Everyone seems to already know about Nadine Shah’s Pakistani/Norwegian heritage. The mental health issues that informed the debut album remain vital, and the comparisons to Nick Cave and PJ Harvey aren’t going away any time soon. There’s enough initial background information on Shah to warrant it’s own feature, yet perhaps even more interesting is the mystique that still remains around the singer – a seemingly endless fountain of past experience and current attitude that throws up subject after subject. With the much lauded second album ‘Fast Food’ having just passed it’s one week anniversary, Far Out headed over to the sold out Deaf Institute show to find out what effect the new release was having.
Fast food has been out for a week now, how does this release compare to the last?
It’s weird – there’s a noticeable difference between this and what happened on the first album. All of a sudden we’re selling venues out… playing slightly bigger ones, and that’s really strange. It feels like now we’ve done all them toilet venues – I think we’ve played every toilet venue – we’ve cut our teeth a bit. I had my first cue the other day outside a record store too! It was the day of the release and I went to a pub to go get a glass of champagne as I hadn’t had champagne all day (it’s my album release day) so I ran to this pub, necked the glass, and I came out, and I couldn’t see the record store for this massive cue all the way down the road in brighton. That was cool. I’m looking very uncool and taking photos of it obviously.
With a debut album you have a whole lifetime of experience to tap into, but with a second album it’s a much shorter window of time – Was this one harder to write?
There was a massive gap between the completion of the first album, which was actually finished in 2010, but not released until 2013 – so the songs were really old by the time they came out. When that came out, it didn’t feel like a proper representation of where I was musically at the time, so that was the biggest frustration. I did have a huge bank of songs that I’d written in between 2010, and almost now… loads and loads, but I scrapped them as I didn’t want the same thing to happen again. I actually found it a lot easier the second time round, and I know that phrase ‘difficult second album’ get banded around so freely, but in fact it’s the complete opposite because it’s familiar territory and you’ve done it before.
The new album comes across more geared towards a full band, with a much bigger sound. Was that a completely natural progression?
No, it’s a conscious decision. The second album sound was informed by playing live and touring the first album. This time when we were writing, me and Ben Hillier, I was imagining what would be fun for my bassist to play. For example, we’ve got Nathan (from The Whip) on bass at the minute, and in Fool, there’s this bassline that I just know he loves playing. I wanted it to all be more energetic, because I realised how much touring you actually end up doing.
Yeah, it feels as though everything is being built around you now – with you acting as the spearhead. The production from Ben feels much bigger this time round – what was different?
One of the main differences this time round is that I wrote the songs on guitar. They were kind of fuller formed. On the first album, Ben had a bit of difficulty, translating what I was doing on the piano into something different. On these I already had a realised idea of how they were going to sound. It just made it easier as the character of the songs were already there, so it was easier to develop.
How influential is Ben within the project?
Me and Ben are completely collaborative, it just has my name on it. There was a point where we were going to give ourselves a band name, but there’s a possibility that Ben could get so busy that he’s needed on something else, you know. I think I’ve decided that if I ever worked with another producer at any point, I’d have to call it something else. It’s that integral.
I personally find that your music hinges entirely on the delivery of a message, or telling of a story. It creates the idea that it could almost be executed as literature, or photography, paintings… has it, and will it always be songwriting that delivers those messages?
No. I don’t think so. I’m glad you said that! I think I’d always be making something, creating something, and presenting – in whatever medium that might be. I’ve started painting again, and not to sound arrogant because singing is my trade and it’s a thing that I’ve been doing for years, but that’s what I excel at, and painting I’m not as competent, and I’d be less eager to show that… but when it comes to things like filmmaking – that’s something my brother is involved in – that’s something I’d like to get into. Probably making documentaries, or films, photography aswell, but my Mum won’t let me be a documentary photographer as she won’t let me go to war torn countries. Maybe at some point I’ll just write a film or something! Ha!
In terms of your problems with anxiety, do you think it’s a strange profession to exercise – getting up on stage to tons of people each night and baring your soul?
Yeah. But I would never ever have anxiety when I’m on stage – it’s kind of cathartic. It’s the bits around a show… before it, around it when I get it now and again. I’ve got it a little today as I’m a bit stressed out from being on tour and that. It’s just little things that I’m aware of now, if I don’t sleep properly, that’ll make it worse… I know what environment brings it on, and I’m very able to pinpoint triggers, and so I know what to avoid aswell. My mum thinks it’s very strange what I do. Because I’m playing piano, or guitar, that part of my mind is so focused on the job in hand, there’s no way it could happen onstage.
Do you find it difficult to sing and connect to such emotional lyrics each night?
It’s not detrimental, but my brother compares it to self harm! But especially with the subjects of mental health from the first album, they’re important to talk about. These ones, they’re very personal ones towards me. It feels a bit like hanging your dirty washing on the line for everyone to see. It can be a bit too revealing, but it doesn’t bother me – I wrote them so I knew what I was doing. I think it’d bother me more if I wasn’t bothered by them. There have been gigs where lyrics have come out, like muscle memory, and that pisses me off more. It’s the most important thing in music – conviction.