This time last year, Shura was still reeling from the overwhelming reaction to her debut single, “Touch,” and its accompanying music video. Now with several million listens on SoundCloud and over 15 million views on YouTube, it’s pretty difficult to ignore the buzz surrounding the young pop sensation from Manchester. Thanks to the unexpected viral success of her first single (and the record deal that it scored her), expectations have been high for the young singer-songwriter-producer. On July 17, Shura delivered on the hype by releasing her debut EP, White Light, a collection of shimmering pop records that candidly discuss love and relationships. Just before the release of her EP, we caught up with Shura and talked about everything from extraterrestrial beings to when we’ll finally hear her highly anticipated debut album.
When did you first start writing music?
I first started when I was about 13. I picked up a guitar because my dad played. It was the first instrument that I ever really thought to pick up just because it was there. Once I’d spent about six months learning basic chords, I started writing my own stuff. I didn’t really want to learn other people’s songs. A lot of people start by learning other people’s songs, but the idea of singing someone else’s music didn’t excite me. I just wanted to write my own. It was really bad to begin with. It’s improved slightly since.
A good deal of the music that you’ve released so far deals with relationships and intimacy. Would you consider yourself someone who writes love songs or do you shy away from labels like that?
I don’t shy away at all because the fact is that it’s one of the easiest things to write about. We all go through a period of being in love or being attracted to someone or being rejected by someone. Some of the best songs are love songs. They’re things that we all go through, and when we’re going through it, we think that we’re the only person in the world going through that. Having that music there sort of reminds you that you’re not alone. It happens to me too, as a music fan.
You’re also a producer. Have you been involved in the production of all the music that you’ve released so far?
Absolutely. I couldn’t do it any other way. I’m not one of those artists that can go away for six months and tour America and have 20 producers back in London or L.A. doing everything for me and I just come home and sing on it. It would be really useful, in terms of speed, to work like that. I just wouldn’t find it creatively satisfying. I have to have my hand on the remote control.
You released your video for “White Light” recently. Do you usually have a visual in mind as you’re writing a song?
With “White Light,” I had just finished watching Under the Skin and was really obsessed with the idea of science fiction presented as normality. Obviously [“White Light”] has a kind of alien, science fiction metaphor going on, so I wanted to do something that was super normal yet surreal all at once. I give Noel Paul, the director, full credit for his idea. Even though my twin brother, Nick, is playing an alien, he looks like a human, and so there’s that human element to what we were trying to achieve. I’d love to go to space and shoot a video, but I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.
Do you and your brother typically collaborate on creative projects?
Definitely on a visual level. I generally like to collaborate with people that I know and I trust. If you’ve got 10 people working on a project who already know each other, it’s going to be brilliant because you almost don’t have to communicate. With that video, it was so easy because we didn’t really have to give Nick direction. He knew what I wanted. I think that’s why the video for “Touch” worked so well. It’s literally 15 of my friends in a room trying to make some sexy shit happen.
Who’s working with you on your album?
I’m writing and producing with one other person, Joel Pott. The first song we wrote together was “Touch.” [Before this album] I had never written with someone before. If I was going to collaborate with someone, I wanted to make sure that it was someone who understood what I was about—what kind of person I am, what I eat for dinner, those kinds of things—and do an album from start to finish with them. I think that’s what makes it cohesive.
I’m not just inspired by early Madonna.
Some artists avoid listening to the genre of music that they create as they’re working on a project. What kind of music have you been listening to as you create this album?
I don’t tend to avoid a genre. What I tend to do is get obsessed with genres and then that absolutely influences what I’m doing. For instance, I would listen to Dev Hynes and Solange and decide to make an album of really sexy, downtempo R&B. Then, a month later, I’d listen to War on Drugs and go, “Oh shit! I want to get some more guitars in here.” It’s not that I avoid music so that I don’t copy it. It’s more that I’m constantly inspired by whatever I listen to and what I listen to changes dramatically from week to week. I think that is definitely going to come across in a Shura album. I’m not just inspired by early Madonna. It’s going to be broader than that.
Do you know when you’re going to release the album?
I think everyone was hoping that I’d be quick enough for this year. I’m not sure whether that’ll happen. If it doesn’t happen this year, it would be at the very beginning of next year. It’s going to come out when it’s perfect to my ears, not necessarily everyone else’s.
You released “2Shy” at the beginning of this year, and it grabbed a lot of people’s attention. Did things change for you after that record dropped?
Definitely. Before that, everything was very focused on this one song that I’d released—“Touch”—because the video went crazy on YouTube. It’s very weird to follow that because you can’t plan for that. Record labels are always trying to plan for things to go viral, but you can’t. “2Shy” was a really great moment. It was the first time that anything really took off at radio for me. There are people who scour blogs and read Complex and they will have discovered me, but that was the first song where people were being played it as they were driving to and from work. It brought a new audience that I’d never had before. It made me feel comfortable again in the fact that there are 10 or 11 songs here that are great and not just this one song that went crazy on the Internet.
Were you nervous about getting involved with a major label?
Oh, massively! It’s a very weird thing for a singular human to join forces with a major corporation. I think that, if you don’t know who you are as an artist and you don’t know what you want to make, then it’s possibly the most dangerous combination there is. If you’re going into a global company, you have to know exactly what you want to do, exactly who you are, and you have to stick by it. Having signed to Universal, I’ve had an amazing time. They said, “We’re going to leave you to just make it. Let us know when you’re done,” and that’s exactly what they’ve done. I never envisioned myself signing to a major label. My dream was to sign to an independent and make weird, noodly music and that changed. My ambitions changed. I still have those reservations. You never know until it’s all over if you’ve made the right choice, but there’s no point in worrying about it because it’s not going to change the outcome. I’m having a great time. But yeah, it’s fucking spooky signing that piece of paper.
A lot of people shit-talk major labels but one argument in favor of signing with a major is that they can provide resources that aren’t available to most independent artists. Where do you stand on that?
Making music can be cheap, but touring is incredibly expensive. We don’t make money from selling albums anymore. People don’t really buy them. People stream stuff. It feels like we have a new streaming service every day. Touring is where people make their money. In order to create something live that people want to pay money to see, you have to invest in it. It’s scary watching your money get spent on something that doesn’t give you an immediate payoff. On that level, having the support of Universal is great because it enables us to be as ambitious as we can be, without spending £17,000 on lights. It’s about spending the right amount of money to make sure that, when people leave a Shura show, they go, “Holy shit. Next time she’s in San Francisco, I’m going to be there, and I’m going to bring my girlfriend or my boyfriend or my friends.” You want people to be happy about spending money on you.
What do you think has been your best show so far?
At SXSW, we played this show at a bar called Mohawk, and it was this tiny room, and there were 150 people crammed in like sardines, and it was so sweaty. I was so hungover, and everyone in the band was really ill. We all felt like we were going to throw up, but I think, because of that, we were just like, “You know what? We have to play this show or we’re going to die.” It’s so exciting, as a British artist, to come to America and have people sing along to your music. Until that point, you’ve never been to America. You’re like, “How do you guys know me? How do you know these songs?” Then you remember that the Internet exists. It’s crazy. There’s definitely a level of outward enthusiasm in America. Also, when you go to America, generally people are a bit excited by you because you sound like you might be related to Harry Potter or the Queen. When I go and order a coffee in London, no one cares that I sound this way. When I do that in L.A., people are like, “Where are you from? Australia?” I’m really looking forward to coming back.