Monday, January 18, 2010

CB Q/A #28: Shilpa Ray

I caught up with Shilpa Ray a little while ago, shortly before she departed on the tour that, after stops in Buffalo and Chicago, brings her to Cleveland on Wednesday to rock the Beachland Ballroom. The singer-songwriter, who reminds me of a more rustic and deeper Thao Nguyen and who has been called by others the Janis Joplin of indie rock, was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with me about her art, her plans for the year, her New York background, and her favorite music.

1) What have you been listening to lately? Any different from what influenced you on your debut?

Lately – a lot of stuff. I really got into Rodriguez this year. I listened to a lot of old punk, and a lot of stuff that would not be considered punk of that era –stuff that sounds like punk but isn’t it politically. I listened to The Vibrators a lot, and a band called Toy Love from New Zealand from the late 70s early 80s. Pretty much everything I’ve been listening to lately comes from either that era or a lot of 50s rockabilly. All of it has been very song-oriented stuff.

When I was doing the album, though, I was listening to a lot of reggae and blues. I was really into The Oblivions and Compulsive Gamblers – not that we captured any of that kind of sound on the record. Also, I was listening to a lot of The Gun Club, especially when I wrote “Woman Sets Boyfriend On Fire.”

2) What’s the plan for 2010?

I want to make another record. We just started making a new one, hopefully it will come out this year. I really want to travel. We’ve been going on short tours, but I’m starting to feel pretty stagnant. I want to perform more, and get out more often and for longer across the country. I want to make 2010 the time I live an adventure.

3) One of the things I often wonder about is how a band’s community shaped their development. How has your scene, such as it may be, influenced your art?

You know, music is incredibly regional. For example, I stumbled into the anti-folk scene in New York. The first time I played my own stuff out, it was at the Sidewalk CafĂ© (the home venue of artists Jeffrey Lewis and The Moldy Peaches). That helped me form friendships with different kinds of people. When I think back, most singer-songwriter friends I have from there and from that time are inspired by blues and folk of a certain era. That music deeply inspires me, too, but so do other things. Generally, I’m not heavily involved in scenes – not a part of the action in a general way. Instead, I’ve been more about milling around and exploring things on my own. But in song structures and developing art I definitely benefited from watching my peers doing it so much better than I was at the time. I watched them and learned from them when I was making my own music.

4) What do you want live audience coming away with?

When I’m writing and thinking about my own life in general, I always feel weird about being a very intense person. You can’t always behave that way outwardly – you have to be a grown up some times – but I always have that question “are you feeling what I’m feeling right now or am I fucking crazy.” I think it is really important to make sure you can feel what another person feels, and when I’m performing, I really want my audience to feel the same thing I’m feeling, when I’m up there feeling it.

5) If a little fairy came to you and granted you a birthday wish allowing you to headline a show with any bill you wanted, who would be on it?

You know who would really be cool to sing with? Howlin’ Wolf. That would be amazing. But we’d have to open for him, no way I could have him open for us.

I didn’t live through that time, so I have no idea what it would feel like to be in the same room with those people doing their thing. That music is so raw and instinctual, not charted and perfected, yet the old music sounded and felt so right. I think that visceral edge is missing today. A lot of music we listen to now is very produced, with this Radiohead/Grizzly Bear perfectionist feel to it, but the stuff those guys were doing was not. I mean, think about how they probably made those records. They were probably recording with a room mic, and when the played live, they had to go off what the room felt like, not based on the sound in their monitors or with the help of a fancy sound system. I’d love to play with them, just like how they used to, and learn how they did that.

And, of course there is always the fantasy to play with all your friends bands in a fun, remote place with no rules and where you can do whatever weird and crazy stuff you want. That would be great.

6) What do you think about playing covers? Any songs/artists you’d love to cover down the road?

We play a lot of covers. I love playing covers. It is a really fun and challenging way to change up your own way of arranging things. Also helps to learn other peoples chord changes. Maybe try a key or chord composition in your own work.

Last summer, I had this awesome opportunity to play with the Steve Bernstein Orchestra, and we did a Sly Stone tribute night at Castle Clinton. “You Can Make It If You Try” is in F-sharp major – I’d never played in that key before, but an hour after the show, I was making my own song in that same scale. I still play that song out a bit and while it sounds nothing like a Sly song – mine is totally slow and droning - but it works.

7) Do you have any memorable Cleveland experiences you can share?

Last time we played the Beachland we had a great time, a lot of fun. It was actually the first time I’d ever been to Cleveland. We got there really early, and when the rest of my bandmates went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I went to sleep. When I woke up, all these people were already there, so I got ready and then got tanked, and we eventually went on and had a great show. Later, we stayed stayed at one my friend’s (This Moment In Black History’s Chris Kulcsar) mom’s house. He’s in this really heavy, totally rock and roll band, but his mom’s house had all these cats, lots and lots of porcelain cats. It was wild.

To meet Shilpa and the rest of her Happy Hookers, be sure to hit the Beachland on Wednesday night. Tickets are only $7, doors open at 8:30, and opening acts Chief Bromide and The Formula do their thing beginning at 9.

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