Weekend Notes – Interview with Shameem

This is an awesome, humongous, fantastic write up from the popular blog Weekend Notes! It includes a cool live review of the Perth album launch show for The Second City.

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Wardrobe changes and wardrobe malfunctions have oft outshone music performances. If you sat back and thought of the key moments in pop history (who can forget Janet Jackson) no doubt Britney Spears, Madonna and perhaps even Alicia Keys might spring to mind. While these women move and shake their thang on a global scale, Perth soul songtress Shameem is keepin’ the wardrobe change alive and well on a local scale.

Her recent show at The Subiaco Arts Centre saw the stunning Iranian, Malaysian-Chinese singer grace the stage in in a Spanish inspired, vibrant red floor-length dress, only to remerge three-quarters of the set through, in hi-tops, khakis and a crop top circa 80’s street-style. Supported by two back-up dancers, she proved not only can she elegantly deliver her soul repertoire, but also she can cut the stage up So You Think You Can Dance style. Respect. I’m impressed.

Her current tour is “pretty big!” and will take in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide and also regional hotspots Newcastle and Byron Bay. She eagerly advises, “[It’s the] first time I’ve gone this wide and I am taking my band with me. There are six members including guitar, bass, drums, keys, a backing vocalist and me.” The tour celebrates the release of her new album The Second City, which launched on January 16th, off the back of new single Under the Sun (the track was released nationally on December 12th 2014). The feedback on her sophomore album is that it is being welcomed with open arms, “I’ve had really great responses. There have been a couple of reviews, and it has been fun to read. It’s going well so far and it has definitely attracted some attention to the album.”

‘Under the Sun’ video clip and thoughts on her artistic approach.
With the filmclip for Under the Sun, Shameem deliberated about taking a slightly eclectic approach. The end result is a compelling and visually engaging piece constructed entirely of paper. “Yay, that’s good to hear! It’s a bit tricky now in the music industry. It’s not just about the music, it is about the visual aspect and the viral aspect, she explains. “I kept thinking, how can I make a video that is cool, and people find compelling enough that they’d want to share it? I was trying to get inspiration and I decided to turn to the arts.”

Her research included the spectacular track by Australian artist Goyte (featuring Kimbra), ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. “I guess I was trying to look at video clips that are really engaging and one that has been done really well in the last couple of years. I kept thinking okay, art … can I use art somehow in a cool way?

Because that kind of matches with the thing that I am trying to project as an artist. I have this friend (WA artist Renee Farrant) that does paper art, and I thought how many people do that? And what if everything was made from paper? That is where the idea began.”

Shameem recognises the music industry is changing, and moving on to the next level as an artist requires a different approach, now that she has moved past the ‘gigging stage.’ “I have to push myself further out, and think about those things I guess.”

The Perth music industry.
Born and brought up in Perth, “except for one year when I lived in Alice Springs, I did volunteer work after I finished school – ever since then I have been getting into my music.” Shameem reflects for a while when asked what the industry is like for her genre of music, “Perth is very difficult for soul music. There are a small handful of artists, which is helpful, and some of them are really good too. I think they find it hard to survive in a very rock, electro and hip hop driven scene. A couple of them do really well for themselves, and they are slightly different to me, they are slightly more boisterous.”

Big brassy horns, and Hip Hop don’t really feature in Shameem’s style of music; it’s more RnB, “kind of more lyrical.” As a consequence, the conundrum the singer faces is finding appropriate places to perform, “I don’t quite match the venues the boisterous soul artists fit into.” It’s evident that Perth may need to invest in some much-needed locales, “there aren’t any real soul venues. Those other kind of bands play the original music\rock venues like your Mojo’s, stuff like that. I end up playing a lot at the Ellington Jazz Club and every now and then, you will get another venue that will pop up.”

When asked about her observations on Perth audiences, both from a punter and performer perspective, she breaks into laughter. “I don’t go to gigs, and maybe other people don’t go either, it depends on the venue and the time of the year. Perth people are used to having eternal sunshine, if it is a little bit cold or a little bit rainy we get really sooky, and we don’t want to go out. And, that might be a challenge!”

Shameem’s social messaging through music.
One element of Shameem’s show that endears her to fans, and encourages audience attendance, is the storytelling. Each song has a carefully crafted introduction, a backstory rich with personal anecdotes, challenges and triumphs. While positive messages are her “mission as an artist,” she just “love, loves telling the audience why I wrote the songs. I find when I do that, it often means more to them. Not that I don’t want them to come up with their own interpretation, but I want them to feel something.”

Connecting with the audience is a crucial and enjoyable experience for this soul singer. Having fun is a key part of the live show, and the band regularly improvise while performing, “I am playing with a bunch of really fabulous musicians, and it is kind of nice to stretch out the music a bit, the guitarists have a solo … I ramble on for a bit!” Because I have more musicians, we can explore that. It keeps it fresh for us, and it keeps it fresh for the fans too.” It’s a technique that strikes a chord with people, and many fans who are moved by her work will “come to me after the gig. Sometimes they tell me a story, and that is really beautiful.”

Breaking down the Soul and RnB thing (compared to the USA)
The good news is, audiences in the USA are also digging Shameem’s music. Her first album “got decent amounts of radio play. And, it was just cool to see how many stations came on board, I am hoping they are really going to eat up the new record as well.” With the campaign just starting in mid January, the singer is “really interested to see how they respond to this work, as I think Australians don’t really get the whole soul thing.”

When I asked why she thinks Soul has not cut through like other genres, she carefully explains, “sometimes I’ll play my music to an Aussie and they will be like ohhhhhh, that is cool, it is sort of, ahhhhhhh jazzy, sort of a bit funky … and they are not familiar with it. I’ll play it to an American and they will be like (puts on accent), oh yeah that is soul! They’ll be like, “you got Soul girl!”‘

It’s an interesting state of play and Shameem believes it has transpired from what music audiences have been exposed to, “the industry then forms around it and reinforces it.” Her attempt at putting her music on triple j unearthed, cleverly illustrates the point. “You have to tick a box to say what genre your music is, and there is no RnB, there is no Soul, there is no Urban, there is no Jazz, I had to put Pop and Roots!” She explains Sydney based singer Ngaiire also had to put her song down as Pop and Roots, “it is funny like that. At the same time, you don’t really hear a lot of Soul music on triple j, it is not being reinforced.”

When she last entered the WAM (West Australian Music) Song of the Year awards, there was a similar disparity, “there is a Hip Hop and Urban category. I remember one year I was in the finals for the Song of the Year and it was me up against four Hip Hop artists, my music was completely different to all the other artists in the category. That was interesting!”

Turn It On
One avenue Shameem’s music is being reinforced, is through corporate partnering. West Australian audiences will recognise Shameem’s dulcet tunes on the TV ad campaign for Kleenheat Gas, “it was exciting – it got me a lot of exposure. I did not write the song myself, it is the only song I did not record myself. The irony! They contacted me as they wanted a Perth soul singer to record the song.”

Laughingly she adds, “[I was a] Pin up Girl for a little while!” She believes strategic collaborations can do great things for artists, although, she admits her calling card for a while was, “I am the girl on the Kleenheat ad – argh! (sings) Turn it on … Turn it on!” As a full-time musician and music teacher, she advises reinvesting most of what she earns back into her career is the stage she is at, “I am also being supported by my husband, and he is fabulous!”

With the lay of the music land shifting, especially with regard to payment of music, she optimistically adds, “I think there is movement both ways. The great thing about it, is that musicians are using it to communicate what really happens and I recently saw the most amazing article that Pomplamoose wrote.” The piece is a really honest depiction of their national tour, “and all the incomings and outgoings. They expressed it in such a way that it was easy for even a layperson to understand. They lost money on the tour, and they said that is okay, it is an investment on future tours. We are just trying to get by like everyone else. That was really interesting to read and I hope that it is starting to raise people’s conscious.”

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