I’m chatting to Shura just a couple of days after her performance at Glastonbury. “It was great! I ran around trying to find a gaggle of nuns, to be on stage with me who didn’t mind like embarrassing themselves on the internet.”
If references to nuns seem somewhat confusing, just watch her video for the latest single ‘religion (u can lay your hands on me)’, featuring Shura dressed as the pope surrounded by a sisterhood of nuns (we think that’s the collective noun). “When I wrote ‘religion’ I’d just watched a few episodes of the Young Pope with Jude Law and I was obsessed with the costumes in it. So Chloe [Wallace] said ‘Let’s create this alternate universe where you are the fucking pope!’. The thing is, if this was a video for my first record, then I would just be one of the nuns but for this album it didn’t seem right to have that hesitation.”
forevher (a mix of ‘for her’, ‘forever’ and ‘forever her’, if you were wondering) is certainly less hesitant, and more confident, in its outlook than her debut Nothing’s Real. It’s a brilliantly vivid record about falling in love. “If you’d asked me a year before I started making it was if this was the record I expected to make, then the answer would have been no – but then I was single and I wasn’t expecting to fall in love.”
“Even in the four years since I released my first record there are so many more queer female, male, non-binary, gender non-conforming artists.”
It meant a new approach to songwriting after her introspective debut, encapsulated by ‘Touch’ – and its viral video in which she ended up alone. “I don’t think I’ve ever written about being happy or in love in my life but it’s been so liberating. I’d assumed that just only talking about things where bad shit happened to me was the only way that someone could relate – but actually I’ve discovered that the opposite is also true.”
The record tells a classic NYC-to-London love-story, but a thoroughly modern one of dating apps or Skype chats too. Just take ‘The Stage’ a dreamy song which tells the story of their high stakes first date that saw her fly across the Atlantic. “‘It’s about my first date with my girlfriend which happened to be at a MUNA concert in New York. I had to DM them asking for guest list and they were like ‘Oh my God, yes. We love the concept of a first date at a MUNA gig!’.”
“Orlando (from T-E-E-D) played me this song which had this element of musical theatre to it. It’s weird cos I hate musicals but with this album I wanted to write this lesbian musical and ‘The Stage’ is the theatrical lynchpin to it. And I really liked this image of not really knowing whether or not this girl liked me until they took my hand and led me to a place in the room where I could see because I’m so short!”
Now they’re in love, has her girlfriend listened to the album? “I know she’s listened to it and I’m sure at first she was like ‘Oh Christ, what have i got into?’ but when you finish something it no longer feels like it’s about you anymore, so I think she can listen to a song like ‘religion’ just as a song rather than about her.”
This idea of art being separated from the artist who created it and meaning being imbued through the eyes of the listener runs throughout the record – from the songs and right through to the artwork, a reworking of Rodin’s The Kiss. “I was thinking about all those songs that I grew up singing and it didn’t matter that they were sung by straight people or had straight people in the music video snogging because in my brain I could easily change the pronoun. As queer people we’re so programmed to do that I wanted to take something people would instantly recognise and flipping it to be queer and seeing how people would react to that emotionally.”
Though she acknowledges things like the ridiculous calls for a ‘straight pride’ show there is still a way to go, she does feel things are slowly changing. “Even in the four years since I released my first record there are so many more queer female, male, non-binary, gender non-conforming artists. It’s such a change from when I was growing up where all you could do is Google Tegan and Sara.” Shura has created an album that openly and boldly shows that love is love is love: timeless and universal.
Photo by Hollie Fernando.