Up-and-coming producer-singer-songwriter shiv is already mesmerising alt-R&B devotees. Notion chatted with the artist about her musical upbringing, the Irish music scene, and much more.
Engraving her name into the contemporary alt-R&B scape, shiv possesses both the dulcet tones the genre is renowned for and the producing prowess to match. She only made her debut in 2019, but already she has much of Ireland and the UK entranced – and she is poised for much more.
shiv grew up in Zimbabwe until the age of 5, when her family relocated to Ireland. Now Dublin-based, her musical compass is broad to say the least – but most frequently she returns to jazz, soul, R&B and trip-hop touches and flourishes. The young artist initially embarked on a degree in psychology, but quickly realised music was her true calling. A stint in DJing transitioned to producing to singing and song-writing, each step arming shiv with the experience needed to hone her sound.
Fearing public speaking, shiv settled on performing a song for her maid of honour speech at her sister’s wedding. The resulting video was what put her on the map, and she was swiftly scouted by tastemakers. She headed to Mozambique for a writing retreat where she created her first bundle of tracks, released just before the pandemic set in.
shiv’s latest EP, ‘The Love Interlude’, returns to these early singles, resurrecting “Golden” which takes pride of place on this new collection. Nestled between the sunny sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae, the smoky edge of Macy Gray and the hypnotic energy of trip-hop, shiv is now gearing up for her first full album release.
Notion caught up with shiv about the thrill of performing live post-lockdown, staying authentic and making space for herself in male-dominated industries.
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How did your latest EP ‘The Love Interlude’ come about? Can you give us an overview of how you created it?
Yeah, absolutely. So I guess it started with my song “Golden” – I wrote it about two years ago now. I owe a lot to that song. It was the one that enabled me to essentially have an income from music. I did DIY visuals for it. I knew that I really wanted to do visuals before. So it kind of started that way, that I wanted to be involved. I was doing a lot of studio sessions around the same time and I ended up writing “Ha Ha Ha” and “Where You Are”. Then I had “All Of You” sitting on my hard drive for a long time. Something just hit me that those four songs would work so well together as a full piece of work because they felt like some kind of journey of love. The idea that each song represented this theme really made sense to me and felt like: okay, this is the direction this needs to go in. And even to include the visual aspects of it, for each song to have a short film type thing – it really just went from there.
I found it really interesting that you went back to “Golden” which you released before your first EP.
Exactly. I just felt like it just needed something more to add to the original, like the DIY visuals which I mentioned, to breathe life back into it and I’m so grateful for that song. So yeah, I guess that was the sort of route that I went down.
How do you feel your sound has developed since your first EP?
I feel like I’m a little bit more mature. I’m definitely sharpening my songwriting skills. I started working with Adrien the producer so it was really really good to work with people that have been in the screeners and push me to try new things and genres. “Ha Ha Ha” and “Where You Are” definitely have that jazz-centric sound. And that’s not something that I would have been able to do by myself as a producer. So yeah, it’s a step up in terms of my maturity and my confidence as a songwriter. But it’s also developed those kinds of jazz and soul areas.
With songs like “Ha Ha Ha”, you move from that jazz to electropop. How do you decide what direction to take genre-wise with different singles?
I think, to be honest, it just depends on the session, and the vibe. I was working with a producer in Paris, Adrien, who is primarily a sax-player. He’s just begun producing for us. We got in the studio together, and he played a few chords, he played the chords for “Ha Ha Ha” and I was like, whoa, this could be super, super cool. And I think it just kind of poured from us, you know, feeling each other out in the studio figuring out what sounds we both agree on, and then the lyrics were just born from that.
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Where do you think your musical influences come from?
Growing up, I was fed a lot of music. My dad, my mum, and my sister were all really into music all very much in their own respective genres. We didn’t have a TV so music was on all day, every day. It just felt weird if there wasn’t music on.
So I think that that was the initial influence. At home, I listened to so much stuff… like Pink Floyd. My dad was picking out stuff and so was my sister. It was such a wide array of genres. And then obviously, I did develop my own musical tastes, once I got older. I really got into the Lo-Fi UK scene – that was around the time I started producing my own stuff. I love the UK producer singer Biig Piig – she’s super cool as well as very summery. I remember listening to him an awful lot when I was producing, and also Frank Ocean a lot as well. So I guess it just kind of draws from a lot of different things. I think it feels good to have so much input and then feed that into my creative output, if that makes sense. I’m not consciously trying to do it but I think because my ear has been pretty saturated it just goes where I naturally am more inclined to enjoy and they just end up expressing themselves in my music.
You’ve said that last year during the pandemic was the time when you properly decided to pursue music, having made your debut in 2019. How has that journey felt so far?
Yeah, it’s definitely been a weird one. It felt like it was very fast as well. I released my first couple of singles with absolutely no expectations at all – it just felt like I needed to, I just wanted to get something out there and then just move on with the rest of my life. And then Spotify was super supportive – they added it to their playlist which made me so grateful and it was so unexpected as well. So I think when that happened, that gave me a boost of confidence to say: Okay cool, this could be something I could take a little bit more seriously. Pre-lockdown I was still working a job as a waitress and then when lockdown happened I had more time to dedicate to doing music and doing this. Then when things started opening up again was when I started earning a livable wage from streaming on Spotify, so it just kind of made sense to be like: Well I don’t need other work, I want to be a full-time musician. It was a good opportunity to do that.
How does it feel now that things are opening up a bit more?
It’s great. I think I’m slowly getting used to it. I mean, I feel like for a little while there it was just a mad dash where everyone was like: we’re back to business, right now. So it was a shock to the system I guess, because I had been idle for so long. Writing with your own headspace is so different to performing. It’s tiring in a different way. It’s more emotionally tiring whereas I think performing is generally active but the thing is both of them also provide a whole lot of energy in a spiritual sense. But it’s been really really nice to be back. I had my first show in London last night – that was amazing, the crowd was absolutely phenomenal. When people feel addicted to performing – I got that adrenaline rush that so many people talk about and it was just amazing. I feel so grateful and lucky that that’s my job.
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It must be so strange coming out of lockdown though and then having live shows suddenly – do you have any favourite or memorable experiences of performing live so far?
I think probably, to be honest, last night [21 October at Corsica Studios] was one of the highlights for me. It was the first time I think where I’m starting to get more and more confident with my performance. I mean, I go back to why I started to do music in the first place and why that’s my career path now – I was maid of honour for my sister’s wedding and I had to make a speech. I do not like public speaking at all. If it’s in front of more than five or six people it just freaks me out. So I wrote a song literally just to avoid that. When I started performing – I mean, singing is really a no-brainer for me, I don’t get nervous as I just love doing it – but when I have to do the speaking portion of the show it just absolutely freaks me out. I try to avoid it at all costs. I’d be stuttering and nervous and just uncomfortable but as the day has gone on I’ve got more and more confidence, more and more able to be myself on stage. Yesterday was the peak of that – having people singing along to my songs and knowing my lyrics, people coming up and being super emotional and super touched and moved, is a phenomenal feeling I don’t think you can get anywhere else.
You’ve talked about your own struggle with the anxiety of having to live up to expectations and the impact of that on your own authenticity. How do you stay authentic now?
It can be hard, to be honest. Social media is such a tool for artists, you’re doing yourself a disservice not using. But the amount of comparison that it leads to – you see people doing this or doing that – and you think, oh shit, I should be doing that too or I’m not good enough or I didn’t get this opportunity. It just breeds a very toxic cycle and it makes you feel like: oh maybe I need to get this thing or do this thing to become as successful as this person. But I think just trying to maintain the fact that, you’re the only person that could do you regardless of what you think is going to get you somewhere, trying to be a certain way. It’s never going to be as good as just being yourself because you’re definitely going to always be the best at that, no one else can do it. I think that no matter how many people have come before you doing the same thing – there are thousands of R&B, soul and jazz artists – but I’m still the only one that’s going to do it the way that I’m going to do it. I keep that at the front of my mind all the time. It really does help me to be like: If I’m going to do this, I may as well do it my way. That’s all I can do – the best that I can and remain as true to myself as I can be.
What was it like starting out as a DJ and what impact did it have on you as an artist?
I did DJing about two years after I finished my degree in psychology. I knew that I wanted to have music in my life in some capacity but being a singer didn’t seem that achievable. I wanted to have a good time meeting people, but not necessarily be a singer. I always had these tunes when I went to school every week, and people would be like: oh my god. So it kind of felt like a very natural progression. I really, really enjoyed DJing and I think that’s what gave me the motivation to learn how to produce. I really needed to find out what my sound was and I couldn’t do that through other people. I think it definitely had an impact in the sense that it felt like: ok, maybe I can do the production – because I guess the thing is, in a male-dominated industry, there are few female producers that I know of – I’ve only ever worked with one out of maybe thirty that I’ve worked with so far. You’re under the impression that because you’re a woman you can’t or you’re not able to, that’s it’s too technical or it’s not a woman’s place to do that. But I was already in a male-dominated industry doing DJing so I was like: you know what, if I can do that maybe I should try this. Maybe I’d be good at it. So, I’m really glad that I did.
Is psychology still a passion for you? And do you think it has had any kind of bearing on your music at all?
I definitely still feel passionate about psychology. I think it’s kind of something that everyone should do because I think it had quite an informed impact on my life and relationships, people generally. So I think in that regard, it was super helpful for me to better navigate day-to-day things. In terms of my music, I think it made me better able to recognise my emotions and to express those clearly. I think the first step toward expressing your emotions is to be able to know what’s going on. I think that made me very self-aware. Psychology helped me to navigate my psyche, or other people’s psyche. It has helped me to tell people how my mind works and how I thought things which is pretty important I think, to share my closest experiences and my life. So 100%, definitely – it’s definitely had an impact on my music for sure.
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You collaborated recently with Benny Atlas and that felt like quite a change. What was it like working together and what elaborations you have planned next?
It’s all pretty remote which is so cool but that’s just the way the world is right now. You don’t have to have a session anymore, you can send over your content. Benny Atlas was really great to work with.
I’m now working on my album – I’m basing it on my experiences growing up in Ireland. And it’s been really interesting to kind of delve deeper into some of the stuff that I’d just buried an awful long time and it’s helping me process a lot of stuff that I hadn’t processed or hadn’t really thought about or hadn’t really engaged with. I’m really enjoying exploring that sort of area of my life. And so far, no collab plans. I’m not sure if I will. If something comes up and it feels right and something that makes sense for me, and makes sense to put on the album then I’m not closed to it but for now, it’s probably just going to be a solo album.
Do you think the Irish music scene or music scene in Dublin has been important for you as an artist?
The music scene in Ireland is so small that we all support each other, which is amazing. There hasn’t really been an infrastructure for music in Ireland until the last couple of years and there’s been a serious explosion of highly talented artists coming out of the country. It’s just truly admirable considering it’s such a tiny island. I think being part of that kind of community has really helped me to develop as an artist. It’s given me the support when I’ve needed to feel free and creatively constant. It’s just nice that it feels like when one of us wins, we’re all winning. Everyone kind of knows everyone and we’re all cheering for each other. It’s not so much competitive, you know, pitted against each other kind of thing. We’re all just in it and trying to put Ireland on the map.
Finally, what’s one thing people don’t know about you that they should?
English wasn’t the first language I learned funnily enough. I grew up and lived in Zimbabwe until I was about 5, so we spoke Shona to each other all the time. My dad would speak in English to us. And then I remember when I moved to Ireland I’d try to speak in Shona to my teachers and they’d be like: What are you trying to say here?