Shira E may be on the cusp of her first U.S. tour, but she still plays the small Casio keyboard she's had since she was 6.
How would you describe your style of music?
Shira E: I've heard someone call it "dreamy-electric-soul-pop," and that sounds just about right.
You are a musician, poet, and visual artist. Does one take precedent over the others?
SE: They weave in and out, so I'll do one and then I'll do another. Music and poetry have always been neck and neck. I've been writing and making music since I was really little. I play the ukelele, keys, and now I've started with a sampler.
Poetry vs. lyrics: How do you differentiate?
SE: (laughs) It's funny, because people really want to know this! We really have different ideas about the two. For me, I'll be writing and I'll "wake up" a little bit from the process. It's almost like, "How did I get here?" — I have to backtrack a little. The writing process is so different for songs and poems. I would say only one out of a thousand songs have come from my poems. They texturally feel like different things. It's a different experiment with different materials.
The new album, Shouts and Sparks — is it your first time working mostly with the sampler?
SE: Yes! This is the first album that is mostly electronic, not singer-songwriter style like the previous ones. For my shows I have a tiny Casio keyboard that I've played since I was 6 years old, and I have the sampler. This album was really about trying to match what is in my head onto the palette of the keyboard.
Another upcoming female electronic artist, Grimes, recently posted on her Tumblr about the sexism she has encountered while on tour. Do you think it's harder for women in the electronic genre?
SE: It's harder to be a woman. Period. Just walking down the street. For me, to see a woman doing it is a huge deal. Seeing Grimes, Tune-Yards, and others — it's a big deal. Just seeing women absolutely killing it? It's great. Women will often come up to me after shows to ask questions about the sampler, or my music...just see what I'm doing. You meet prejudice, yes, but I find allying with other women is the best way to move through that.
Being a gay artist: People are always scrutinizing how that fits into your work. For some artists, being gay is part of the music, but for others it's completely separate. How do you take it?
SE: I'll say it like this. I had a fan who told me, "Hey, Shira, I dont know if you know this, but you are the only artist I've heard that uses only 'she' in the lyrics," and I hadn't really thought about it. For me, am I doing it on purpose? No. Is that just something that is true about my life? Yes. It is so meaningful to me, though, that someone can say they feel a reflection of something that is just a fact in their life. I sing a love story to a woman because that's what it is. It's never on purpose, it's just a fact. I've also written songs to men, and I've never dated men! You can be anyone you want to be in a song. I'm open to what the song wants of me and what it wants me to write.
This has been a crazy month for the LGBT community, with the Supreme Court case decisions coming up. How do you feel about it all?
SE: It excites me ... I do want to get married, and it matters to me. But I also know it's not the end. There are so many other issues that are important, so it shouldn't be the one issue that's considered "the gay issue." Not when there is homelessness and gay youth, but for me — it is a big step.
The new album, Shouts and Sparks, how is this one different from your others?
SE: The album before is called Lamps, and it's a pretty dark album, actually. A lot of isolation and heaviness in there, working through a time in my life that was really private. In this album, it's as if I've cleared the woods. I've survived something, and this album is celebrating the joy of that.
For the music video, I worked with someone I'm so excited about, Jessie Levandov. She is a part of a group called Signified, and they do documentaries on queer artists all over the world. We made the video for the title track, "Shouts and Sparks" — it's going to be pretty earthy, strange...and strange.
What do you hope people get out of your live shows?
SE: There is something that happens when I'm watching any art form, that it jolts me into "aliveness." It jolts me out of whatever is ordinary and brings me back into my skin in a very profound way. What do I hope people get? I hope people come and they feel more alive — I hope they feel a little "shook," the gray gets washed off. It should feel a little animal and connected, not just to me but to the other people in the room. I hope something strange happens — strange in the sense something gets a little shifted. I want it to lift them.
What's next for Shira-E?
SE: This summer is a big goal — I'm going back and forth across the country playing 37 shows in less than eight weeks. It's going to be crazy packed, and I just want to fill rooms ... I want this pulsing, magical show every night, that's why any musician does it. And after that? World domination.
Any last words to the masses out there?
SE: Everything starts with one small step, and then you just keep taking that small step over and over. Trust in yourself to step forward ... allow the love to pull you where it wants to take you.