Nadine Shah

We catch up with one of 2013's biggest songwriting successes to learn about her creative and collaborative process...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 8 Oct 2013
  • min read
Newcomer Nadine Shah has been one of the biggest stories in British music this year. Her lauded debut album Love Your Dum and Mad was preceded by lingering radio hits such as Runaway and Dreary Town, ensuring that she hasn’t ever been too far from the national consciousness.

TV appearances, radio sessions and high-profile support slots for Eels and Bat for Lashes followed, helping colour 2013 with the gothic majesty of her immense songwriting.

The fact that Nadine’s success sprung from such humble beginnings has only fuelled the fire. The story of her upbringing brims with the forlorn romance that only a blustery north-eastern seaside village home can evoke.

But the real mystery is to be found in Nadine’s storytelling: murder ballads and fractured love songs that tackle head on life’s most difficult questions.

We caught up with her ahead of her UK and European tour (which kicks off today) to find out more about her songwriting and her collaborative process, both with revered producer Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, The Horrors) and house queen Maya Jane Coles.

Relief, it took a long time and it's great that people can finally own it. Luckily the response to it has been wonderful..this is something that really worried me. Just means we can make MORE now!

Are plans afoot for a new LP or are you concentrating on touring over the next few months?
I've started writing for LP number two. I'm just at the demo stage with songs but we're gonna have to fit in time in the studio around touring. I don't want to take too long on making this next record.

Where do you most like to write your songs?
Lyrics, anywhere. But I put everything together at home, be it my parents house or my dingyy flat in London.

You’ve said before that the inspiration behind some of the songs on Love Your Dum and Mad has come from losing friends through mental illness. Did you find the songwriting process cathartic?
I suppose so. I wanted to make something special for them that would last; I guess music is immortal in that sense.

Do you find it easier to write about other people than yourself?
Yes, less embarrassment.

How did you meet Ben Hillier?
From a demo of a song I'd written (Dreary Town) and I expressed that I really wanted to work with him. He seemed to like it, luckily.

What was it like to work with him on the album?
Great, it's more of a collaborative piece of work the album. There's as much of Ben on it as there is me. He adds a sinister edge to my musical theatre tendencies! We seemed to have the same approach to exactly how the album should sound sonically.

You worked with Maya Jane Coles on the track Blame. How did that collaboration come about?
Maya and I are friends. We used to share the same manager, we'd always been fans of each others’ work so when the opportunity came up to collaborate together, we both jumped at it.

What was Maya like to work with? Did you work closely together or did you each write your parts on your own?
Maya's awesome. She's very laid back to work with - we recorded the track in her bedroom. She sent me the instrumental for the song and I added the topline. I really enjoy this way of working as it is almost the complete opposite of how I write myself.

Did you concentrate on the vocal melody or did you play anything else too?
Yep, just the vocal melody!

Was it strange to write a melody over electronica?
Yeah it was; it's strange writing for other people no matter what genre it is though. Especially lyrics, it's difficult to know exactly what to write about that will suit them personally. On that particular track though there was a lot of space to play with the vocal which made my job a lot easier (thanks Maya! ha)

What do you think of the finished article?
I love it. I don't especially like listening to my own music but as it's essentially Maya's song for some reason I don't mind it. I suppose I'm distracted by her great production and beats.

Did you learn anything from that collaborative experience?
It's taught me to be more open minded with whom to collaborate with.

Is there anyone else you’d particularly like to work with?
Ah there's LOADS… Here be my wish list…
Scott Walker
St Vincent
The National
Nick Cave
James Blake
Jay Z
Orlando Weeks
Goran Bregovic...

Do you prefer writing and recording or performing live?
Writing and recording. It's where I'm most comfortable. I'm happiest when creating and making.

You’ve said before that your dad’s a really good singer. How has your family influenced your songwriting, if at all?
I don't think I've consciously been influenced by them in my songwriting. Although I probably inherited my voice from my dad.

What music are you listening to at the moment?
A compilation CD of Egyptian pop music called YALLA.

Aching Bones will be re-released through Apollo Records on 25 November.