LA-based songwriter Shelley Segal has announced her latest single No, a modern, bold and assertive track that describes the difficulty many women face when turning down sexual advances. Shelley has also announced her masterful new EP Holy, a masterclass in intimate lyricism and exciting, innovative Americana, set for release on November 1. The Australian musician has been living and working in Los Angeles for three years, writing and recording Holy in the US while touring and collaborating on a host of noteworthy artistic projects.
No has a sentiment that will ring true for many women who have found themselves in a situation where it was almost impossible to say the word. Driving guitars and textured percussion propel the track forward with serious attitude, while Shelley's honeyed vocals carve a stunning melody on top. Speaking on the inspiration behind this important track, Shelley explains, "No is a song about consent and the subtleties surrounding it. It describes three different scenarios in which the protagonist finds it difficult to say no to sexual advances. I wrote the song because even though it's 2019 and so many women feel comfortable asserting themselves and speaking up for themselves, and even though there has been so much public discourse and progress on these issues, there are still scenarios where it feels hard to say 'no'. You can find yourself in a situation that you don't want to be in and yet be unable to express that. It's not always easy in the moment to process the potential consequences that may come from your reaction. Like the examples in the song for instance, in a work environment, in the street with a stranger. Saying 'no' can create adverse outcomes like risking your job, or your safety. This discussion around consent is not as straightforward as maybe we would like it to be and I wanted to reflect on those nuances."
No is the first taste of Shelley Segal's glorious new EP Holy. This is an artist who has truly found her feet; Holy Man shines with energetic roots, rock riffs, skilled arrangement and Shelley's undeniable lyrics and beautiful vocal performance. San Antonio tugs at the heartstings, a simple acoustic track with a deeply affecting message, while Holy is steeped in attitude and power, as Shelley sings, "I believe my body is beautiful, and it belongs to me." The EP was recorded in Brooklyn at Atomic Sound Studios with Dakota Bowman and Merle Chornuk (Tandy, Ryan Adams), it was produced and co-written (3 songs) with New York producer, guitarist and film composer Askold Buk and was mastered by Ted Jensen (Norah Jones, Dave Matthews). Speaking on the making of the release, Shelley enthuses, "I've been working on the songs for this record for over the last three years - since 2016, the year I moved to the US. I've called the ep 'HOLY' which felt like a really powerful statement. In the Jewish tradition I grew up in, what was holy was dictated to me. Which words, items and actions and even which people were holy was dictated to me. To elevate my life, my songs, my experiences and my voice (which was not allowed to be heard unaccompanied in my synagogue), to call them holy is incredibly empowering. It's a challenge to those who want to use concepts of holiness and the sacred to create hierarchies, often placing themselves at the top. I hope it will inspire people to decide for themselves what is holy and sacred to them."
Shelley has been living and working in the US since 2016, and in between touring the country and writing music for her own project, Shelley has done everything from writing for musicals, for Estonian pop star ELYSA, and Dutch artist Glennis Grace, among others. She has also worked tirelessly for charity group One Law For All, writing two songs for the organisation and reciving the CEMB Award (Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain) for her contributions. Always busy with multiple thought-provoking projects on the go at once, Shelley is currently working on the music for a documentary (entitled Transmission Love) about a young transgender girl growing up in LA, as well as a conservation-themed EP with a science educator and biologist about the Puget Sound Watershed in Washington State.
Question: Can you tell us about No?
Shelley Segal : 'No' is the single off my new EP 'Holy' and it's a folk rock song that talks about consent.
Question: What inspired you to write No?
Shelley Segal : I was inspired to write the song because of both my personal experiences and the experiences of others around me and also by the global discussions that are happening around consent and sexual harassment.
Question: What message do you hope No spreads?
Shelley Segal : I hope that it can contribute to more nuanced discussions! I think we need to have more conversations about complicated topics. I hope it will encourage people to see that their experiences, feelings and time are worthy of consideration and that they can find strength to assert their own boundaries. I hope it will help people to comprehend that sometimes asserting those boundaries is not so straightforward for people and so to be more considerate.
Question: What can you share with us about Holy?
Shelley Segal : The songs on 'Holy' were all written after my recent move to the United States in 2016. The songs touch on some of the political discussions the country has been having over the last three years. From tribalism and religious freedom to sexual harassment and gun violence.
The album is a mix of folk, folk rock and Americana. I've definitely picked up some musical influences from listening to country radio around the US in my car on tour.
Question: What motivates you most when writing music?
Shelley Segal : Sometimes I am driven by self-expression. Last year I returned to LA from a visit home to Melbourne and I couldn't sleep that night - I was feeling quite homesick. I stayed up and wrote 'Already Gone' (the opening track from the EP) and I felt so much better. It can be a therapy of sorts.
Sometimes I am concept driven where I want to make a statement or point, or explore an issue.
Other times it just helps to process painful situations. For instance 'San Antonio' on the record is written about a murder/suicide that was carried out by someone I knew through my music. I was really disturbed by what had happened and I felt like I couldn't do anything that day so I wrote the song, just describing what had happened. It helps to be able to process things externally.
But I am always motivated to write a great song - to capture emotions and ideas as perfectly as I can.
Question: Which music/artists are you currently listening to?
Shelley Segal : My favourite artists to listen to at the moment are folky legends Mark Kozelek and Tiny Ruins. I put on Melbourne based Brighter Later when I want to chill. Also back on the wagons of Ben Folds, Elliott Smith, Ben Harper and my forever queen Ani Difranco. I've also been playing a lot of Phoebe Bridgers.
Question: Do you prefer performing live or recording?
Shelley Segal : They are different animals. I wouldn't want to have to choose between them but they feel like a different part of the practice. I love being in the studio, nutting out sections, collaborating with musicians, bringing the songs to life. Having a chance to experiment and play. But performing live brings that expression and in-the-moment connection.
Question: Which is your favourite song to perform live and why?
Shelley Segal : That's a pretty hard one! Some of my favourite memories of performing are growing up playing in my father's wedding band. We played a mix of top40 and traditional Klezmer music. There were a few classics we always played that I loved but my favourites were Ray Charle's 'You Don't Know Me' and playing Leonard Cohen's 'Dance Me To The End Of Love' with my dad on the violin.
My favourite original songs to play are 'Apocalyptic Love Song' - it really puts me in the moment and 'Saved' because it's my most popular song. People are always waiting for it at shows and excited to sing along.
Question: If you could have anyone, in the world, attend a show, who would it be?
Shelley Segal : This one's easy - Mark Kozelek, I'd love to show him how much he has influenced me. There was one show where we thought he might be attending and I played the best gig of my life, turns out he wasn't there but it was good motivation (laughs).
Question: What or who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?
Shelley Segal : As I mentioned earlier I was brought up in a musical family and so I've always been singing, performing and writing, it's been automatic for me. I think getting into the industry side of things for my original music was because I wanted to create a career for myself through my original material. I also run an indie label, True Music, with my father Danny. It's been my desire to work with and support other talented artists since I was a teenager. I used to draw logo designs of my dream label (back then in my imagination it was called Miscellaneous Records) and had friends come over to record and write songs.
Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
Shelley Segal : I would be beyond overjoyed to write a song with Ani Difranco or Mark Kozelek.
Question: What's a typical day like?
Shelley Segal : There's not always typical days. When I'm travelling on tour it would mean, getting up, packing the car, breakfast, driving several hours to the venue, posting on socials, sound check, performance, selling merchandise and chatting to fans, finding food and wishing there was anything open but a Denny's (laughs), heading to the motel, unpacking the car and passing out!
If I'm not on tour I'll try to get in some practice and reading; working on admin for the label, going to song writing sessions, meetings, gigs, networking events, conferences or performing.
Question: Can you share your socials?
Shelley Segal: http://www.shelleysegal.com/
Interview by Brooke Hunter