Interviews – Melbourne Singer/Songwriter Shelley Segal

I interviewed local singer/songwriter Shelley Segal about her recently released third studio album, An Easy Escape, her album launch this Friday at the Northcote Social Club, the process of crowd funding the release and about fitting in running her own label True Music, between all her touring and recording. This review was published on the AU review on 13/06/2014 and can be viewed here.

Q. Little March was a collaborative release with American singer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Levy, and An Atheist Album is your reflection on changing your worldviews from being a believing Jew to becoming a secularist and a freethinker. Is there a running theme with An Easy Escape?

A. I’d say yes and no. (giggles). What’s been really different about An Easy Escape is that it’s not as specific as those 2 albums. It’s a collection of songs that I’ve written over about a ten-year period. I just picked songs that I liked and were strong enough well together. That’s the no. And yes, in terms of the theme, when you choose those songs and they reflect you over a changing time period. That in a way became the theme.

Q. So the theme is more about you changing rather than the album having a set theme?

A. Yeah, I’d say it’s about transitioning and also about travelling, which has been a big part of my life. I’ve lived and recorded overseas. The main single ‘Morocco’ is a travelling song, so I guess that’s why I called it An Easy Escape. There’s all these things I’m doing in my life, especially relationships, there was a lot of love songs in that album spanning three different relationships, in between one love to another love, and from one place to another place. The first track on the album is about finding what you want in life, while transitioning from being a child to adolescent.

Q. And sometimes when people think of escape, be it from friends, family or work, they think of travelling.

A. I think love can be an easy escape as well; you can lose yourself in relationships, you can lose yourself in your experiences, you can lose yourself in travel.

Q. Upon listening to An Easy Escape, fans who have seen you live will realise they’ve heard many of these songs before. Others, who have never seen you live, will be new to the tunes. Why the decision to release the tracks, such as What I Want and King Of Mine now rather than on previous releases?

A. My first two albums were really specific, so this is the first album where I’ve had a chance to just choose the songs that I like and create a collection from my repertoire. I chose those songs because I think they’re great and I never put them down before. I’ve never had a chance for people who haven’t seen me live to hear them. I love them.

Q. With playing certain songs live you’d be able to see how the audience reacts.

A. Yeah, for a lot of the songs. I’ve done so much solo work, then when you do a studio album with a band it breathes new life into the tracks. People get to hear them in a completely different way to what they’ve heard before. Two of the tracks were from previous records; it gave me a chance to revisit them and do them in a different style. Because I play in so many genres, it’s nice to hear the same song in different styles. With Hurry Back (originally recorded with Adam Levy), on Little March it’s country and Americana, and on An Easy Escape it’s got a folk-pop taste to it.

Q. Getting fans to pledge and donate money rather than using ones own funds for various types of projects has become popular, not just for relative unknowns but also for celebrities. Actor Zach Braff (Scrubs) crowd funded a sequel to his directorial debut film Garden State and local 9-piece Saskwatch crowd sourced money for flights for their nine band members to be able to afford to fly over to England to perform at Glastonbury, one of the biggest music festivals in the world. You’ve self-funded previous releases. What was the deciding factor or factors in the decision to crowd source this release?

A. I’d never tried it before. I’ve seen so many artists that I really like do it. I think the last person I saw do it was Kate Miller-Heidke (also on PledgeMusic). And I think it’s just great. What I like about it was the opportunity for further engagement with your fans. Up until now I’ve only ever put my CDs online and through digital distributors. There are middle parties involved, and with Pledge it’s an opportunity to really interact directly.

Q. Did the personalisation of rewards for pledging, such as a private Skype singing lesson with you, a happy birthday phone call or a private house concert make the release a more personal one for you?

A. ABSOLUTELY. It was so great. I’ve already done a couple of birthday calls for people that ordered them, even before the campaign finished. It just made my day. Especially considering that a lot of my fans are from the US. I’d call them in the morning (it would be their night) and they’d just had their birthday and they’re winding down and I’m calling them and saying hi and singing. They were so happy and it was so nice to be able to make someone so happy just by calling and saying hello. We’d have a chat for like 20 minutes and talk about all different things. The best start to my day.

Q. Especially if they’re overseas, they can’t always come to your shows.

A. Yeah it felt nice to offer that to people that were excited about it.

Q. One of the options was a ‘cover song of your choice’. You stated on your pledging page that many of the songs people requested you to record were tracks you’d never heard before. What were some of the songs they were requesting and which one was your favourite to learn and why?

A. One of my fans requested the theme song from his favourite television show Firefly [The Ballad of Serenity by Sonny Rhodes]. I hadn’t heard it before so it was interesting. Another was a Pearl Jam song I hadn’t heard of and one of my fans contacted me and asked if my dad [violinist and wedding band performer Danny Segal] could do one with me. My dad didn’t mind. He gave me a few to choose from and we’ve chosen Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. Dad’s going to be like (Shelley imitates the sound his violin will make for the infamous intro to the song). We’re recording those tracks next week, as we’ve been busy with the launch.

Q. You reached 103% of your goal amount to raise for through the Pledge campaign with over 200 pledgers donating to assist you in funding the release, how did it feel to have your fans become involved in the process of releasing the album rather than being passive and a by-product.

A. That was the best part of PledgeMusic campaigns. They allow you to update your fans. I was putting videos up, trying not to spam, putting songs up as the products were coming in I was able to share it with the people who were paying for them. So when the artwork was ready, we gave them a sneak peak.

Q. They get to see the things visually before they physically have them in their hands.

A. Yeah, I think it makes it more exciting for pledgers. And also they get to learn a bit about the release process that they normally wouldn’t know about.

Q. Your performances are sometimes a family affair with your father Danny Segal joining you on stage on the violin and your brother Josh singing along with you. Can we expect to see them joining you onstage this Friday at your album launch at the Northcote Social Club?

A. Josh is in China, but sometimes he flies back randomly. Maybe, if my dad’s on his best behaviour I’ll let him on.

Q. You’ll keep his violin hostage.

A. Yeah.

Q. What else can we expect to see in this Friday’s show? A mix of old and new?

A. Yes, I always like to visit some of my old stuff at some point in the set. I always have a bunch of songs that I could play and then sometimes I’ll just go with the flow and if I feel like it, if a song comes to mind I’ll play it. I’ll definitely be kicking the band off at some point and be doing a couple of tracks by myself.

Q. Tell us a bit about who will be supporting you on the night?

A. The first opener is Maya and she is really, really talented. She’s an electro-soul artist (think Janelle Monae and Kimbra). She’s also signed to True Music. And Beth and the Brave is the main support. She’s an incredibly, incredibly talented Melbourne singer-songwriter. She has a beautiful voice, a beautiful aura and I just love watching her. She’s always projecting this happy peace off the stage, really, really powerful stuff. She’s going to be releasing a new single later this year and is definitely someone to keep an eye on for sure.

Q. You record and tour internationally, especially the US and the UK and perform back home in Australia as well. With travelling around so much, how do you go about gaining new fans and maintaining them and getting your music out to new people? You’ve done 10 US trips.

A. Yeah, so I try to visit the same places every time. It’s hard as well because the country’s so big and you might only go over for a few specific shows. But a lot of my tours have been in three-month blocks. I’ll try and go back and it’s great to play somewhere, to go back a year later and see that there are twice as many people in the crowd.

Q. With going back so often it means you’re fans don’t have to wait so long to see you again. There are so many international bands I love to see again and again but sometimes I have to wait years between shows.

A. Yeah, I went to see Black Keys when I was on tour in Canada. Live they are fantastic, they put on a really great show. They were staying at the same Motel as my band in Canada. We left the gig and came home and saw their tour bus parked outside the motel. I took a photo and put it on social media and was like ‘hey, check out my tour bus’. No one’s going to believe that but I still put a wink just as a disclaimer just in case anyone believed it to be the truth. And everyone was writing ‘OMG, you’ve made it! Take a video inside the bus”.

Q. You’ve been involved in some pretty interesting events such as the Reason Rally in the US and the atheist convention in Melbourne. How do you come about becoming involved in those events?

A. A lot of the organisers of the events are looking for entertainment and especially with something so specific, such as atheist music. The Reason Rally wasn’t just music. It was political, with a focus on secularism, evidence-based policies and looking for equal treatment in the eyes of the law for non-religious people and skepticism. Even humanist Judaism was involved. There was a group of humanist Jews that sponsored the rally. I feel like with so many people that just to say that you don’t believe in God is an affront. It’s like an insult, and you know, you’re free to believe in whatever you want.

Q. Why do you feel it’s an important part of your musical career to be part of these events?

A. It’s pretty amazing. Well the obvious part is that you get to be exposed to a new audience but personally, the most rewarding thing is playing music that is so specific to people who are so interested in and engaging in what you’re talking about. People come up to me after these shows and say that’s the first time I’ve heard my worldview in music. They tell me how beautiful and powerful it was. And I know what that’s like listening to music. When you hear someone say so eloquently how you feel and put it into a song, it’s the best thing ever to be part of that exchange.

Q. It also shows you’re not doing the music for show. You’re showing how that has become part of your life.

A. You’re giving your perspective. I like singing about specific things and laying it out on the line. “This is what I’m singing about, this is how I feel, this is what happened to me.” I feel that it connects me personally to what I’m singing about and gives it meaning when I’m performing them.

Q. On top of being involved in events worldwide and your performing, you also run your own record label, True Music as well. How do you go about fitting that in with the touring and the recording?

A. Phew. I go OK. It’s definitely a challenge. I love it; especially helping other artists get their music out there. I still work on things while I’m on the road. You have to think about staggering releases.
Q. Tell us a bit about the label and the artists on it?

A. We currently have four artists on the label, myself included. We have Maya (from The Voice 2013). People responded positively to her from The Voice. She’s been working on developing her own sound since; she’s a powerhouse. Another artist is Lester the Fierce. Her single January has been number four on the Amrap charts for week’s now. She’s ghost/ folk/pop. And we’ve got a band as well, Humans As Animals. They have a really distinctive sound. Pink Floyd mixed with [Frank] Zappa. They’re going to releasing their first EP in August. And what is great about all our artists is that they love music, they are dedicated and all really hardworking. It’s really easy to get behind people like that.

Q. What sort of artists/musicians are you looking for to add to your label in the future?

A. That’s a long way, away. We’ve got basically what feels like a full roster. We’re going to concentrate on getting everybody to the next level, to be as successful as they can. Until that happens we wouldn’t think about taking more people on. Once we get to that stage, the same thread that runs through the other artists. People that have something unique, have something special, that talent. But also are hardworking and dedicated and passionate about what they’re doing.

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