Had a really nice chat with Scenestr magazine, here’s the piece…
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Last Friday, Perth soul songstress Shameem released her new album, ‘The Second City’.
After a successful launch at the weekend at the Subiaco Arts Centre in Perth, Shameem will soon be packing her bags for an extensive east coast trip. But before she hits the open road, we managed to corner her with the following Q&A.
Your first single of your new album ‘The Second City’ entitled ‘Under One Sun’ is about spreading the spiritual message about how we all descended from the same gene pool. How did this song come into being?
Well, I was invited by James Bryan, who is an awesome producer and has worked with Nelly Furtado and James Morrison among others, to go to the UK where he is based and do some songwriting with him. He had come across my music by discovering some demos that I had put up on MySpace, of all places! So I travelled to the UK and spent a couple of days in his studio co-writing with him. ‘Under One Sun’ is the first song that we wrote together. I had already come up with the concept for the chorus, and together we refined it and fleshed out the rest of the song. He was really behind the message of the song too, so it came out really naturally.
The fascinating film clip for the song ‘Under One Sun’ features you wearing a paper dress in a world entirely made by paper. For this film clip, you collaborated paper artist Renee Farrant. What was the experience like making the film clip?
The planning phase was the most interesting part. Because Renee lives in Albany, which is a regional town about five hours drive from Perth; she would send me photos of some of the paper pieces that she had made and then I would forward them onto the producer of the video clip, Jason Eshraghian. He would then send back some feedback and ask for specific other pieces to be created. It was awesome to see all the artwork coming along as we approached the filming date. Of course I also had to make a trip to Albany at one point to try on the dress and then bring it back to Perth. The filming itself was different to anything I’d done before as pretty much everything was shot in front of a green screen, so that Jason could then blow up all the small, paper objects to be bigger than me – in real life, they’re all small figurines that would stand neatly in the palm of my hand.
Haha, tricky! I was constantly worried that I would step on the train of the dress and wreck it. And of course every time I moved it would rustle, so I would be constantly rustling.
While most artists would be somewhat cryptic about the inspiration behind their songs and lyrics, leaving the listener to interpret songs themselves, you are happy to be more open with your songs. For example, you have sections on your website where you explain the meaning the reader. What inspires you to do this?
Well, there’s two reasons I guess… one is that my mission as an artist is to spread constructive messages and ideas and to inspire people to feel empowered to work for the betterment of the world around them. So, if you want to deliver a message or idea like that you have to be a bit more specific about what you’re talking about. Also, some of my songs are very much inspired by experiences, both joyful and challenging, that I’ve been through in my own life. I figure that we are all human beings and that some of the things that we go through are quite universal, human experiences, and that by talking about my experiences other people might be able to relate to my story and I might even possibly assist someone else somewhere out there along their journey.
You were born in Australia to a Chinese-Malaysian father and an Iranian mother, how did your mixed background inspire you as a songwriter?
I say this a lot… being a mixed-race person, I’ve often felt that I belong nowhere and yet I belong everywhere. It’s given me a unique perspective I think on the world and on things like culture, religion, prejudice and politics, because I know more than one side of the story, if you know what I mean. I’m sure that a lot of these ideas come out in my lyrics. More recently, I’ve been trying to get musically in touch with my Iranian roots and that has come out in a couple of the songs on this new album, like ‘Chill In The Fire’ and ‘Expectation’.
How did your musical journey begin? Did it coincide with your spiritual journey?
Well, our spiritual journey begins as soon as we are born into this world, whether we realise it or not… And my musical journey began as an infant too; my parents were always playing recorded music of all kinds in the house and I’m sure that influenced how connected I have felt with music throughout my whole life. I remember that when I was about five or six years old I begged my uncle for piano lessons, because he was a piano teacher. He told me that I had to learn to read first and that he would start teaching me piano when I was seven. It felt like an eternity away at such a young age! But piano has been the one instrument that has stayed with me and that I like to use alongside my singing even to this day.
In your opinion, what makes songs so powerful in sending a message?
It’s not just the lyrics, it’s the music. Music is a very powerful medium; it conjures up emotions and memories in a way that no other form of art does. That’s why they use it in films; it breathes life and reality into the cold silence of the film. A song is powerful because it marries the two powerful forces of words and music.
You have been quoted as saying your music is about bettering the world, what kind of message would you like your songs to send?
That we are all one, human family, no matter what country we come from, or what we look like, or what religion we practice, or whether we are young or old, male or female, rich or poor – we are all brothers and sisters. That there is more to life than just the things that happen to us or the romantic flings we have or the physical possessions that we amass; there is truth and love and beauty and meaning in life. That each one of us has the power to create positive change in our own, little corner of the world, and that if enough people do this then it is possible to change the whole world.
Absolutely. Look at the state of the world! It so desperately needs healing. Even in our own privileged and wealthy nation, we still have our own problems and challenges and skeletons in our closet and suffering that we need to overcome. I don’t think the lyrical content of most pop music is helping the situation at all; most lyrics that you hear nowadays encourage selfishness, indulgence, lust, greed and mindless apathy. I feel so dumbed down by today’s pop music; I find it insulting that songwriters should think so little of our intelligence that they write such mediocre lyrics for us to listen to!
You have also been described as being very bubbly and humbling; what makes you happy when you are not performing?
There are so many things in life to gain happiness from. Giving service to others, spending time with my family and friends, how beautiful the sky looks when the sun is setting, how delicious fruits are, how great a breeze feels on your face, how cute it is when a baby laughs… who needs a chemical high when there are so many wonderful, natural things in life to get high from?