Fortunately, if it can be called that, the more our culture seems to be becoming entrenched in spectacles that inform us of how we should be approaching our own lives – through life-like (or possibly more like “life-mildly-resembling”) media narratives, the more people seem to be calling “bullshit” on said spectacles… At the same time, many intellectually-minded artists have also been seeming to tailor their sounds to the more danceable and aggressively engaging… Both are true of Nadine Shah’s sophomore effort, (the aptly titled) Fast Food, which is due out April 6th, courtesy of Apollo/R&S Records. The album’s primary influence and theme is our postmodern predicament of attempting to tailor our human experiences to fit the archetype of whatever tales whatever-is-the-most-current-trend in high technology has convinced us is desirable (Much like the loving parents who brought us the Big Mac…)
While the London-based songstress’ debut, 2013’s Love Your Dum and Mad, drew regular comparisons to Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, Fast Food rings less of the poignantly somber and more of the coyly cynical. It’s generally playful – albeit in a relatively subdued manner — but without losing any IQ points. It sounds a bit like if Heartless Bastards were a tribute to Sons and Daughters (Okay, I’m confident that this is the first time that has ever been said about anything…) Both of Shah’s albums have been produced by legendary songwriter, producer, and mixer Ben Hillier, who has come to be her musical life partner. I spoke to Nadine two years ago in preparation of the release of Love Your Dum and Mad (which I characterized as a collection of, “Hauntingly profound numbers that sound equally as if they could’ve been conceived in the golden years of post-punk or an electrified version of the old West…”) Ms. Shah once again took some time to speak with me recently about her current sounds, which have apparently been in their evolutionary state for half a decade now.
Izzy Cihak: The last time we spoke was July of 2013, right before your first LP dropped. What have been the highlights of your musical career in those past two years? Any favorite performances or reactions that you received to your work?
Nadine Shah: That seems like so long ago now. I’ve just been finding my feet and settling in to this odd way of life as a musician. It’s taken some adjusting to. Finally going full-time as a musician has been the main highlight, having the luxury of time to focus on writing more, and performing has been wonderful, and I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to do so.
I’ve loved playing outside the UK and visiting new places (The food is always better!) Me and the band toured with Depeche Mode around Germany; that was slightly surreal but a lot of fun. Playing on stage to thousands of people, then watching Depeche perform a power set every night, usually followed by a game of table football backstage with Martin Gore. Weird.
Izzy: And what do you feel like are the biggest differences between the artist that recorded Love Your Dum and Mad and the artist that recorded Fast Food?
Nadine: That was almost five years ago we finished recording that album; it sat around a while before we eventually released it in 2013. A lot has changed; I’m a lot calmer and more focused. I feel like I’ve earned my stripes in that time with all the touring, etc. I guess I kind of consider myself to be a pretty competent musician now; it’s a nice feeling.
Izzy: You’ve worked with Ben Hillier on both of your full-lengths. How is working with him? He has quite an amazing resume.
Nadine: I intend to continue working with Ben until the day one of us croaks it. I consider the first and second album a complete collaboration between the two of us. It was daunting first working with him (because of the resume) but we’ve settled into a groove of sorts in our approach to writing and have found a sort of method that works well for us both. We’re much less precious with ideas and I think it serves for a much more organic creative experience. He’s a goodun.
Izzy: For that matter, do you have any favorite records he’s worked on, in addition to your own? I’m a huge fan of the work he did with The Horrors on Strange House, Depeche Mode on Playing the Angel, Blur on Think Tank, and Suede on Head Music.
Nadine: Yeah, they’re all great albums. Think Tank was the reason I first contacted him about working together. Blur are one of my favourite bands and that particular record has such a distinctive style, production wise. Ben really nailed the feel of the surrounding of the landscape in which the record was recorded.
Izzy: What would you consider to be Fast Food’s most significant influences?
Nadine: The people I love and are surrounded by day to day informed the lyrics and playing live informed the sound of the record. I had an urge to want to make people move more this time round; I get a real kick out of it.
Izzy: Do you currently have a favorite album track? “Stealing Cars” is one of my favorite things I’ve heard in quite a while, both for lyrical content and as epically profound and poignant music that falls into the admirable fringes of pop music. It actually reminds me of some of Placebo’s best early balladry… I hope that’s not an insult, as I know Molko and crew are kind of laughed off in the UK, but their first two records still sound so good…
Nadine: [Laughs] I love Placebo and will take that as a compliment… So thanks! Yeah, “Stealing Cars” is actually my favourite song on the album. I remember when I’d finished writing it, I went away from it for a few hours, returned and still had a grin on my face… which is very rare for me. Now and again that happens with a song. You kind of don’t believe you’ve just done it. For me it’s the highlight in the new live show; it just feels so good to play and the band seem to enjoy it just as much, so I sort out buzz off them too.
Izzy: Not only do you get compared to Nick Cave constantly, but you have actually mentioned being a fan… which is nice and not always the case with constant comparisons, so I have to ask: What are your favorite works of Mr. Cave? I do love The Birthday Party’s Prayers on Fire and early-ish Seeds singles, like “The Mercy Seat,” but I think my favorite thing he’s ever done is of his latter-era, with 2004’s “There She Goes My Beautiful World”… although I am a humanities professor… which I suspect has something to do with my fondness for that particular track.
Nadine: He has too many good pieces of work; it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve said if I ever marry, that “Into My Arms” will be my first dance song… My partner will have no say in this. If he doesn’t agree, then he won’t be worth marrying in any case :-/
“The Mercy Seat” is a thing of beauty. It’s the kind of track you aspire to write one day. I’m pretty sure I recently read an article where the Bad Seeds picked their favourite of their songs and this one was top of the list. Rightly so.
Izzy: You’re about to embark on a string of dates throughout Europe. What can be expected of the live experience this time around?
Nadine: We have an extra guitarist joining us on this tour. I think it’s an element we always lacked, because of financial restraints, but it has made such a vast difference to the live show. I’ll be playing mainly songs from the new album but including a few of the “hits” from my first (mostly the up-tempo ones). I wanted to make people move with this record, and that’s what I hope to achieve with this new live show… Let’s see.
Izzy: And what are your most significant hopes and plans for the rest of 2015? I understand that you plan on touring the states this summer.
Nadine: I plan on writing and recording whenever I’m permitted to do so this year. Every opportunity me and Ben have… I’m gonna use. I’m really enjoying my time writing at the moment and it seems to be coming to me a lot easier at the minute… But God knows how long that will last! So whilst full of inspiration, I wanna get as much work done as possible.
As far as the states are concerned, ah I don’t know! I hope we can finally head that way this year but it all depends. It’s looking quite promising, so let’s see.