Shelly Segal is a name synonymous with thought-provoking music. Her gentle style embraces controversies in society, and then elegantly crafts them into tracks that speak to the heart of the matter. Fans will remember 'Morocco' and 'Saved', the latter one of the most critical songs from An Atheist Album and the former, from An Easy Escape, saw Segal accused of "denouncing the kingdom of Morocco". When I spoke to her last year about this single, it became evident that heartfelt music can really help to question cultural nuances, and may not always be sugar coated.
Over the last year, Segal herself has gone through a metamorphosis. 'Sidelined' is the product of her personal journey, a look into the world of expectations when it comes to beauty. As an independent artist, 'image' is front and centre stage. And, in typical style, she's produced a quirky, reflective and captivating piece.
Her fourth studio album, Strange Feeling released this month and Segal will be performing at Caravan Music Club, SUN 24 MAY and Northcote Social Club on SAT 30 MAY. She took time out of her current music schedule to share the process of recording the album, how the song came to life and her upcoming tour in the States (they love her there as much as we do).
RECORDING THE NEW EP It was a lot of fun. I guess it all started last year actually, I was recording this EP while I was still promoting the last one, An Easy Escape. We'd done four recordings before this one and we just wanted it to be just expressive of all my influences. Each album had its own sound. (This one is) just really inclusive and coherent and that was the main inspiration behind this project.
My dad is a really friendly guy, he is such a sweetie and he loves meeting people. Every time he comes back from overseas, he is like "Shelley, I met this person and you have to meet them!"
Sometimes you are like oh yeah, and he was like "I met this producer in America and he is like the best guy I ever met! He is Australian and we met at this thing and I want you to meet him." I am like you want me to meet everyone!
By the end of the meeting, I was just completely in love with him (Robert Upward from Upward studios). I hate the word 'soul mate', but it was beautiful. I so connected with him on so many levels, his approach to music, to life, people, work ethic and the music industry. He was just talking about how he has been able to create a successful path for himself, doing what he loves and doing it in a way that he wants to.
I was playing him a lot of my music and we have a lot of the same perspective on a lot of issues and stuff, and also he is just a beautiful, beautiful kind man.
By the end of it, we're like, let's make a record together - let's do it. He was really confident we could do it in Australia. He said, 'we can do something that is as good and better, than what you have done before.
PRODUCING MUSIC OVERSEAS I get that attitude sometimes from the overseas market that the Australian stuff is not as competitive and you need to be (physically) here. It's just a bit of an attitude, which is interesting.
I've also heard from people here sometimes our work doesn't get taken seriously or made a priority when you send stuff to a mastering house or something like that overseas. The US stuff will get priority. Different markets get treated differently. I haven't experienced that personally, but that is what I have heard.
Rob was just like, adamant that we could do it in Australia. (It's) really nice to work with local people and local musicians that I've had relationships with for a long time.
The bass player on the record is now part of my band and it was so special to have him come in and be part of it, and be recording in Australia. My family and friends would come in; it was so lovely, it added to the feel of the whole thing. It has been my favourite experience in the whole studio.
Shelley Segal, Melbourne
RECORDING IN MELBOURNE
There was one day in particular that was really special, we were recording the string section and the song is about a friend of mine –their divorce. The girl, who I'd written it about, got to come in and hear the actual recording of her song! There was a live string section for all the songs – we had cello, viola and violin. I've never had that before, a proper arrangement. It was really, really special.
My father is a violin player and his dad is a cello player. There are three boys and they all play strings. My great uncle is an incredible player, he is in his 80's and he is not doing very well, we got to bring him into the studio and he got to see this string section playing live.
I feel very close to them and supported, it may sound a bit corny but love makes you feel worthwhile and strong. Bringing that out and sharing it with other people is really important to me.
WHAT SIDELINED IS ABOUT
It was from a very brief affair that I had with a guy who wanted me to change the way I look for him and it was quite confronting for me. Everyone is attracted to different people; I don't think I am the most beautiful girl in the world. Basically after we got involved he said I would prefer you to look a different way to how you look now. That was pretty upsetting and it shakes your confidence a bit.
I wouldn't of minded if you said that to me before we were together, but why would you say that to me after we are together?
It was good for me to know, okay, that is not a good person to have in my life and I am not interested in someone who doesn't love me for who I am and wants me to change. I kind've reflected a bit on the experience as it was quite confronting and 'Sidelined' is what I came up with. The words are, "you want a skinny lover and it is perfectly fine."
We are visual creatures and the way that we look will have an impact on our lives. That is what I wanted to say. I didn't want to judge us for having aesthetic expectations, but I wanted to acknowledge them because a lot of the discussion on body image is what's inside that counts. And I don't really agree with that because it is not true. It is a nice sentiment and I agree with the feeling behind the sentiment.
The way that you look will really affect the way you lead your life it is undeniable. If you move closer to society's ideal expectations you are going to do better, you are going to get further, you are going to have different outcomes.
I feel weird to kind of go against that idea of 'it's what's inside that counts.' It's nice and it is appealing but I don't think it is the whole story. I wanted to say it in a non-judgmental way and of course the question is: Is this something we can overcome?
THE BEAUTY MYTH
My friend told me about the new Spanx campaign. They are going for a feminist angle, it is not about changing your figure it is about being smooth and comfortable and changing the world. They have little feminist quotes that come with the product; they've done a total rebrand.
But how can a product that is about shrinking and changing our bodies ever be something that is empowering in a feminist message?
I've also recently had changes to my look, haha! I've started wearing make-up and I've cut my hair. Well, I've just been looking at my image as an artist and what I am trying to put across of what I am thinking and feeling internally.
Ummm it has been interesting process looking at that … Especially with the perspective with this first single. I never really thought about things visually. I am more of a music person than visual, but it does really matter and it is part of what I am saying.
Not making a decision is the same as making a decision. You can't really opt out, so I had to think about it a bit more and look into that. This clip was a way of me sharing that internal process and dialogue with fans and this is the way. There are the two girls, the unmade girl and made up girl. It is the made up girl that takes the guitar and leaves the house, as this is what is required of you to be an artist.
MESSAGE OF THE SONG
I think that is part of the whole message of the song, if you are fulfilling aesthetic expectations people are going to respond more favorably.
I showed my clip to friends of mine, a couple; Ruben said to me yeah I hate wearing a tie to work. I hate it, it makes me feel like I am just limiting myself and I am just subduing myself. I think men have to deal with it a lot. (With) females the pressure is to be more expressive with their clothes.
WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE TRUE MUSIC LABEL? Humans (As Animals) are pushing along; they have a new single on at the moment. They've got a new EP they'll be releasing early next year and they'll start dropping singles from that later in the year. It's a seven-minute three-part piece about a monster with a horn section and it is just crazy!
There's also a young girl on our label, Maya, we just put out her first single in March: electro-soul and it is a lot of fun. It's different for me because I am so used to folk and it is nice to see young up and coming talent.
We have a True Music Inc. in America as well. So we are based in both countries and just setting things up over there, especially for when I go on tour. I think my fan base is definitely bigger in American than Australia!! We just don't have the population to support nice Indy artists.
It's been fun do things a bit differently. One guy in America that I've been working with, said to my dad, "I didn't want to say anything about the underarm hair (Sidelined filmclip), I wasn't sure, maybe that is what they do in Australia?" My dad is like, "no, no people don't do that thing either." It's a funny thing. People are like why are you making that statement. Why is it a statement??
In terms of the clip you are showing things, in some ways you are subscribing to expectations and in some ways you are not. It's funny for me I did not think of it that way when I first did it.
HEADING BACK TO AMERICA
Yeah, I am going back to LA in August - I am doing another tour in Aug, Sep, Oct. we are actually just working on that today. We are trying to lock in shows, all states. Might go up to Canada for a couple of shows and conferences. I miss the atmosphere: the learning, getting to hear people's stories. I haven't had that for a while.