Ep42: Shingai (Noisettes) on finding creative freedom through generosity – Transcript

Ep42: Shingai (Noisettes) on finding creative freedom through generosity – Transcript


SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Shingai


Shingai
Honestly the way that side of the commercial [music] industry works creates so many broken dreams, broken hearts. And the thing is, what people have to realise is if you’re a fan and you’re just subscribing to your same go-to mainstream media channels and mainstream labels to provide you with your artists, you’re actually part of a system where 95% of the artists that you don’t see are damaged.

There’s this whole dark side of disposable humans that I think a lot of mainstream music fans don’t see.


Laura Kidd  
Hello and welcome to episode 42 of Attention Engineer.

I’m Laura and this is my podcast. Hi!

Attention Engineer is a show where I seek to make the best use of my own valuable time and attention by having deep conversations with fellow artists about creativity, grit and determination. My aim is to consistently remind you – and remind myself – that creativity really is for everyone….because it really is.

Let’s kick that inner critic where it hurts.


I’m two thirds of the way through a much-needed 30 day digital reset. There’s nothing quite like an album release campaign to make you want to throw your phone in the bin forever, and if you’ve listened to this show for a while, you’ll know the very name of it came from my first attempts to wean myself off the bad bits of social media. It’s an ongoing process, for sure, but it always surprises me how quickly I start to feel better, and how much extra time I find myself having, when I do just a few small things to help myself out. I’ve just started reading a game changing book called the 12 week year, which I highly recommend to anyone who finds their motivation to do things waning throughout the calendar year, and as always, if you’re interested in gaining a bit more control over your attention,  the book “digital minimalism” and the deep questions podcast by cal Newport are a wonderful place to start.

It’s exactly the right time for me to be doing this. If you heard my conversation with David Brewis of Field Music recently, we talked about the inevitable post-album release slump. I think it happens to all of us to varying degrees depending on how intense a project is, how long it takes, and the importance we’ve placed on it.

I actually did what I told David I was going to do in that episode, and treated myself to some comfy new pyjamas to wear on release day last month, took a few days off, then braced myself for the expected crash of emotions…but I’m not sure they never came. What came instead was a serious case of the “can’t be bothereds”. Instead of feeling sharply sad or hopeless, I’ve just been mooching along without any focus or drive…and I think that’s ok, for a little while.

I’m still adjusting to the very sensible decision to make this show fortnightly instead of weekly, which has relieved a lot of self-imposed pressure, but I think the difference between this album release and my previous ones is that over the past year and a half I’ve created a very structured creative work life for myself, making things consistently instead of haphazardly. I’m gathering my thoughts about this to share in a more meaningful way in my upcoming YouTube series, so keep an eye out for that.

One of my all time favourite quotes is by Gustave Flaubert – “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”. My other favourite, is “inspiration finds you working” by Picasso.

After a couple of weeks of aimlessness, I feel ready to get back into things now, so it’s my great pleasure to share my conversation with Shingai with you today.

Shingai is the legendary front woman and bassist from the Noisettes. Dubbed “The new afrofuturist pop goddess” by Rolling Stone, her debut solo album “Too Bold” was released in October 2020 and marks a new chapter of her journey. This sonic odyssey through an effervescent soundscape fearlessly infused with a soulful yet spontaneous spirit is the sound inspired by Shingai’s London, Bantu and Zimbabwean heritage.

Leading from the heart, “Too Bold” transports us to a higher vision of the future while acknowledging what it will take for us to get there. The album treads many paths and themes about rising above perplexing times, being resilient, standing your ground and confronting the struggle – an invitation to keep the optimist alive within us and try to be better in every way.

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • making music that’s a movement, too
  • the importance of creativity in a happy household, and how music helped Shingai through a childhood packed with grief
  • stepping off the major label conveyor belt and making music against the odds as an independent artist with integrity
  • the detrimental effect of social media and influencer culture on everyday creativity

I had the great fortune to see Noisettes supporting Muse on the Black Holes and revelations tour in 2006, and have been admiring Shingai from afar ever since, so it was wonderful to meet her and have this chat, beaming in from Zimbabwe to Bristol.

Here we go!


LK 
We should definitely get to that. But before we get all of our great conversation out without recording it, please could you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Shingai 
Hello, listeners! I am Shingai and I’m a very creative so and so. I make a lot of music and I love inspiring imagery, constantly…not reinventing myself, but evolving myself and making sure that I feel with every project that I do, I can learn something new from it, and that’s what I love doing. And it’s a pleasure to be on this podcast with you today, Laura, because you are also someone who I really admire creatively, and I look forward to getting into it.

LK  
What?! Oh, that’s a nice start. Well, thank you.

I’d love to start by talking a bit about your latest piece of work. Your album “Too Bold” came out in October 2020, which must have been a very tricky time to be releasing new music into the world. Can you talk a bit about the challenges you may have faced during the pandemic, releasing a record? 

Shingai  
Yeah, well, the first challenge was to actually get it made during the current events. I had actually only started like, literally two or three months before it was all announced. So I started making the record in the end of November 2019 and that was literally only a few months after my debut solo EP, although I’m not a big fan of that just nonsensical word “solo”. I mean, it’s a label that is often given to a lot of female artists, and I find it really strange. I think people in the media are still kind of hungry for those sensational headlines like, “lead singer quits band in a fury of celebrity snobbery”. Whereas when guys tend to have a career, it just tends to be like, “he’s making music with other people” or whatever. Like, I don’t know, Alex from what’s it called, Arctic’s, is making a record with Miles Kane. It’s just they’re making a record together. Whereas, like, if I make a record with someone else, “She’s solo! How could she?!” And I’m just…because even with amazing female artists, there’s a lot of…what’s her name? Oh, my God, her name is just on the tip of my tongue…what’s the name of her band? [Sings] “Don’t speak, I know just what you’re saying”…

LK
Oh, Gwen Stefani.

Shingai
Yes, it’s like “Gwen Stefani went solo, band hate…”, you know there’s always these kind of headlines even with, obviously, I know that with people like Tina Turner it’s more complex, but Stevie Nicks…whenever it’s the woman just continuing to make music, but like to expand the people that she’s making music with, it’s always like we’ve been the bitch that’s dumped the band and kind of divorced and cheated on them but actually, Laura, Dan is actually on two, or even three tracks of the “Ancient Futures” EP and actually Toby from the Noisettes that’s like a brother to me…I’ve been making music with Toby for like, nearly 10 years now. He’s actually playing drums, playing music, contributing to about four or five songs on the album, he’s playing drums on “Echoes of You”, “War Drums”, “Too Bold” – the title track.

So me, I’m just the kind of person that…I don’t know, I love to evolve, I think, as I said before, in my artistry, and that means stepping outside of your comfort zone and working with other people. What was also important to me was working with more of a diverse group of creators, because when I was making the three records with The Noisettes, that I’m really obviously proud that I’ve made, predominantly they were made with guys and predominantly the producers that we worked with, or were available for us to work with at that time, for lots of different reasons, were white males. It was almost impossible for me to find myself in a room with women songwriters, or women producers, so that was really important to me, I think.

So whether you call that the “solo era” or the “Shingai era” of me making music, I’m still very much quite close with my musical community that I’ve grown up with through Noisettes, but it just means that I can expand now, and on “Too Bold” there are three female producers that I’m collaborating with. “War Drums” is an all female production with me and an amazing girl called Roseau, Kerry Leatham. And we’re playing pretty much everything. I mean, I think Tobs did a couple of drum passes for us at a studio later on down the line, but it’s kind of 90% me and her playing the synths, playing drum loops and machines and just having fun and being able to explore in a way that…I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but it can be different when you make music with women, for some reason, you know? And I did some really, really cool sessions with guys when I was making “Ancient Futures” in 2019 and starting to write for this, in fact, back in 2018, and I just found that sometimes there’s an expectation, especially in the pop world, that your job is to come there, watch them having all the fun with all the synths, watch them jamming and then when it’s like eight, nine, ten when you’ve been in the studio all day, and they’ve got to have all the fun with all the plugins and all that, then you’re just supposed to belt out this kind of like fucking pop line about whatever it is. You’re supposed to be singing on top of it and I’m like, it’s just not that much fun. 

LK
No, and they sit there silently clicking don’t they? 

Shingai 
Yeah, and I can see like, toys in your room…I can see a little Fender amp there…

LK  
Oh there’s loads of stuff in here, yeah!

Shingai  
Yeah and it’s like when girls do get together, it’s a bit like, “Ooh, what’s that? Oh what does that do? Oh, I’ve got this new…” you know? And it’s not like “Right? Now, I really want you to sort of pour your heart out, how you feeling today? How’s that guy you were seeing?” And I’m just like “Urrgh!” Sometimes it was like that at a Noisettes writing session, and especially when you go to somewhere like America and you get on these big pop writing sessions, it’s almost like you’re there to kind of add the cherry on top. But they’re having all the fun.

LK  
Yeah, that’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. I find there’s a bit more…I don’t know how you feel, but I found there’s a bit more empathy and a bit more give and take in a session with another woman. I’ve had good collaborations with men too, but I’ve always felt that is a bit more prescriptive, and I’ll be open to the idea that those men were more prescriptive and there must be lots of other men who are great. Obviously, there’s lots of different people, it’s all to do with personalities and experience and stuff. But the amount of times I’ve been in a vocal booth, sung my bit and then had to stand there for ages while they silently click for ages and fix everything and I’m there going, “Can I just sing it again?” 

Shingai  
Yeah. 

LK  
Can I be involved in this process in some way? 

Shingai  
Yeah. 

LK  
So I have experienced a bit of that, yeah.

Shingai  
Yeah, even little things like you might just want to start again, and maybe revisit the song that you’re all supposed to be making in another key, little things like that. I think they’re just very used to, I think, being in male company and as you said, it is changing and it’s getting a lot more exciting and we are evening things out. But yeah, I just feel like there’s a little bit more room for folly as well and experimentation when you’re working with girls. I feel like girls, maybe we’re not afraid to be a bit more goofy sometimes as well. Whereas guys who have been used to having the same role as like a producer for 10 years and you know, “I’ve written songs for this one, I produce songs for that one”, it’s like, “Yeah, but I’m not that one.” Although I’m female, I’ve got a different story to tell, you know?

You need to be in a room with someone you trust, because the lyrics that I just feel like, the poetry that I’m expecting for myself now, is not maybe the lyrics that I would have been singing when I was like, 16/17. And I think that’s another thing that guys could be maybe a little bit more aware of, is that I think when we sometimes approach certain themes, lyrically, we can really go in, do you know what I mean…as girls, right? And it’s like, we can’t just have your attention when we’re singing about themes that you’re comfortable with, like, “Oh, my boyfriend dumped me” or “He loves me, he loves me not” or “I fancy him” or “I had too much wine and then I said something I shouldn’t”. I feel like they need to be ready for us to sing about other shit as well, and be open to that too. Because look how many…like when you look at a lot of the poetry and the spectrum of themes that men have been allowed to sing about in the last 50 years whether it’s, you know, I’m thinking about incredible lyricists like, I don’t know, Tim Buckley, and Jeff Buckley, and just some really beautiful classics like Sam Cooke, whereas most women that make it, I feel like they are allowed to make it on the condition that they’re singing about certain themes that the men that they’re working with the time are comfortable with them singing about, you know?

LK  
Yes.

Shingai  
People aren’t used to singing about stuff like, as you said, you had a group called something war or like revolution, or like, the real dynamics of society or like, I don’t know, being in a fight or getting in an argument with someone. These are things that happen to people. We can think about those things as well. You have amazing lyricists like Lauryn Hill and Nina Simone, and people like Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush that get in once every 10 years, like your Grace Joneses…it’s not like it’s the norm for women to be allowed to sing about anything.

LK  
Well, just any subject that doesn’t relate to heterosexual relationships would make some people feel uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be about a relationship at all but just anything that’s, yeah, I’m not defined by the relationship I’m in, in every aspect. So every song I write doesn’t have to be about something in relation to a man, I guess, is my point. 

Shingai 
Yeah, absolutely and yeah, a lot of the women that are allowed to go through – it’s like, when you look at your kind of Adeles and your Palomas, it’s kind of like, it feels like the women that are allowed to get through, the number one’s always about we could have done this and we could have done that and we were together. And I’m just sitting here picking daisies going I just want to hear a woman roar. I want to feel my girls roar in the way men are allowed to roar in hip hop, in grime, in rock and roll, in punk etc. In folk…I want to hear us roar!

Considering what we go through as women, that dynamic of emotions every month, I feel like a lot of us are just almost like code switching to the point of when we’re on stage we’re this like, lovely person that the world understands because the worst thing that happened to us was a boy. But then when we are in female company, we have conversations like this and I’m like, “Girl, why are you not putting that pen to paper in the studio?”

LK  
Yes, exactly. 

Shingai 
Too much!

LK 
I get very frustrated when I feel like it’s a wasted opportunity – when someone spends any time writing a song and it’s just about the same old shit. I understand if you’re just starting out, you’re going to sort of dig deeper and deeper as you go along… 

Shingai  
Yeah. 

LK  
And, you know, as we make several albums and more and more albums, and think about a lifetime’s worth of albums ahead of us, then you’re digging deeper. It’s like you’re levelling up, levelling down…I’m not sure what my analogy is, but getting to know yourself again and again and again, through writing. That’s what I’m doing, because I’m on my fifth album now and it’s vastly different…

Shingai
That’s amazing!

LK
Thank you! Vastly different subject matter than the first one. Not that the first one is bad or boring or anything, it’s just where I was then. But you would hope though, that 10 years on the album would be more interesting, and yet some people will always just go, “Oh, what a lovely song”. Do you ever get that? “What a lovely song!” And people mean so well. 

Shingai
Is that a compliment? 

LK  
I think they mean it as a compliment. But I rage at that. You know, there’s a song I wrote on my last album about someone who took their own life who I knew. “Lovely song”, someone said. 

Shingai  
Wow.

LK 
I don’t think you’ve listened to that. I can’t take that as a compliment, you know…or a song about I don’t know, whatever, whatever dark themes. “Lovely.” “Oh, lovely!”

Shingai 
The thing is, the world is going through super dynamic and arguably dark times at the moment. So you know, to think that women are still getting signed to major labels on the basis of their looks, you know, a perceived kind of mainstream beauty, that for me just feels like it just mentally doesn’t feel right. I just feel like we can allow music to reflect the times a bit now. Because as you said, not only is it a wasted opportunity for music lovers, but also a lot of people have only got music to get them through. They can’t go out. Germany’s been locked down. Like you said, mental health levels are super high. I know four people that have taken their own lives in the last two years. 

LK  
Oh, I’m so sorry. 

Shingai 
Yeah, and so I’m just like, does it help for people who are really going through things to switch on the radio and hear artists who are completely oblivious to how they feel? I don’t know, I’m not trying to say that we should prescribe anyone what to write about, but it just feels a bit strange that people are still waiting for that next hit about the club when the club is closed. The club’s closed, you could think about anything you want now…

LK  
Yeah. I mean, escapism is important too. So I will allow that of course, but also you can choose to listen to whatever you want at any time now. So there’s no one stopping you from having escapism.

Shingai  
Yeah, we’ve got so many amazing songs, and it’s an interesting time, and I think what you’re finding now is that actually, because independence is a rising thing – like you’ve got your own label, which is amazing, same as me – we are in a position to write songs with different groups of people in a different way, different producers from different backgrounds, different musicians from different backgrounds and I feel like that is the future. Like there’s some really beautiful…not just collaborations happening, but in the process and I think that’s where the change and the excitement is really happening for me.

LK  
Yeah. Well, I don’t feel that any time with you in a studio would ever be wasted. So it’s so brilliant to hear all of this stuff coming together.

Shingai 
We would have a lot of fun. I can just tell by looking at the bits and bobs already.

LK
Oh yeah, come round. When it’s possible, you should just pop round, there’s loads of toys in here. I think we’d have a great time!

Shingai
I would love to have a jam. Seriously, I’m all about it. I carry my guitar everywhere. Even if I only end up playing it once or twice in that week of travelling wherever I’ve schlepped it to, I am always happy because I’m like, oh, actually, I’m so glad I brought it. Because then I just had this one moment of inspiration and maybe played for like a couple of hours and then didn’t play anything for a couple of weeks.

LK  
So what do you say when people go “Give us a tune, love!” 

Shingai  
Give us a tune!

LK  
When you’re walking around with your guitar…does that happen to you?

Shingai  
Yeah that happens all the time, especially at airports. “Oh are you gonna sing for us on the plane are ya?” 

LK  
Yeah as if that’s why you brought it.

Shingai
And you’ve got to be careful what you say, because if you if you agree they’ll be like  “All right, so are you famous?” And then if you do say who you are, then they start singing your song to you and then they start to freak out. You’ve almost got to sort of be like, “Oh no, I’m just carrying it around. Because I might get inspired or something.”

LK  
Carrying it around for a boy… 

Shingai  
Yeah, exactly. For a boy I might meet on the beach, we might fall in love!

LK 
And then he can write a song about me. When I first was in London years and years ago, and I was carrying a guitar around, honestly, people would either say “Give us a tune, love” – and I found that a bit irritating, to be honest, because it was all the time – or they’d say “Are you carrying that for your boyfriend?” 

Shingai  
Oh my god. Wow. 

LK
Yeah, right. So I just schlep it around for him, am I a fucking packhorse now, as well as apparently being unable to play?

Shingai 
But I think we are going into an exciting time now because what I found in lockdown is, so many people are just getting a few basics in and being like, do you know what, I’m going to stretch myself. And I think a bit like your podcast with just how creativity is important, you don’t always have to be a professional musician to enjoy the joy of music. I’ve actually met a lot of people in lockdown that have been at home that are like, actually, “I’ve re-picked up this instrument that I haven’t played since secondary school” or “I’ve picked up this again”, or picked up the guitar again and you’re like, “Oh, my God, you’re amazing!” 

There was a girl who I met on Instagram, and she sent me a couple of songs and I was like, oh, my god, she’s freaking incredible. Before the intersection of pop music and social media in the last seven years got creativity on this hyper sort of level, music was something that a lot more people were able to appreciate – and you didn’t have to be a professional musician to do that. You could go round someone’s house and have a jam, or like one in every three households would probably have a musical instrument at home. So I think that’s been good about lockdown. It’s brought out the amateur creatives. It’s just really nice. I think that’s important. You know, I think a household with some sort of creativity in it tends to be a happier household, you know? 

LK 
Definitely. Yeah, and that’s the thing: it’s not about having an Instagram following for the thing you make, it’s about making the thing. It always should be about making the thing first, anyway. And even people who want to do this as a career get so caught up in these numbers, but we’re humans, we can’t really relate to numbers without context. 

Shingai 
Yeah. 

LK  
So what? 72 people like a thing, that doesn’t mean you’re 72 points better than you were if you hadn’t put the picture up, it doesn’t make any difference. We need to disassociate ourselves from those numbers, I think. And again, people who aren’t doing it for a career still can make stuff and you don’t have to take a picture of it and put it on Facebook for it to exist. It exists. You did it, no one ever needs to see the thing. So it’s about finding that joy, I think, and trying to figure out what it is that gives you that…I don’t know, peace, or that meditative state or, you know, some kind of feeling that “Oh I exist, I made something. I contributed something to something.” I think that’s really important. I’m all about trying to tell people that at the moment, to be honest.

Shingai 
Definitely. Sometimes you’ll hear a song that someone’s just written for their flatmate’s birthday or something. You’re like, “Oh, yeah, I wish I could have written something like that!” – and I’m a professional. Sometimes I think it’s nice to just think about why we’re doing it and something that has not been, I think, as progressive for music is the fact that you have had this sharp rise in influencers that have been signed as musicians. You know, models that have been signed, because they liked singing – and that’s all cool, you know, because they’ve got, as you said, X amount of followers on their Instagram.

I did a session once, a writing session for a model. She was a Victoria’s Secret model and she had over a million followers on her Instagram, and she just got a deal because of the numbers and I didn’t really look into that. So I didn’t even know. But when I got to the session, which I thought was going to be very creative, again, there was, three guys or four guys around her and I was kind of brought in to, you know, address the gender imbalance probably, in hindsight. She was a really big fan of my music and Noisettes, and I think Dan had been part of this writing session as well. And so I went in and it was like, the questions they were asking, it was “So like, what kind of music…what kind of song do you want to make today?” Or “what do you like?” “Um, I don’t know. I really like that song. Oh, can I? I really like that song…can we make a song like that?” And I’m just like, wow, I mean, I can’t create a song that’s based on someone else’s creativity just because you like it as a hobby, and try to teach you to sing like this person and, like, emulate the tone of another singer who’s been through God knows whatever else to cultivate this tone – and you just get basically fast tracked? And I left the session feeling a bit like, “Oh no, was that me doing a good thing?” You know? And is that something that I feel that I should be telling up and coming women – it doesn’t matter if you have a voice or not, doesn’t matter if you’re ready to do the work and be a musician or not, as long as you like music, you’re a fan and you’ve got a favourite singer and you’ve got a million followers or 100,000 followers or 10,000 followers, we can make you. And again, the song ended up being about a boy.

LK 
A valid contribution to the world.

Shingai 
And the thing is, I left there thinking, okay, it just wasn’t as enjoyable because there wasn’t that much creativity in the session. It was very prescribed, and she knew what genre she wanted to do and it was just a bit like, wow, so what was the point of me going through all of that, like, 10 years…as you said…schlepping? And I did worry, but I mean that was about five years ago, when I think it was just everybody and their dog and cat and PE teacher was was being signed as long as they had a guitar and a good following and a nice face. 

LK 
I missed that moment, dammit. 

Shingai  
Whatever that means, nice face. 

LK 
So weird isn’t it. 

Shingai  
You can’t see someone’s face on the radio! A face for radio they used to call it. And it made me think about what you said, sometimes it’s about the intention of why we do it that actually can maybe subconsciously inform the quality of the music that we make. If you’re making it from your heart, for your flatmate who you love, it’s her birthday or it’s a song for your daughter or your Mom or your Nan or your friend, or just because you want to just scream because you’ve had a shit day at work and your boss is being a dickhead and you’re turning up Hole and you’re turning your Marshall amp to 11 or whatever, you know, that for me is like…that’s real expression. And we almost risked losing that at mainstream radio, when everybody started signing influencers and everything was just about genre and about followers, and this, this that and the other but, you know, what’s great about this time is we’re coming out of that, because like…when you asked me about what it was like to not only put the album out during the – I don’t want to say the P word because I don’t want to give it too much power but… current events. 

LK 
Yeah. Yeah.

Shingai 
But yeah, a lot of people were like, “No you’re crazy. Why do you want to put out a record now?” It’s like, people can’t go to gigs, it’s lockdown, you can’t do that and I was like, because 80% of people are at home now and I bet you any money people are going to need music that is emotive and that’s coming out of the side of… I just felt a real blandness in the mainstream radio. Well, from the Brexit vote from 2015, honestly, to 2020, it just felt like there was a decline in creativity at television, everything was dominated by your you know, Britain’s Got whatever, X S Max Factor singing competitions, whatever – do you know what I mean? That had captured your average English person next door, British person, British household…whatever that means. And I felt like, as soon as a lot of this…not just uncertainty crept in, because of the virus and stuff, but also, there was just this whole surge in people experiencing grief and real emotional turmoil, and apparently we’ve lost more people because of this than World War Two, just the numbers are crazy… We’re probably gonna be on a quarter of a million so if we’re on…170,000 people have died, I mean, by the time my album came out – “Too Bold”, in October / November – we were already on like, 70 – 80,000 deaths and they were saying that was like, just the same amount of people that we lost.

But what it also did, it created this sense of compassion and empathy on a national scale that I didn’t feel I’d witnessed in the media in a long time, maybe not since…like when we were in, I don’t know…maybe there hasn’t been that feeling since, I mean, I don’t know about the Gulf, I was like, five or whatever when that happened. So I felt like, where there is mass grief, and when there are things like all the conversations that were ignited that were long overdue, you know, around Black Lives Matter, and inequality, and global oppression and what that looks like, and where we are, and where we want to go… That’s the perfect backdrop for real soundtracks to emerge, you know, and so we actually found that the record has been growing organically for the last five months, but it’s been doing really well. To have upcoming to 3 million streams of an album – that’s something that people on the major labels struggle to do right now. So it made me think that actually, the kind of work that you’re doing and the podcasts and just the kind of quality that you’re putting into the work…I think anybody who’s really thinking and feeling and expressing themselves on an authentic level, and they’ve got good intentions, I feel like you have a good audience right now. 

LK  
Yeah. Oh well, I’m gonna keep taking compliments from you, because it’s very nice…because I just sit here in my little room wondering if there’s any point. Yesterday, I spent a lot of time talking to my husband about what’s the point of what I do anyway? What’s the value in any of it? Just having one of these really down days…

Shingai
No!

LK  
Really super down, but, you know, we all get them. It doesn’t define me, but I had one of those days and then I was like, well, you know, I get to talk to Shingai tomorrow, that’s pretty cool!

Shingai
Woo!

LK  
She hopefully wouldn’t be saying yes to any old bollocks. So thank you for coming on and being my guest…

Shingai 
No worries.

LK  
…and saying nice things, and for making me believe that the thing I’m doing is worth it, because I do think it is, of course I do think it is – but sometimes we just get down.

Shingai
We do. Yeah, definitely and you know, we’re still quite sort of minority in terms of the playing field. But I feel like we are a minority that are growing because of our integrity. And by us, I mean the independent people that are making music not only against the odds, but without these huge teams and budgets and all that kind of stuff. The independent sector…it’s a David and Goliath scene for us.

LK 
Definitely.

Shingai  
But we’ve got that catapult firmly. We don’t want to like take anyone’s eye out with it, but we’ll use it. Don’t force us…(laughs)

LK  
Don’t mess.

Shingai 
We’re allies at the moment, you know, and I think it’s really important that people in the independent sectors, creatively across the board, continue to amplify and support each other because we seem to be making a real impact when you look at…like you know, the way that the charts have just suddenly been changing in the last year. Because even when you look at the charts, they’re not necessarily reflecting the independent sector, because they’re realising that vinyl is going up, people are buying music from the likes of yourself and myself without that aggressive marketing positioning of the mainstream. 

LK 
Yeah. Yeah, well, that stuff doesn’t necessarily work. So I’m interested to know how you’ve been experiencing it, because as you say the album’s been growing, approaching 3 million streams. That kind of success doesn’t necessarily come when you’re signed to someone, because actually, those people…and I’m not completely dismissive of anyone but in my experience, and from the things I’ve heard about from people who are on those labels, and the success stories I see from independent artists (and I would count myself as one of those, yourself and various others), is that those people don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to do great Facebook ads, they don’t know how to engage properly with an audience in an authentic and ongoing way. They don’t know how to build up email lists. They don’t know how to do those things. 

Shingai  
Yeah. 

LK 
And so I have had an email list for 12 years or something. There are people on there I’ve written to every month for that long who want to hear from me, that’s amazing. 

Shingai  
Oh, that’s beautiful.

LK  
But I wouldn’t get that – especially if I signed away, what is it? 80% of my earnings to someone else…I wouldn’t even get that same return, I wouldn’t get that same connection and stuff. So there’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way. 

Shingai  
But you might not know who your fans are. Because what you’re doing is you’re sharing a generic pool of whoever the Sony fans are. I think what you’re now seeing is this incredible fork in the road, where you’re beginning to see…wheat from the chaff sounds really rude, but what I mean is there are a lot of us who have just been so busy, that they don’t really necessarily invest in artists, they just want a certain type of music, with a certain kind of BPM to listen to, after work, or bla bla bla, and they almost don’t care who it is. I’ve seen people put in…I just want female vocal, you know, house, 90’s, you know what I mean? You don’t only create a generic audience by doing that, but you also create a generic type of artist who doesn’t really have the ability to connect with the individuals in the way that you do. And I just kind of feel like, what you’re now seeing during the whole pandemic and the rise of independent artists and creative communities, is that they’ve got the ability to retain their fans and be on a journey with their fans.

But they’ve also got this kind of like…people are invested in you, even if you made a jazz record next week, Laura, even if you made more of a DIY record that was inspired by your time walking in some mountains somewhere in Wales and you met some amazing folk musicians and then you got some electronic situations out and you did something like that – they’re invested in the lyrics that you want to tell to that story. They’re invested in you, whereas a lot of the people that are just subscribed to the mainstream, they’re just expected to be dished. And the thing is, what they don’t realise just to sort of point out the dark side of that, is that I know what it’s like to be threatened with this disposability, because I was the only black female that was signed to the mainstream label I was on at the time in England. Yeah, yeah, I was and also there were only two females signed to the label. You know, I think at some point they had Kanye, they had Hudson…they had so many freaking bands and it was just me and Pixie Lott were the only females on the label. 

LK 
Wow.

Shingai  
Little things like I wouldn’t get the same…I wouldn’t get anywhere near a marketing spend, for example, as she would. I would even be told stuff like, “Well, Shingai’s not exactly the girl next door is she, so we don’t really have to invest. Let’s just see, we’ll chuck the wet tissue on the ceiling and see if it fucking sticks…” Just literally that kind of marketing 

LK  
Jesus Christ.

Shingai  
Yeah, and so what you end up feeling like is that there’s been a lot of money being spent on, let’s say 50 people, and then out of those 50, 5 of them are going to get the VIP treatment and everyone else is on the conveyor belt and, if somehow you break through and people remember you, then it’s down to luck. Yeah, so I actually thank them for putting me in that situation because it means I had to be amazing. I had to be the best I could be. I had to be. “Never Forget You” was no joke, do you know what I mean? I had to leave a lasting impact and just try to make sure that I would be remembered for my creativity, and generosity of creative spirit to the fans. I had to tour like, I mean, God bless her heart, maybe that’s not what she was into, doing gigs, but I’m pretty sure I saw Pixie maybe having to do 5% of the gigs that I had to. I was on the road maybe 200- 300 shows a year, whereas my label mates were like, “Oh, yeah, don’t really fancy doing a gig. Gonna to go to the pub. In fact, maybe I’m not going to play the festival, maybe I’m just going to be in the VIP”. I didn’t have that luxury. 

LK 
No, of course not. I knew it couldn’t have been a picnic, but the actual specifics are still shocking.

Shingai 
Oh my God, honestly, the way that side of the commercial industry works, it creates so many broken dreams, broken hearts and what a lot of people have to realise is that if you’re a fan, and you’re just subscribing to your same go-to mainstream media channels and mainstream labels to provide you with your artists, you’re actually part of a system where 95% of the artists that you don’t see are damaged. They’re taking their own lives, they’re dying of drug overdoses, they’re wrapped up with a group of people that often don’t care about them, because a lot of the management teams are in bed with the label. So there’s this whole dark side of disposable humans that I think a lot of mainstream music fans don’t see. 

LK 
Yeah. 

Shingai
Can anybody listening to this podcast name, you know, let’s say 10 or 15 female artists that have had careers that they can name more than one or two songs in the last 20 years? No, but they can definitely name quite a lot of white males. What do you think’s happened to all those females? Where do you think they are now? 

LK 
Yeah, yeah. Well, it doesn’t seem right to me that the management teams and the labels – the people who work there, they have lifelong careers seemingly. When a music project doesn’t work out it feels like a breakup at the very least, let alone if it’s really bad. Or if you did really well and then really bad, or if you never made any money but you were famous. What the fuck are you supposed to do after that? 

Shingai 
Yeah, yeah. But then that’s why sometimes I think it’s a little bit of a cycle. We can’t just expect the perpetrators…let’s say, the system, the way it’s set up, the format – you can’t always blame the format, because sometimes there are some of us outside there that say, yeah, we’re music lovers but actually, we are just on all of these big email lists. And there’s a lot of people who are just like, yeah, now I want the next Katy Perry, I want the next Adele, I want another Anne-Marie, I want the next “lovely” girl next door bell top, you know? If you’re expecting that, then you’re not thinking as these musicians as people with dreams in the way that people used to look up to artists. People used to look up to your Whitneys and follow certain bands and, really, I think invest in them for their careers no matter what, you know? Like your Neneh Cherrys, or… it’s almost impossible for the state of the mainstream music format, to create a kind of “star”, shall I call it? That you will be able to check out her music in five years and she’ll still look in one piece and happy, you know? Maybe even when she starts not looking as sexy and as hot as she did when you first started being a fan in uni, if you then get into your late 20’s and your early 30’s, and then you actually disassociate from who was apparently your favourite singer when you were 21? Because it’s like, come on, we’ve all got a role to play in the celebrity cult of personality style worship, and that’s not about music.

LK 
No. I wonder sometimes if people – and I’m talking about the good people who come along to the shows that are small, who buy things at the merch and all that…I just think they assume that if you’re on stage, you’re getting paid loads of money and you’re fine, honestly. Because I don’t think these people are the evil ones, they’re the great ones. They’re the ones who show up, they’re the ones who buy things, they are the ones who are members of my membership club and all that. But they don’t know. They don’t know that one of my favourite bands said I could support them, but only for no money and I’d have to pay their sound engineer £30 for him to stand near the desk. They don’t know that. 

Shingai  
Yeah. 

LK 
But then I chose to say yes to that opportunity. I saw that as an opportunity and I did it. I would never do that again. But I did it. 

Shingai
Absolutely. 

LK  
So we all live and learn, but I just think there’s an element where people just think we’re fine. We must be fine because we’re doing music. 

Shingai  
Yeah, absolutely.

LK  
We must be well off or something.

Shingai 
Definitely, yeah.

I think the good thing about that level of music fanship is that now you can start to do that on a bigger scale. Bandcamp, I suppose, is quite similar to attracting that real fan for life. That person who’s invested in music and also is not following you because they just need to fill that gap. Like “What female artist am I supposed to like these days? Who’s fashionable to like? What’s her name? Kelly Whatserface”.  Do you know what I mean?

LK 
Yeah.

Shingai  
So actually it can be really in our favour. But at grassroots level we can actually amplify that by supporting each other. Yeah, I think we’re in a better place than somebody savvy that’s kind of stuck on this conveyor belt of broken dreams, as I call it. 

LK  
Oh, yeah.

Shingai  
Waiting for their turn.

LK 
I have absolutely no desire to be on that conveyor belt of broken dreams, I have no desire to get 18% of my earnings after my 18% has earned back all of the money that’s been spent, that’s been decided upon by some random person who doesn’t know how to do marketing. So I’m good, and I absolutely agree with you.

Let’s talk a bit more about your record, though, because it is fucking great. You talked about roaring earlier, wanting to hear women roar and you absolutely do that on this record and it’s so powerful, it almost brings me to tears every time. Every other time perhaps in “Too Bold”, when you really let it all out. It’s amazing. 

Shingai  
Thank you.

LK 
That’s all right. But I just think that the album…it feels like a movement, as well as a collection of songs, and it feels like it could be one of those really big life-changing albums for people. You know, those albums from your childhood or your teen years where you’re just like: I feel seen, I feel heard, there’s something in this for me. And obviously I’ve had a very different journey to you, we’ve all had very different journeys, but there’s so much on that album that speaks to me. It feels like a very generous thing you’re doing, because you’re being very, very truthful and very direct but it seems to be because you want that to benefit others.

Shingai  
Definitely. 

LK 
And I wondered if that was intentional?

Shingai
That’s completely my intention, and also because I just thought I was really lucky to be…even though there’s, as you said, a global, crazy, insecure time, even though I have the least resources I’ve ever had in my life, I’m the most free at the moment. I’m the most independent, I’ve got a little label and I had to also say to myself, this is the chance when I can roar, because on previous albums that would all have to be kind of a lot of metaphor. There was roaring, but there was a lot of wordplay. So only those who really went into the album decode would know what I meant on that song and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So, it was very intentional. I feel like my heart just filled up with so much love and so much empathy as well, when I felt like the world was really finally having these honest conversations that I feel like I’ve been trying to have with people for a long time, but they weren’t ready.

So I felt like before I made this album I wasn’t really wholly seen, I wasn’t really wholly heard, you didn’t really know my story and again, I felt I was very much seen as an entertainer. And it’s partly to do with having been in that insecure place of being on a major label and not knowing when you’re going to be dumped, or when your support is going to be taken away from you, and all that kind of stuff. So I want people to get a sense of what I’ve overcome, and how I just felt really inspired by the stories that people were sharing – especially as we were locked down. Like I said, I started making the album in November, but that was just writing it and we actually recorded it in January and then we started doing the promo already in….

LK
That’s really fast!

Shingai  
…literally, it just poured out of me, babe. It just poured out. But also when I moved to my Mum’s, certain things like the riff on the guitar from “Too Bold”…it just came to me one night, and it ended up being one of the last additions on the album because I remember I was in my Mum’s right, me and my siblings moved back to my Mum’s. So all of our old stuff is there, like my guitar that I bought when I was 15 and saved up for from a little music shop in Lewisham was there, and I picked it up. I don’t know if there’s an instrument that you haven’t picked up for a while, when you pick it up the last song that you wrote is still on the fretboard. 

LK 
I love that idea.

Shingai  
Yes. So I picked up this red Westone amazing guitar that I had from when I was 16 and… [sings].

And then literally 17 year old Shingai just came back through the guitar, and I realised that was a song that I never finished that I actually started writing when I was about 17 and it never… I think it popped up, I think it tried to audition itself for one of the Noisettes records. It was too melancholy or something, it never quite ended up making the record. So I was like, wow, maybe this is the time when I’m not on the road and I’m not on this GO GO GO mode, and like I said we’re independent now, so we can tell the stories we want to tell and the song just literally happened in about three or four hours and so…

LK
I love it when that happens. 

Shingai 
Yeah, so do I. So I just feel like the creative generosity…that’s not what it felt like at the time, it felt more like an emotional generosity that was needed. Because I was just reflecting the incredible conversations that were happening on social media with just so many amazing forums like Black Lives Matter. So many friends of mine had lost loved ones and they didn’t know how to file that.

LK
Yeah.

Shingai  
And my childhood was literally…the grief was like an onslaught. It started with my Dad when I was 9, and then by the time I was 15 all my grandparents passed away and we had a really, really devastating moment in Bantu Africa. So a lot of the Eastern Southern African countries were devastated by this Aids/HIV situation. So if you’re a child with heritage from any of those places: Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Congo, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, if you had family from any of those places, people were dropping like flies. And actually, that’s how I came into doing music. Because I think I could have gone into the traumatised child direction or I realised with me and my siblings…by the time I was 10 or 11 we were going to funerals every weekend, so we just had to become the entertainment. Funerals are often as well in Bantu culture, a celebration of life. So I grew up around a lot of live music consequently, because of this, so you have your traditional musicians turn up at the house if you’ve lost a loved one and they’re playing these instruments that you would really only find in your homestead in whichever African country you’re from. So I grew up realising that music and creativity was so powerful. I was given a lot of generosity and help in my grief by growing up with a very creative family. So my Mum’s brother is a drummer, my Mum’s cousin was one of the most legendary sax players, my Uncle Thomas is a legendary musician who inspired my playful style of kind of guitar picking, because it comes from this thumb piano culture. Playing guitar is definitely kind of different. So yeah, when I was growing up, creativity helped me to process difficult times, hard times. [Singing] “Hard times, yeah. Probably seen it all before. Hard times, yeah. Not running any more, pick yourself up off the floor.” 

Somebody did that to me when I was little, and so all I wanted to do when I was finally in a position to do that, there was just this wild outpouring of upsetness and grief and people realising and having to recognise uncomfortable truths at the level of oppression that existed. I was like, oh my god, I know how to write music for this. This is actually quite easy for me because when I was a kid, I had my go-to musicians andfamily members who would help to soothe us as kids. Something that I was lucky to be exposed to, culturally. So it didn’t feel like a creative generosity, it felt like a duty. I was like, oh, well, oh my God, I know how to deal with that.

Three of my best friends lost their Mums. Another best friend lost their father. I remember going to a funeral in May/June, and it was one of my best friends, and she was a really loved lady in the community and their family’s from Eritrea, but most of the kids are born and raised here. And they have big functions, when they mourn their dead, or when they celebrate the life of someone that’s gone to meet the ancestors – you’re talking hundreds of people going to the funeral. It was up somewhere by Highgate Cemetery. It was really beautiful, but there was like eight people.

I just remember thinking, now, the stuff that I’ve not wanted to talk about with people for the last 25 years, everyone’s talking about it now. So I was like, okay, maybe let me be brave enough and bold enough to write about it and then what happened was, echoes of little Shing came back when I was at my Mum’s house, because then my Mum started telling me and my siblings – because my siblings are artists as well, my brother Kwaye is an amazing artist, and my sister Chipo. So there’s a song called “TsiTsi” where we all sing in our mother tongue together for the first time, and it basically means it’s a call out to the ancestors – “We’re doing our best, but we need your help right now. Like, please show us the way, we’ve done everything we can, we try to live good lives, but there’s still something that makes us unhappy, please help us.” So I realised that when I went back to live in the family home, I realised…a lot of my friends went through this, a lot of my friends went back to the home counties and left their flats in Claphams and Londons and Dalstons and blah, blah, blah. And everyone was being added to these Whatsapp groups and “I just realised how much I detest my sister, I just realised that my Dad’s not my Dad”…everything was coming out.

LK
Yeah.

Shingai 
I don’t know if it’s similar in your community…I feel like 2020 was a very, very revealing year emotionally for people because of the pandemic. So I was like, okay, I’ve got nothing to lose, as long as it’s coming from a place of love and it’s not going to leave people feeling sad and drained. It’s going to leave people feeling like, actually, creativity can help us through this moment in time together.

LK
Yeah. Well, it’s an incredible journey you’re taking people on and I didn’t leave it feeling like, “oh, everything’s terrible”. It just felt like she’s giving so much, and this is incredible – and it’s so avant garde, the production. Now, I will say my knowledge of modern pop production is fucking zero, so maybe it’s not as avant garde as I think, but I mean that as the hugest compliment, by the way.

Shingai 
It’s what you do with it that makes it avant garde, you know?

LK 
Yeah, but that’s why I was wondering about…I’m very impressed it was made so quickly anyway, but I’m very impressed it was made so quickly, because it’s really fucking complex. There’s a lot of shit going on. So, well done, basically! I don’t have a question about it, just well done. Because it’s a really amazing piece of work.

Shingai
Thank you, it means a lot. And again, I think it really is a testimony to also me stepping out of my comfort zone, and just being a bit more brave to step closer towards the producer chair. And as I said before, in the band a lot of my creative music setups were very male dominated, it was just a bit more tricky for us to address that gender balance, because you had to be careful what you’re asking your label for, what you’re asking management for…and for me being the frontwoman of colour in the band, there’s just this narrative running in the background, like, “you’re lucky to be here, so don’t ask for too much”. So they didn’t even sometimes think that I’d be expected to write a massive hit and it would just be like, maybe six white guys and me, and no one ever thought to ask, you know, are you comfortable to go into this room with these six kind of alpha male type guys. And when you’re doing that in America? That’s a whole ‘nother level as well. It’s not easy to assert yourself.

LK 
No, of course.

Shingai 
There’s just a lot of movies running in the background that you have to navigate yourself. So I just thought, you know what? I’m going to seek out more females for this. I sought out Roseau, and she was amazingly on board. I sought out Karen Nyame and we did the remix of “Hey, Hey”, a little kind of like let’s have fun with a record that was maybe associated with a slightly negative story, let’s turn that into a positive story now. I sought out female engineers – in fact the whole production on the “Too Bold Diamond Remix”, not just the artists but even the mastering engineer, Taylor, she’s based at Strongroom Studios in Old Street/Curtain Road, them sides. She’s female. Jelly Cleaver, who mixed it – she’s female. You’ve got people like Fay Milton from Savages…I was like, “Yeah! Let’s put all of these amazing women in a creative situation and see what happens…” It’s such an empowering feeling…

LK
Because women can do stuff, too! 

Shingai Shoniwa  
Yeah, yeah. I just thought, okay now’s the time that we can really push the boundaries, you know? 

LK 
Well especially as you’re independent now…what’s the point in just doing stuff you wouldn’t stand behind? It doesn’t make any sense does it? We’ve got enough songs about California to last a lifetime haven’t we? Haven’t we? How many of those have been written this week? Sorry, anyone out that has just written a song about California but Jesus Christ!

Shingai 
It’s so true, and how many of them have been written by British white males as well? Is there a gap or something that we’re not aware of? 

LK  
I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s never popped up in my mind to stick that in a lyric to be honest. But that’s just me.

Shingai 
It’s a beautiful time, it’s a beautiful time. And what’s exciting you at the moment about being an independent artist? How the world’s ears have just taken on this yearning to listen to a wider spectrum of stuff. It’s just really amazing to have people pop up now who are your average music fans who are like, “Oh my God, I can hear this in this song. Do you listen to Odetta, or…?” and I’m just like, “Wow”, now I’ve got real music fans calling me and going, “Hey, Shingai, I’ve just listened to your record, can I recommend you check out this beautiful, obscure record by a female folk artist from the 70’s or 80’s.” That’s amazing, you know?

LK
Yeah, there’s some great people around who know a lot more about music than me! The things are exciting me are some very similar things to what you’ve been talking about, so, with my new record – which will be out by the time this goes out, which is terrifying and wonderful all at once, because we’re talking a few weeks beforehand – is that I was really excavating, and I was really going deeper than I ever have into my past and into certain things in my past that have really held me back in my life for quite a long time…stuff from teenage years. The stuff I always just pushed to one side, pushed it all down…

Shingai  
Yeah.

LK 
I wrote about the things that were happening to me at the time – which I don’t regret, because I’m proud of my work – but then I just thought, there are some things…I know that if I put words to these scary things, and these things that make me sad a lot, then I think I can diminish the power of them in my life now. Because there’s stuff from when I was, like, 17…

Shingai  
I hear you.

LK 
…it’s a long time ago, I don’t need to be bothered by that any more. So it’s a lot to do with letting go of some things, not letting people off the things they did, but just letting go of them so that I can be freer now. So for me, it was – I know the word cathartic is used a lot in songwriting, but it was very, very cathartic.

Shingai  
Wow.

LK
And like you, I think that that kind of stuff…it sums stuff up for other people. It’s not a selfish act to go, “I feel sad about this, I’m going to tell you. It’s going: I feel sad about this, and it’s held me back for a long time, but I’ve done this to set myself free and I think you could be set free also, and I’m gonna give that to you…” is the sort of vibe of the record. 

Shingai  
I just want to hug you right now. 

LK
Aww, let’s do a air hug. 

Shingai 
Virtual hug.

LK 
Virtual hug, oh thanks! Which is why it’s been frustrating…it’s very frustrating to be told that, for instance, on the radio at the moment apparently, they don’t really want too much downbeat stuff. So I’ve got a song called “Black Car”, which is about Coronavirus, about feeling guilty to survive it, really, because I think there’s a whole mix of emotions. I’m obviously very thankful, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in all of us at the moment and we’re obviously processing it all in different ways. So I wrote this song because it just had to happen, and then I was quite nervous to share it with people because I didn’t want to make them feel bad about stuff, because I didn’t want to bring them down. But then when I did share it with my sort of inner circle of fans, they were so pleased and they said so many things about how it really helped them and stuff, so I just knew I could put it out.

So I put out as a single, and now I’m being told that even though it’s the most appropriate time for that song to exist, no one’s gonna want to play it, even though it’s about right now – and that’s the kind of shit that really pisses me off, because I’ve been independent for so long. I don’t really like being told that sort of thing, because I just think it’s bollocks…I know it’s bollocks. But then I’m dipping my toe into a game I don’t fully understand, and maybe I shouldn’t really even bother playing. So that’s been frustrating. But again, it’s not about that, it’s about getting it to people who need it and want it and get value from it, so the rest of it doesn’t really matter. But it is slightly frustrating. Have you felt that your records got support from the “industry” inverted commas? 

Shingai 
It’s really amazing you should say that because like you said, it’s right now. There is a clear demand on people platforms, social media, you know? People are asking for emotive work, people aren’t asking for fast food – and it just makes the people who are peddling this idea that we’ve got to force feed the public upbeat songs…Why do you want people to feel upbeat when actually a lot of those egalitarian taxpayer funded institutions are supposed to reflect the spectrum of creativity, culture, record types that people need? Why are you so scared to give people a range of emotions in the music that they’re going to be downloading? And I just feel like it makes them look a bit sinister. Why do you want people to be pretending like nothing’s going on and dancing alone in the kitchen like they’re in a club? Why do you want everybody to be turning their houses…there’s this whole push, they’re like, “Yeah! kitchen disco, Fridays! Kitchen disco, I love it!” And I’m just like, how many freaking average people in fucking England have kitchens that are fucking big enough to dance in? That’s such a fucking middle class, excuse my French, that’s such a middle class assumption that everyone has these beautiful kitchens with islands in…

LK
With a disco ball…

Shingai 
With all your lovely kids that you can afford to raise in these big houses, and that there are gardens. A lot of people in the areas that I grew up with, they have a balcony at most, you know? I know a lot of friends and extended family and who I came up with. And even now, a lot of middle class Londoners can’t afford more than a balcony. A lot of 20/30 something year olds can’t afford more than that. So the fact that they’re trying to force this false kind of like, “Hey, we’re so happy!” I just find it a little bit…it makes them look a bit sinister. Like, why don’t you want people to feel things – because when people feel things, they’re less likely to take bullshit, because it reminds us of our humanity and being reminded of your humanity reminds you of your responsibility and your power that you have when you get together as lots of good minded human people.

And I feel like there’s something quite sinister in wanting people to just sort of block out the necessary emotions that we’re supposed to be feeling now during this time. Because then what you’re going to have is a lot of post traumatic…I mean, the mental health, as we said in the beginning of the chat is creeping up, suicide rates are up and I’ve actually received messages going, “I had so much despair. I’ve listened to your album, and it’s making me feel like I can go on”. Songs that make you feel human,  it’s like you said – it’s like you’ve almost allowed people to feel something through your catharsis, for your bravery in your music, and people want to feel things right now. They’re tired of just…I’m sorry, you can’t be the BBC and give people non-stop negative news reporting about everything that’s negative, 95% negative, and it’s the same kind of PSYOP fear…you can’t just do that on the news and then be the BBC Radio One and then go “right, we’re going to be fucking happy in your kitchen with your island!” 

LK 
Yeah, it’s so weird. Yeah, you’ve put it so beautifully. The kind of writing that I think that we both do is…I think a lot about giving people permission to feel the feelings that they already feel. The word fan is kind of awful, because I think it reduces people to this really anonymous thing. But the people who love the kind of music that comes out of humans that is true, let’s say, they are complicated people with lives of their own. They’re not somebody who just clicks “like” on your photo. They’ve got loads of shit going on. They deserve to be seen. They deserve to be given permission to feel the things they feel. If we can help in the tiniest way, isn’t that the most amazing part of it? So that’s why I just get frustrated when I feel like my music has been blocked from getting to people because of someone else’s idea of what my music should be, or who I should be signed to, or how much money I should have paid to which plugger you know, all that shit? 

Shingai 
Oh my god, don’t get me going on that. 

LK 
I know, we could have a whole other hour about about that. But I just want to get the music to the people, that is all I want. Because I know, because it’s helped me get over a load of shit, I know it will help people. 

Shingai 
Yeah. 

LK 
And that’s not an arrogant thing, that’s just a generous thing. I want to add value to the world through the music that I make.

Shingai
Absolutely.

LK 
That’s nice, isn’t it? That’s fine. So stop stopping me!

Shingai 
Yeah! So wonderfully put. And then also, with the whole format that we talked about – the fact that the setup is so negated where you have these levels of gatekeepers. I think if a lot of people found out, look, the only reason why that song is playing in your kitchen radio three times an hour is because that artist can afford a plugger. Basically, that radio station has been paid to say they like that song. Are these presenters really DJs, because a lot of them are influencers and they’re just the person behind the mic, but it doesn’t feel like they… there’s no John Peels. You know what I’m saying? Like, where the fuck is John Peel, do you know what I mean? Who is that person at mainstream radio that you are paying your taxes for that is genuinely listening to hundreds of records and songs?

LK 
There is one – which is Tom Robinson.

Shingai Shoniwa  
Oh! 

LK
Absolutely. Tom Robinson. 

Shingai 
Oh, wow. 

LK 
He’s a freakin hero. 

Shingai  
Is he at BBC6? 

LK 
Yes.

Shingai  
Okay. 

LK 
So he’s there. There are some I think. Your point absolutely stands, but I will always stand up for Tom Robinson ’cause he definitely listens to a shitload of stuff, yeah.

Shingai  
I think it’s important that the public know what that is. And I think the public needs to know about the haves and the have nots, because if a lot of people knew that it was decided who they’re supposed to be loving and listening to and dancing to in their mystery kitchens with islands, which most of us don’t fucking have, you know…If they knew that actually, no, that’s because that artist has got a £10,000 promo budget, and that’s why you’re getting to hear their voice. I think if a lot of people knew that, things would be different.

LK
I think so too. One of the guests, I won’t name the guest, but one of the guests of this podcast in the early days, he told me off the mic that the reason I’d heard of his band was because of 1 million pounds being spent on that band when they started out. 

Shingai 
Wow, exactly.

LK
And I still know of the band because they’re great. So they’re a great band and they’ve really cultivated a great audience and all that stuff. But initially, that was the push.

Shingai  
Wow.

LK 
And so when you see festival lineups, for instance, which is all blokes that you’ve heard of and there’s an uproar about really basic representation not being there…I’m so annoyed, I can barely say it…But anyway, so that’s happening and then people go, “Oh, well, you know, if women and artists of colour and you know, LGBTQIA+ artists could sell tickets then they’d have slots”, but what you’re saying is, you have to be so amazing that you can get really successful completely outside the system, so that then we can put you on our bill and sell tickets and make money off you…which is not how it works. As you were saying with your experience at the label, if you’d had three times the budget, who knows how much bigger Noisettes could have been?

Shingai
Exactly. Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of spend and mechanics – it’s fixed. And I think there’s a lot of sectors that have revealed themselves during this kind of revolutionary year and a half that we’ve had, and I think that also the British public are just trying to process that as well. Even though now probably at least 50% of us know where certain parts of sectors are fixed. We know that we can’t just throw out those institutions overnight. You know, a lot of us are trying to give them a chance to change or suddenly money’s been appearing to give said institutions more money. They’re saying, like, “We need help to be equal”, you know, the BBC, “we’re actually going to need more taxpayers money, so we can have an equality fund”…

LK 
What, the being not a shithead fund? Jesus. Right. Or you could just be a decent person in the first place. I don’t know. Seems a little bit more simple to me.

Shingai
Yeah. I think the word is out now and I think that people know that there’s a lot of malpractice and the format is very, very rigged. Just a matter of, I think, maybe us as independent artists not trying to sit there waiting for validation from those institutions…

LK  
Exactly.

Shingai  
…and actually coming together, and actually, like you said, where we’re almost becoming more powerful than those institutions because a lot of the artists who are backed by those institutions can’t reach a genuine segment of the British public who will save them, you know.

Laura Kidd  
Absolutely.

Shingai 
We are in a position to do that and support each other, and we should carry on – there’s loads of amazing bodies that are in support, you’ve got your AIMs [Association of Independent Music], you know, institutions like that where you don’t have to have the usual kind of situation to be able to make it. 

So, yeah, I think it’s a really amazing time for truly independent artists, companies, souls, and for artists that are really singing, as we said earlier, from an authentic place, regardless of what they have been told people want to hear. People just want to hear good music! When these mass subscribers, subscribe to hear music…I think at the end of the day, people just really do want to hear amazing music, you know?

LK 
Yeah.

Shingai  
This is something that we’re able to provide in our position. It just takes a lot more work, and we don’t have the resources, but there’s something quite warm and quite precious and genuine that we do have and the proof is in the pudding of our records, hopefully.

LK
Well that’s a beautiful way to end our chat. But I just want to say when I saw you, in your video, cycling and playing the guitar at the same time, I just thought that’s like a metaphor for, I suppose, detaching from the idea that the industry has to pat me on the back one day and go, “Yeah, you did well, We ignored you, we didn’t help, but you finally proved that you can do it, to us.” Because sometimes I feel like what else do I have to do to prove to “the world” in inverted commas how “blah, blah, blah” I am.

Shingai
Definitely.

LK  
And I just saw you on that fucking bike and I was like, that’s what I feel like I’m doing every day. You’re still never gonna applaud me and it’s still fine, because there’s much more to life.

Shingai  
I think, rather than that mass round of applause, what you’re getting now is you’re getting the genuine ripple of the of wonderful, genuine voices in the choir who are listening to you for who you really are. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that, and I think we need to just carry on, celebrate each other and more will come to the party. You can’t win them all but when you do win, just that critical mass, they have got your back man, they’re amazing and they really do have your back and at the end of the day, I think that’s the creative community and the creative consumer community that I’d rather be a part of, anyway.

LK  
Yeah, definitely. Well, look, it’s been so wonderful to meet you. When we started talking, I felt like we’d met already, but we definitely haven’t. But I’ve been a big fan of your work for years. 

Shingai 
Thank you.

LK  
The new album is amazing. All the other stuff’s great.

I normally ask people which three pieces of their own work would they recommend? I mean, feel free to do that, but I would just say people need to go listen to “Too Bold” immediately. What do you think? 

Shingai 
Yeah, yeah, “Too Bold Diamond Remix”, for sure. I would also suggest “Atticus” (Noisettes) is always a go-to for me, there’s always a song like that on one of my albums that’s like the kind of quintessential… like, I love production, and I love dynamics in music. But there’s also something really lovely about when you can find a moment on your album when you strip it back a little bit, you know, and you get into that lullaby type vibe? So yeah, I guess “Too Bold” has that “Atticus” moment for me. And yeah, let me know what other songs are resonating, I guess. And I’m going to listen to yours as well. Looking forward to it.

LK
I’ll send you a sneaky link to it.

Shingai
Ooh thank you! I’m going to listen to it today, then.

LK
You should pop round sometime!

Shingai  
Yeah. Well, our drummer has moved to Bristol, so we’re definitely going to go down and hang out, bless that house, pick up some jams, and then do a little whisk around to come and say hi. 

LK 
Oh cool! Yay. Awesome, well thank you so much. Thank you for being on this.

Shingai
Thank you so much, Laura.


Laura Kidd
The deluxe show notes page for this episode is at penfriend.rocks/shingai – head on over to get links to listen to “Too Bold” and watch that amazing video where Shingai rides a bike and plays the guitar at the same time. Astonishing.

My new album “Exotic Monsters” is also out now wherever you get your music, but the best way to support it is to get it direct from my website in all its limited edition vinyl and CD glory. Everything is running low now, and I’ve got just a handful of t-shirts  and badges left, too.

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend, click subscribe and say hello any time on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram – I’m @penfriendrocks everywhere. Bonus points if you feel inspired to leave a review on Apple Podcasts – that helps in two ways – it tells me to keep going, and others to keep listening.

If you’re new here, make sure you visit my website penfriend.rocks to pick up two free songs and receive thoughtful letters about art and music, and if you’d like to listen to more after this, I highly recommend episode 39 with Stephen Jones, episode 36 with Sananda Maitreya formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby, and there’s also a getting to know me episode, which is episode 40.

This podcast is a rare ad-free zone, but I do welcome sponsorship from listeners, so if you’d like to find out more about that click here.

Massive thanks to my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of this show and all my music. Lots of love to you.

I’ll be back in two weeks time to share my conversation with Lou Barlow of Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr, so I hope to catch you then!

Til then – take care!

Share this:
Podscripts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.