Shilpa Ray’s recent singles “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues” and “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” obviously reflect a focus on recent social tumult (She’s described her latest single, “Lawsuits And Suicide,” as, “a diss track to my abuser from a relationship I had suffered through in my mid to late 20s.”), despite the fact that we’re most familiar with her sonic allusions to the kinds of retro, proto-punk found in The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and New York Dolls (In fact, her sophomore LP, Door Girl, is a pretty obvious nod to David, Johnny, and Syl.) Well, her upcoming full-length, Portrait of A Lady (out April 29th on Northern Spy), contains both, in addition to a handful of new sounds she’s been playing with. I recently got a chance to chat with the Brooklyn-dwelling singer/songwriter (who’s been kicking out her jams for nearly two-decades, and who is also a part-time Bad Seed) for the first time since 2018, when she was touring her Nihilism EP. Shilpa Ray is currently in-between jaunts supporting indie rockers July Talk, which will have her playing The Foundry this coming Friday, April 15th. During our recent chat we discussed her new record, fashion, and just what can be expected at The Foundry, which will have her on the biggest local stage we’ve seen in quite some time.
Izzy Cihak: You’re about to release Portrait of A Lady, which seems like it’s kinda been in the works for a while (but that may just be me). How do you think the album compares to previous releases?
Shilpa Ray: Yeah, this one took a long time to make. The pandemic didn’t help as I originally wanted Portrait of A Lady out by 2021, but rushing the release of an album can be a misstep too. Door Girl, my last record, came together so quickly that when it got released people missed the fact I even put a record out. I was disappointed about that and wanted to change the way my stuff was marketed. I like being able to release 4 singles before the whole package comes out; having each song carry its own visual and musical story. Charles Dickens used to do that with his books. He’d sell the chapters before the whole novel.
Izzy: You’ve already kind of talked a lot about the non-musical things that inspired the album, like the #meetoo movement and the Trump administration, but I’m curious as to what you were listening to a lot of when conceiving of the album, whether you feel as though it directly influenced the sound or not?
Shilpa: I was listening to a lot of With Sympathy by Ministry and yes, it definitely bled into the sonic devices used in this album. Al Jourgensen hates that album BTW, but I love the production on it. All that new wave Romeo heartbreak told in beats and wild synth sounds. Pure genius. I didn’t want it to be overkill though or a complete copy of that. I wanted to retain some of myself while exploring the world of drum machines and synths. Billy Idol, 80’s hair metal, Pat Benetar, OMD, the theme song for Young and the Restless were influences as well. I wanted to talk about a very personal and difficult subject in a surreal and candy colored way. That was the only way I could write this album.
Izzy: Above all, Portrait of a Lady does seem like a very proactive commentary, so I’m curious if you think there are any other works of art of recent history that you find to be especially important or potentially impactful?
Shilpa: Portrait of A Lady was lyrically inspired by Nan Goldin’s The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency. Honestly, I can’t think of any other artwork that’s as impactful as the portrait of her face a month after her boyfriend beat her up. She nearly went blind. I’m a sexual and physical assault survivor and have spent nearly a decade burying my experiences and repeating the same mistakes over and over again. When I saw that work of art, I felt less alone and, in a way, set free to express myself. It really spoke to me. No other artwork has ever moved me in the same way. I almost met her once at one of her photo exhibits. I was too shy to say hi and we were wearing masks. She has very kind eyes.
Izzy: On a lighter note (maybe…), since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, what are some of your favorite things about Philly? I know you went to school here and you’ve played here countless times over the years.
Shilpa: Last time I was there I came across DiPinto Guitars. I just started playing when the pandemic first hit so I promised myself a flashy guitar once I got better at it. #goals
Izzy: You’re currently on tour with July Talk, who I also totally dig and are really amazing live. What are your thoughts on the Toronto band? How are they as tourmates?
Shilpa: The band and crew are super nice and positive! These shows so far have been really exciting and I’m proud to be on this tour. It’s been a good time so far.
Izzy: What can be expected of your live show this time around when you play The Foundry? I feel like I’m used to seeing you across the street (well, more or less) at the much-more-intimate Kung Fu Necktie.
Shilpa: It’s pretty much the same except I get to run around and lie down more cause the stages are bigger.
Izzy: Not to detract from your music, but you’ve always had a really amazing sense of style, nodding to what you referred to during our last chat as that really Nihilistic period of Rock N’ Roll, “after the late 50s and even before punk.” So, I’m curious if you have any particular style icons, or if there are any particular styles that you’ve encountered recently that you really appreciate?
Shilpa: Thank you! That’s such a sweet compliment. I’m not a model and don’t look like a typical fashionista so there’s no point in designers making clothes for me, and that’s totally fine, cause I get a real thrill out of styling myself. It’s fun and once you are put together, you’re ready for the show. The New York Dolls were definitely a fashion influence for me as was living in Philly in the late 90s. I was a goth then a glam then a mod. I do have some regrets over my more twee fashion choices cause with retro comes the retro gender values and as I’ve grown older I’ve become more comfortable in embracing my more masculine qualities. I love menswear and touring with the Bad Seeds was impactful with that. They pretty much changed how I felt about stage clothes. Also, Susie Cave. She makes femininity look so strong and as a tomboy I didn’t really think that was even possible. I can only go so far with the fashion though, cause I need to wear stuff that allows me to play and sing comfortably – so no spiky heels, excessive jewelry, or garments that feel tight around the waist or arms.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you, after this batch of dates wraps? I’m assuming there’s more touring in the works, or maybe some more music videos?
Shilpa: I just released a single/video for “Lawsuits and Suicide” and was thrilled at how that came out. Sometimes you just blindly work like a maniac and have no idea how things will turnout. Super grateful to my friend Kimberly Haven for directing and editing, as well as Brooke Ray Martin and Cameron Dunham for choreographing the dance number. We had a blast. As far as touring goes, the stories are true. Touring in a pandemic/post pandemic world is extremely hard so my approach is to keep it small, simple, be patient and wait. I did start writing new songs during the pandemic so I’m looking forward to getting back into that and seeing where this new material goes.
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