Shingai is out to tell her own story for the first time with the imminent release of her debut solo album. ‘Life. Sound. Dimensions’, out June 26th, is an important step for the Noisettes singer setting out on her own path.
“I’m truly independent now,” Shingai said. “I have a lot of love and reverence for my journey where I was plugged into a big machine, but I’m not sure I was able to tell my story at that point. I was scared to do that before because of what people will think.”
There’s no stopping her now.
It’s not that she’s new to being independent either, even if she never really felt it.
“We built the Noisettes from the ground up,” Shingai said. “Me and Dan, we started busking, we toured our arses off in Transit vans.
“I’m no stranger to the hustle but I also know how to make copper out of gold.”
Without financial backing, they just started out with the Noisettes because of their own belief in it.
“If people had said they didn’t like it, trust me, I would have stopped,” Shingai said. “But there was so much love and support from people on the ground, fans who wanted us to bring this voice that wasn’t there in the mainstream.”
Noisettes always struggled to fit definition. Shingai now realises they would have been labelled genre-fluid had that term been used by writers a decade ago.
Shingai said: “We were never an indie band, that was lazy journalism.
“It wasn’t a party I felt welcomed to, apart from the musicians we toured with. They were the big brothers who let us jump on support tours when we didn’t even have a deal.”
That work, supporting Babyshambles and other so-called ‘indie’ artists, helped them to their success, leading to a deal with Motown, and making a record on the West Coast of the USA.
“I’m not regretful of even a single second,” Shingai said.
Jumping from the Noisettes to solo is not even a change in direction for Shingai. Rather than returning to her roots, she’s focusing on elements which have always been there, noticeably in the onomatopoeic ‘IWE’ from the first Noisettes record.
‘Life. Sound. Dimensions.’
The album is a chance to tell her story with a bit more freedom, following on from her ‘Ancient Futures’ EP which was released last year.
Shingai explained: “It’s the sound of my life and it’s very multi-dimensional to this point, over ten years into making music.
“I think it’s a nice follow-on from ‘Ancient Futures’ too, sonically. The palette is very similar.”
The first single from ‘LSD’ was ‘War Drums’, which was a little bit of a protest song packed with autobiographical detail.
“For songs like ‘War Drums’, I wanted to show it was possible to write something conscious,” Shingai said.
“It was really fun to write. I was thinking, ‘How can we put ‘hard times’ in a song and not make people more depressed?’
“There’s probably 80% of people will want to just bob their head to it, and dance to it, and don’t really mind what it’s talking about, and that’s fine too.
“I don’t think it’s a musician’s place to tell people how to think.”
While fellow artists are cautious about writing conscious material because of the fear of backlash, those that are, Shingai noted, continue to go back to classic songs from artists like Bob Marley and Nina Simone.
Shingai said: “It’s not conscious music, it’s pop music – it’s simply written, it’s simply delivered, it doesn’t leave you feeling sad.
“Music is ultimately for people to enjoy in the moment they’re in, or escaping the moment they’re in.
“I don’t believe with ramming messages down people’s throats, I think that’s counter-productive.”
Elsewhere, the record explores the different sides to her relationship with London.
The record shows off her love of London, and the issues the capital faces up to every day.
‘Afterglow’ voices the issue of homelessness from three perspectives. It came from noticing a homeless young man in the city in November, being ignored by morning commuters.
“’Afterglow’ was a bit closer to me, singing about what I seeing,” Shingai said.
“London has evolved into a hyper-fast pace. “We need to be wary of the direction we’re going as a city.”
Meanwhile ‘South London Safari’ is a love letter to the adventures she had growing up in south-east London, name-dropping in particular the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace.
However, she rallies against the narrative war which sees different parts of London as rivals with each other. She feels just at home busking in Camden or songwriting in east London as she does south of the river.
Shingai said: “Growing up in between east London and south-east London as an artist, I find they’re very similar – huge very established working class, hard-working, very diverse communities.
“I was growing up in a part of London that was close-knit but also rough and ready. My family had resilience and a hard-working nature.”
Whether the subject is bleak or fun, there’s a message of hope reflected in these stories, and the album as a whole. “You’ve got that variety you would have on a Noisettes album,” Shingai said. “The storytelling deals with dark subjects at times but always in a playful way, and in a way you might not notice if you don’t scratch the surface.”
While her own experiences talk about London, these issues are being replicated across the country. “This record is for everyone,” Shingai said.
Lockdown and what comes next
‘LSD’ would have been promoted during festival season, but this is Shingai’s first summer ‘off’ – at least on stage - for many years.
She performed a live show on online platform The Floor a couple of weeks ago, something she embraced whilst on lockdown with her family in Kent instead of her usual setting of Tooting.
“If I’d stayed in London on my own, I wouldn’t have done the streaming thing,” Shingai said.
“I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad it wasn’t perfect. It’s beautiful to see someone step out of their comfort zone. Maybe it’s something we’ll do more of when this is over.”
She’s not sure how things will return, but she’s glad the pandemic has checked the pace of the music industry, and questioned its former practices.
Shingai said: “We’ve been living a bullet-pointed life in the music industry, it’s been so furiously fast paced in the ten years that I’ve been a part of it.
“We have to defy the circumstances and keep leaning into more compassionate times. The music industry has been a place where a lot of behaviours have been tolerated for too long that have ruined people’s lives. It’s supposed to bring joy to people’s lives.
“We don’t have to go back to the habits that contribute fear.”
And as she steps forward to tell her own story, she’s noticed what she’s learnt, and how to embrace those stories going forward.
“There’s not one way to be a black female,” Shingai said. “That keeps me going.
“It’s loads better than it was ten years ago, but it’s important to embrace that voice, and people need different voices.”