hiatus in 2011, came the eventual tidal wave of adoration which swept in with her solo debut, ‘Touch’ this year. “Bad things happen but you re-appropriate them and turn them into joyous things.” she smiles.
The track’s smoochy video has – quite literally – touched nearly 3,000,000 viewers since premiering in March, but she can still sip a coffee in a crowded restaurant without anyone batting an eyelid. It’s a far cry from “the craziness” of Twitter, where Chloe Grace Moretz and Dev Hynes have been singing her praises and Jessie Ware sounded her out to rework one of her recent singles.
“I was shitting myself,” she replies, wide-eyed, when I ask her about being handed the stems to ‘Say You Love Me’. “I tweeted her as part of a conversation she was having with someone else. Then she just went, ‘YOU! I love your songs.’ Luckily her label were really big fans too.
“Throughout our lengthy discussion, Shu will remove her black beanie, ruffle her hair and replace it again, with care and precision – it’s not really a nervous tic but it is subtly characteristic of an artist with a meticulous eye for detail, whose pained but perfumed pop song ‘Just Once’, the follow-up to ‘Touch’, pricked the ears of just about every label A&R on the planet in the summer. She plumped for Polydor in the end, and recently offered up the pacier, more upbeat ‘Indecision’ from her as-yet-unannounced debut album. Smeared in the glittery fingerprints of iconic 80s vocalists like Mariah Carey, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna,’Indecision’s bursts of spiky floor filling synthesizers and heart-swelling beats are mellowed by Shu’s softly pooling utterances. It’s the complete pop song: a perfect balance of lush retro disco and the sparing contemporary tastes of Jessie Ware, Blood Orange et al.
Bad things happen but you re-appropriate them and turn them into joyous things.
I mention a recent Independent article on rising female producers, which claimed that Shura is on course to be the first woman to self-produce a debut album on a major label. “I can’t believe that’s true,” she exclaims. “That would be awesome, it just makes me even more determined to be the first.”
Does she identify, broadly speaking, with the other producers mentioned in the piece at all? “You’re kind of lumped together,” she begins tentatively. “I make really different music to Låpsley and to TĀLĀ, and you wouldn’t believe how many articles there are that compare me to them. They’re brilliant and it is nice to be unified but it is also irrelevant. You don’t see any articles that are like,’Ooh look at these four guys.” I suggest the piece borders on fetishisation, Shu agrees, but adds: “These things have to be written and made a fuss of until people get bored and accept this as the norm.”
The interviews comes to a sudden end, as Shu realizes she’s late for a film screening, but before we part ways, I ask her if there’s anything she wishes she was better at: “I’m really aiming to get better at writing when I feel fine, because it’s really exhausting to only write when you’re feeling down.” The way Shura’s glowing future is shaping up, we might end up getting that song about dollar bills and big booty after all.
The rest of our sounds of 2015: