Shilpa Ray - electrifying live
Shilpa Ray - pic Terry Tyldesley
Shilpa Ray electrifies the crowd at her London date, at Birthdays in Dalston. Her lush voice could launch - or if she wanted to, sink - a thousand ships. Even her growl is velvet and seductive. The swells and drones of her harmonium hypnotise, and are central to the extraordinary wall of sound coming from the night’s three piece band. It’s very physical playing and she hugs, pounds and squeezes her instrument while the songs, like Phil Spector’s love children, lodge in your brain, and her stories flow. “Get me a whisky” she calls, and it’s a woman who’s the first to oblige.
Shilpa’s obsessions with sex, death, bodily functions, and betrayal make for an intense and gripping set, from the heart-breaking downtempo Burning Bride, to the rollercoaster of Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp. It has to be one of the shows of the year, the crowd are left stunned and delighted, determined to spread the Shilpa gospel.
Touring and live
You’re on a big European tour at the moment, how is it going?
It’s pretty cool. You get to see the continent and be in a different city almost everyday. My phones don’t seem to work. American or European, so communication and stuff involving adapters and electricity is rough. I’ve been eating a lot croissants and speaking in broken English. I find myself doing that even in the UK.
Your live sound is huge. How do you build it up like that, and what kind of sound are you aiming for?
It’s pretty organic. I’ve never been big into technology when it comes to music. The largeness of the sound must be all the anger and aggression.
“My harmonium understands me”
Your harmonium playing is stunning, what made you take it up as an instrument?
My parents made me do it when I was young. I was always stuck playing keys, when what I really wanted to do was play the guitar.
My last one was so busted up, I had to purchase a sturdier one for the road. This ain’t yoga music you know. I’m like the Pete Townsend of harmonium players. You can’t imagine how many repair guys have chastised me for the way I abuse my instrument. My harmonium understands me though. On occasion we’ll smoke cigarettes and have a whiskey together.
Shilpa Ray’s Harmonium - pic Kitmonsters
Some of your songs run straight on from one another in the live set, is that to keep the vibe going, or does it also have to do with how you use the harmonium?
I thinks it’s a way of avoiding eye contact and staying in control. When I was younger I was a heavier drinker and would naively spew all sorts of nonsensical banter on stage, dance wild, throw things around and pull my worst Gibby Haynes. Somehow through my experiences that has been beaten out of me. I’m currently at a sadder, more exhausted stage in life.
Shilpa Ray’s Harmonium - pic Kitmonsters
“I’ll take energy over precision any day”
Tell us about your key instruments and tools for making music, both live and recorded, and how you mic up your harmonium.
Shure wireless lapel mic. You can’t drill holes for pickups in a harmonium because it’s dependent on air. I’m an analog person. I make my band rehearse a lot before we hit the studio, and record stuff live in one or 2 takes. I’ll take energy over precision any day. Fuck overdubbed pitch corrected bullshit. The mistakes are best part.
You voice is unforgettable, and very powerful. How do you keep it in shape?
No cold beverages or ice cream. No snorting drugs.
Shilpa Ray band - pic Ebru Yildiz
“No one makes art anymore”
How do you write and create your songs, tell us about the process.
I have to be completely cut off and alone which is nearly impossible because everyone puts business over art and you are forced to intereract with people. The dire nature of the music business makes me want to throw up. No one makes art anymore. People simply make what sells so eventually they can live in a castle full of money and take shopping trips to Whole Foods.
What kind of things do you write about?
Castles and Whole Foods.
Your album Last Year’s Savage is incredibly powerful and the production is fantastic. How important is it to you as an artist to produce your own music?
Incredibly important. Thank you for the compliment. I went through a lot of shit to make that record. I learned a lot about production because of that. It may not be perfect but I’m glad I stuck to my guns and produced it my way.
What’s it like working with Nick Cave and how has he supported you?
He’s great. Incredibly kind, generous and funny. He’s the best.
Everyone. Man, that sounds really lame. I don’t know. I’m very sensitive so I absorb everything and everyone at all times.