British newcomer SHELLS was first introduced to us last summer through the breathtaking debut ‘Jagwar’, revealing a strong songwriting talent behind the outer moniker. Unvarnished and subtle, epic and bold, SHELLS’ work speaks of breaking through past habits by letting go, moving on and recovering from the trauma. Music like hers is a necessary listen, anything that speaks of struggle and rebuild is essential in our book, even more so when it sounds as uplifting and revitalising as the tracks that appear on the debut EP, ‘Shapes’.
Living the dream of any emerging artist, SHELLS has spent the last month travelling around the glacial landscapes of a wintery Europe with electro-pop kings and queens, The Naked and Famous. We sat down with the singer/songwriter to learn more about the journey so far and further more what’s to come.
CH: Firstly, thanks for taking the time out to chat to me. I know you must have a really busy schedule right now! Are you looking forward to tonight’s show?
S: “Yeah I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s so nice to meet you after the articles about ‘Jagwar’ and ‘Jailbird’…”
CH: You too.
“Yeah I’m really looking forward to tonight, it’s nice to be back in England and I’ve never been to Manchester before so I’m really excited about playing here.”
CH: Yes that was my next question; it’s your first show in Manchester!
S: “Yeah exactly! First show, and I’m sure people always say this, but it really is such a pleasure to be supporting The Naked and Famous. They’re such a nice team, they’re all so lovely – the crew, the organisers, the band – everyone is just so nice.”
CH: I’m always curious how these tours come together, especially for the supporting artists, did The Naked and Famous reach out to you personally or was it all sorted through booking agents and management?
S: “So I think it was a mixture. We had booking agents working together; my booking agent is super lovely, her name’s Natasha, and she asked my management if I was available and I love The Naked and Famous so I was like ‘Yeah, yes please”. [laughs] So I think it was through the booking agents. Booking agents are amazing because they all work together.”
CH: What was your reaction when you found out you’d be going on tour with such a significant band like The Naked and Famous?
S: “What was my reaction? I just didn’t think it was going to happen. I was like ‘Oh yeah, ha ha, thanks’ to my manager, I was like ‘Yeah sure Jamie, ok’, but then he said ‘Yeah flights are booked’ and I was like ‘Whaaat? It’s actually happening’. So yeah, I guess it was shock.” [laughs]
CH: There have been some huge venues across this European tour with The Naked and Famous, I’m sure they all these places have stood out in one way or another, but has there been one particular favourite?
S: “My Dad lives in Paris so going to Paris felt really special, and playing there, it was just a stunning venue, it’s called Le Trianon. Apparently the [renovation] work that’s been done, it’s only six years old so the room just sounds stunning and it looks beautiful, and it’s at the bottom of the hill below the Sacré-Cœur, so the whole thing’s just really beautiful. I think being near where my family lives, that just felt really lovely as well, but every gig has been amazing and the crowds have been great everywhere. The Naked and Famous have got a really lovely fanbase, everyone’s really respectful and fun and friendly.”
CH: I always hear that the catering is great over in Europe and that they really look after their touring artists. Have you had a similar experience?
S: “Definitely. Oh yeah, it’s amazing, some of the band from The Naked and Famous are vegan and then we’re all sort of vegetarians, and yeah it’s just never an issue. Everyone’s always really generous. I think we were in Lausanne in Switzerland and I went upstairs for the catering after our gig, by that point we were quite hungry and tired, and you might not have eaten that day and you just want to go and sit in a corner and eat whatever you can, you don’t expect much. But I was greeted at the door of catering by a lovely woman who said ‘Sit down, I’ll bring you some wine’, and she served me this three course dinner. I thought it was a joke, I laughed and went to look for a plate…but I was served for the night. European catering is stunning.”
CH: To me it would seem that your music is a great pairing with The Naked and Famous, have you found audiences across the tour have been really receptive to your sound?
S: “Yeah I mean like I said earlier, they’re a lovely audience. I think The Naked and Famous’ music is so joyful and it touches a lot of people, and people love them, you can tell by watching them. They’ve got a real committed crowd and I’ve been really touched by people’s interest and respect, it’s been amazing. People have really listened and engaged in a way that I wasn’t expecting, so it’s really nice.”
CH: I was taking a look through your Instagram feed the other day, and the thing that stood out to me was that it really is a documentation of your travels and your journey in music. It can be so easy to fall victim to a boring feed, but I definitely feel it’s very personal what you put out there for your fans, which I for one really appreciate. Do you enjoy travelling and capturing the moment in photo form?
S: “Aww that’s nice. Yes I do – I’m normally someone, you know, if you go and see something that really excites you, I don’t normally get the camera out but it’s been really exciting because as you say, I think [Instagram is] where I document most things, so my sisters gave me a bit of an Instagram tutorial before this tour. They said ‘You’re going to have to learn how to take good photos’, but it’s been really lovely and I think my luck has been just the fact that we’ve been to so many beautiful cities. It’s been so special to, as you say, document it and look back through it as well, and see where we’ve been.
I’ve been keeping a little tour diary to myself, which has been really lovely, just writing a few things every day. I think as well, I just wanted to thank people, because everywhere we’ve been we’ve always met someone new or had a chat with someone that’s really special so it’s a nice way to acknowledge that.”
CH: For the Naked and the Famous dates, you’ve been accompanied by a small touring party but when it comes to your own shows, how big is your set up? What would we expect to see at your upcoming St. Pancras Old Church headline slot?
S: “Yeah at St. Pancras it’s going to be a different set up to the one with The Naked and Famous, I haven’t completely confirmed the whole set up for it [yet] but there will be more acoustic instruments, I think I might play a few instruments as well. So depending on the song’s, there’s going to be an acoustic guitarist and probably a cellist, maybe some more singers, there will be someone on piano and synths, so there will be a much bigger sound.
I think I would like to go back to the Church as well before the gig, and just have a feel for the acoustics because what I’m doing tonight with Paul is very electronic based, so it will be nice to see how much of that we can bring and marry into the acoustics for St. Pancras. It’s the best thing of being in a Church I think, it’s going to be a very very different sound.”
CH: Last year saw the release of your debut EP, ‘Shapes’, which features a brilliant collection of emotionally-led electro-pop tunes. I personally love it.
S: “That’s so kind, thank you.”
CH: The songs all seem to tie together, were they all written around a similar time about a specific experience?
S: “They were written around a similar time but they were about different experiences, but I think they draw on similar concepts. So for me, it felt like a nice through-line for the EP, they all felt congruous, and it did feel like a positive theme. So they’re all about different things but it felt really lovely putting them out as one.”
CH: Do you write from a personal place – are all the songs inspired by lived experience or is it more abstract?
S: “Yeah I think we’re all affected by everything that goes on around us so I guess that’s both abstract and personal, so I think [it’s] a mixture of the two. I think on the EP ‘Shapes’ everything was from a personal experience but like a lot of the songs that I write, often you find yourself when you turn it into song it becomes more abstract. In a way, it allows for more…
S: “Yeah, I think it’s nice as well when you can bring something so general to something so specific because when you’re singing it, you’re not going to be in the same place as when you wrote it, and so for me I always feel different meanings to songs that might have been written about something specific.”
CH: It’s like when you write a song it’s something personal, and then when you put it out in the world it becomes something totally different.
S: “That’s a much better way of explaining what I just said.” [laughs]
CH: I know for some, a fully formed song can pour out in one session, and for others songs come together over a much longer period. Is it easy for you to write a song?
S: “I used to write songs quite quickly on my own, generally because I used to write a lot of folk songs on the guitar and yeah generally that would come out in one quite quickly. I’ve learned so much from working with other people, you can spend a whole day with someone and really slowly, slowly, slowly write half a song or a whole song. So it’s always different and I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to work with other people and see how they do it. But it does feel really good when something feels really natural, whether that’s on your own or in a room with other people.”
CH: So do you collaborate much with other writers and producers?
S: “Yeah that was something really lovely, I signed a publishing deal last year and when I signed that, I started working with lots of different people and collaborating. I haven’t been doing so much since the release [of ‘Shapes’] because we’ve been gigging but I’m looking forward to working with people again when I get back to London.”
CH: Did you find the writing process for the EP very cathartic?
S: “Yeah absolutely. I think every song feels cathartic, and like you put into words well, it becomes something else when you’ve written it and so that catharsis remains, it just changes. It grows and develops for yourself in different ways.”
CH: Do you have much unreleased material stored up for new releases?
S: “Yes. I’m really excited, there’s lots and lots of songs [already finished], and lots of songs that I want to write when I get back [to London] as well. You know when you have loads of ideas in your head and you just want to get it down?”
CH: You have lots of creativity flowing now?
S: “Yeah it’s been a funny three weeks because you don’t have that much time to just stop, so I’m looking forward to getting back to the guitars and computers.”
CH: What’s the plan going ahead after this tour wraps up?
S: “There are some people that I’m really looking forward to getting in a room with and making some music, there are some people I haven’t worked with in a really long time and some people I’ve just met, and I’ve got some other projects I want to finish and do from home as well. I’m going to visit my Dad in Paris because he lives there and it’s his birthday [soon] so I’m looking forward to that. Yeah and my Mum’s in Kent so I’m going to go and spend some time with my mum in Kent.”
CH: Oh I love it in Kent. And you get a lot of support from Abbie McCarthy at BBC Introducing…
S: “Yeah she’s been amazing, and she’s such an amazing promoter of music, of local and all over. She’s really great to talk to and listen to, you know like you she’s so interested and interesting when it comes to music.”
CH: Yeah I really enjoy what she does and her live night too.
S: “Yeah the whole team are great as well at BBC Kent, really lovely group of people.”