ELIZA SHADDAD; THE ESSENCE OF A SOUL-BEARING SOUND words Charlie Newman - photography Kim Jobson - fashion Maisie Daniels
Eliza Shaddad is the fearlessly bold singer-songwriter most up and coming artists dream of becoming. Nevertheless, don’t let this paint an intimidating or cocky image of her, she is warm and as sweet as she likes her tea - “sweet milk with flavor.” Her determination and self-belief have led her down a trickier path but one worth following. Having been picked up by BBC Introducing, she has since collaborated with Clean Bandit and UK Shanty, as well as touring with her own band all over Europe. She is a most remarkable woman with many tricks up her sleeve; teacher, linguist, philosophy enthusiast, charity activist, you name it, she’s done it.
Eliza’s voice effortlessly glides over her Alternative/Indie tracks, inviting you to listen tentatively to the soul-baring lyrics. Over a cuppa, we discussed the release of her new album and the journey she’s been on to accomplish it.
Charlie Newman: Firstly, huge congratulations on your album ‘Future’, please can you tell us a bit about it?
Eliza Shaddad: Sure! It’s coming out on the 26th of October with Beatnik Creative.
C.N: How long did it take to make?
E.S: It took around 2 years! It’s been a really long process because there were lots of problems from things like finances to scheduling. All through it I really wanted to work with the same team as I did for my last two EP's so I waited basically, instead of jumping into something I wasn't passionate about I’m glad I did it but it took a lot of patience.
C.N: What really strikes me listening to your music is that your lyrics are so brutally honest and brave. Does that writing process come easily to you, or do you have to take yourself off somewhere shut off to the world?
E.S: Normally I need at least three days on my own, to clear space, to even start feeling creative. Sometimes if I’m on tour for example, where you’re playing guitar all the time it comes out so much more natural, but most of the tracks on the album took a long time to write. When we were making the album I kept telling myself that my favorite albums to listen to took 18 months to create at least. So when it went past 18 months I thought, cool this means it’s going to be better!
C.N: I’ve read that you’ve done a lot of traveling. It seems to me that what you put into your life outside of work is equally important to you as your work. Can you share with us any of your adventures and experiences?
E.S: As I was growing up my mum moved with her job for the British Council every 3 or 4 years, promoting the English language, arts, and culture. We lived in: Spain, Nigeria, Poland, Slovakia and Russia, and then I studied Philosophy and did a Masters at Birmingham University. After that, I felt like it was all too much, too much institution and too much education. I’d always loved traveling so I decided to move to Spain to teach English but after a year I thought ‘what am I doing?’ so I went to Guildhall to study Jazz.
C.N: How important do you think studying music is? Especially considering the fees and what with it being a creative vocation.
E.S: A lot of the people I know that studied at Guildhall were incredible musicians before they arrived. Most undergraduates had achieved Grade 8 in numerous instruments before they had even applied, which I hadn’t. They only get better there but they’re already insanely good. University definitely has benefits. For me, I went more to do stuff I’d never done before like: meet other musicians, live in London, play with a band, and to be the best musician I could, and I felt like studying Jazz was the best way for me to do that. I definitely learned so much and it means I feel that I can now hold myself in certain situations, which I would be really scared to otherwise. But at the same time, I’ve tried to forget a lot of the stuff I was taught because I found it was changing the natural way in which I wanted to communicate. Studying music made me really control my voice in a way that wasn’t working for me, it had a completely different tone. It was much more controlled and precise, whereas I wanted it to be wild and free. Obviously what with studying being so expensive and music being such an up and down career, maybe if you do go to University, study something really employable, not just your obsession, because then you’ve got both up your sleeve!
Eliza wears denim jacket AMERICAN APPAREL; t-shirt URBAN OUTFITTERS; denim trousers WEEKDAY; trainers UMBRO
C.N: How many people are in your band?
E.S: We’ve always been a three-piece, but recently we played a gig as a four-piece and I think we’re going to try and do more like that because it was next level.
C.N: Before you were saying how talented everyone around you at Guildhall were, but you clearly are too. You got in too and are doing so well right now! Did you play music whilst growing up? Was it always on your radar?
E.S: I had piano lessons growing up and singing lessons at school. I hated theory so much that I couldn't really face grades, so I changed boards. I wish I hadn’t done that now though! If only it had been made interesting! I was quite surprised to get into Guildhall, I knew I could sing and enjoyed communicating with people via the medium of song (laughs.) I did loads of ear training and sight reading training in order to be able to get through the audition.
C.N: Where’s been your favorite gig so far?
E.S: The last show we did was an album preview. We played it from the beginning to the end in a really small venue, it sold out in 72 hours, it was such a lovely vibe!
C.N: If you could play at any venue where would you pick?
E.S: I’ve always loved Union Chapel. I’ve played there alone but never with a band. Our live sound has changed so much though, it used to be so much folkier, so I don’t know it would suit the full band. Nowadays I’d pick Village Underground (laughs) maybe next year, in front of 800 people!
C.N: I was really impressed with your ‘Girls Girls Girls’ female collective. Please tell me more!
E.S: So me and my friend Samantha Lindo set it up. We’d both just moved to London having not known anyone and were both trying to do music here and we were getting really sick of playing nights with a Metal Band, a Techno Dj, a female singer/songwriter-there was no care or attention, and it was all about how many people they could bring in. Samantha came back from Glastonbury with such a buzz having seen Beyonce headline with her all-female band. She’d never seen anything so empowering and exciting. We thought why can’t we bring this to London? So we created a night where we would want to actually play ourselves and invited loads of women to be a part of it, to create this lovely atmosphere. Somewhere where people could try out things, take risks because it’s a really supportive environment. We wanted to do it in really beautiful venues and as it’s female-focused, to support a female-led charity which is where ‘Orchid Project’ came in an anti-FGM charity. We’ve done them all around London and done a UK tour, picking up new artists and poets and creating exhibition spaces. The last time we had an entrepreneur speak - and I now really want to get the tech world involved!
C.N: Is it girls only in the audience?
E.S: No and it’s not just girl performers either, it’s just focused on female-led projects, like a female lead band or a female choral director.
C.N: How many languages do you speak?
E.S: I attempt to speak 4. Spanish, French, Arabic (my family’s Sudanese) and English.
Eliza wears t-shirt, trousers and jacket URBAN OUTFITTERS; bumbag EASTPAK; hat ELIZA'S OWN
C.N: Often a lot of people who grew up traveling have this sense of being able to pick up home and take it wherever they are, ‘home is where the heart is’ in other words. I’m so envious of this quality, do you feel that way or is there one place you’re deeply attached to?
E.S: I think home is where my Mum is. I guess less as I get older but as Mum moved to Suffolk when she retired that now feels like home to me.
C.N: So are you more of a city girl or a country bumpkin?
C.N: I don’t know whether it’s because of all the traveling and life experiences you’ve gained, but it really comes across in your lyrics especially that you seem to have a really strong sense of self. Bearing that in mind, is that something you want to push on your audience and encourage?
E.S: I think that it’s hard to feel you do know yourself well. I feel like I could look like a completely different person every day right? I could put on a certain set of clothes and be ‘business Eliza’, and the next day another set of clothes and think, OK I’m ‘country Eliza.’ I’ve always felt like there’s a lot of different sides to me and I can’t work out whether they reconcile and I think that makes me feel like I don’t know who I am sometimes. But at the same time I’ve moved around so much, I’ve been thrown into so many different situations, I’ve changed academic studies, you know where all my reference points are turning… And going through that many different changes means that you do know who you are really because you have to assert it every time you meet a new group of people, every time you move to another country, every time you change university or whatever it is. I feel like I haven’t spent enough time on my own, that’s how I feel like I don’t know myself. I really like being alone. So deep down I do know myself-at least I think I do!
C.N: Do you find that music helps your inner voice come out more? You’ve explored so many different genres of music, is that different voices coming out or are you just exploring, giving it a go?
E.S: I think that all the genres feel right to borrow from and that when I’m writing the lyrics are the center point, the thing that holds everything together as one body of work from the same person. This album is essentially telling one story.
C.N: If you could collaborate with anyone on your next album who would you pick?
E.S: I’m more interested in self-producing for the next album. I’ve of course worked with some amazing people. I love writing and collaborating with others but at the minute for my records, I want to write everything. I want to focus on one direction, there’s room for remixes and collaborations but it doesn’t necessarily fit under the Eliza Shaddad umbrella right now.
C.N: What music did you listen to growing up?
E.S: As a teenager I listened to things like Tori Amos and Jewel and Radiohead and Tracy Chapman and Skunk Anansie, which were mostly awesome recommendations from my older sister, and then when I got to University somebody introduced me to Bob Dylan and I got pretty deep into his music and from there traditional British folk music, and jazz, and (laughs) I’m still growing.
C.N: What’s your favorite f-word?
E.S: It’s got to be Future!
Words and interview: Charlie Newman
Photography: Kim Jobson
Fashion: Maisie Daniels
Hair & Makeup: Lai Zakaria
Watch the new video for 'Just Goes To Show' by Eliza Shaddad which was released TODAY!
Eliza wears jacket and skirt URBAN OUTFITTERS; t-shirt ADIDAS
Eliza wears jumpsuit LF MARKEY; t-shirt AMERICAN APPAREL; shoes PALLADIUM; bucket hat STYLIST'S OWN
Eliza wears jumper, skirt and socks AMERICAN APPAREL; trainers UMBRO; socks BURLINGTON
Eliza wears tracksuit ELLESSE