Playing at Nighbird Books on Thursday, August 15, will be the mighty and earth-shaking Shira E. A dedicated and prolific poet, artist and musician, Shira has explored the caves and mountains of song, only to bring you the best she’s found so far. Among her many accolades are a Pushcart Prize nomination, many published works and a shared stage with CocoRosie, Mirah, tUnE-yArDs and Ani Difranco. Shira has been independently releasing her records for over 10 years and has performed in Fayetteville as part of a poetry troupe The Spilljoy Ensemble.
Q: How would you describe your new album, Shouts & Sparks, to somebody who had never heard of it, or you?
A: Sea water and lightning in a vase. A sky in the chest. A friend recently told me that in Jewish Mysticism God has millions of names, and one of them is rage. The song “Shotgun Wedding” is rage running in high heels toward a very palpable dusk. The album is a machine that spits fireflies and magnetic fields. It’s made of bolts and gears that turn when you say the word “yes.” There is a feeling of survival, and being lit afire with joy at that survival.
Q: What was the process of creating Shouts & Sparks like?
A: I wrote the songs in my bedroom for a year. It was an incredibly focused process, as I was learning a new instrument (the Roland-404 sampler) as I was writing. I was sitting with the manual — a very techy process — and then unleashing questions onto the machine, which I named “Sugar” after the “Dear Sugar” advice column in The Rumpus. Creating these seven songs was similar to my other songwriting process in that it was deeply steeped in experimentation and total immersion. The difference was the techy-ness of this process — because I was not familiar with this new instrument, I was a quintessential student. There had to be a lot of humility every time I sat down to write, or else I’d get frustrated. Almost a year later I was recording the record at Blue Jay Studios in Carlisle. It was a two-day process with old friend and producer James Zaner, and my first full in-studio album. James and I holed up in the studio for two full days, and I felt so free, full of magic and gratitude. These tunes had been cooking in my blood; I was so ready to release them into the ether and see where they wanted to go. “Hem of His Garment” — the first track on the record — surprised me when it begged for a choir of Shira E’s singing in gospel-y fashion along with the verses. If you could have taken an X-ray of my heart when I first listened back to it, you would have found a blue whale.
Q: What is your favorite non-musical sound?
A: Let us never underestimate the full-body-rush-beauty of heavy, heavy rain and thunder. When someone I love a lot laughs really hard — my dad, my girlfriend, my brother — that sound lights up my blood hugely. I’m a huge fan of clicking/gears turning/mechanical sounds. Heavy things clanging in the wind, glass bottles knocking against one another, thunder, thunder, thunder.
Q: What served as inspiration for Shouts & Sparks?
A: Accidents. Making them, and turning them into purpose. So many of the songs came from a mistake that then was allowed to bloom into a loop, a tickle of the ear, a flower. Kate Bush inspires me; she’s not afraid to let her voice roam, go naked into the woods. Bjork does the same thing. She follows her voice; it leads her joyfully through arctic caves. Experimentation and exploration inspire me. Knowing there is no “right” or “wrong” answer.
For this album, I was exploring the cloudy overlap between ambiance and solid ground. I wanted to couple empty space with jingling, real tones. It was a lot about texture for me, and juxtaposition. All creativity is chasing an ineffable friend. I felt a kinship with Sugar; she was my bridge to new sounds, and with that, new heights. My friend Anis Mojgani once said, while writing his latest book at the time, “I’m trying to touch a color through a curtain.” Yes. With every song, I was trying to just lightly touch the shoulder of a huge feeling, to make it turn around.
Q: You’re also a poet, and have performed in Fayetteville before; how long have you been a traveling artist?
A: I have been traveling off and on for poetry and music since 2009. This will be my first cross-country solo music tour.
Q: How do you get through the tough times?
A: I provide consistency for myself – whether its through a schedule, a regular kind person to talk with, long walks alone – or all three. I make sure to give my spirit time alone with trees, roads, wind. But I balance that with connection with people, so my aching spirit doesn’t get lifted off, estranged, from this world. Balance is a very good word for the potion necessary. I reveal my heart to others. This always helps. I don’t percolate alone. I express myself – in conversation, art, music – I release what’s eating me up so I can see it and know it better, and so, deal with it better.
Q: What can audience members expect from your show in Fayetteville?
A: Electronic, earthy joy busting out from the speakers. Room to dance, to bob, without thought. A grey phantom in the shape of a small woman. And I hope, for something that was a bit tight in the chest to loosen.
Opening for Shira E will be Fayetteville, AR DJ: aTTa. I asked him a question as well.
Q: What can people expect to experience at one of your shows?
A: Expect a variation of experiences. I sometimes have a drummer, sometimes I play alone. Sometimes I play the sax, sometimes not. It depends on the venue and the occasion, but when possible, I aim to play sets that keep the audience guessing, but also keep a positive vibe and support for the listeners to enjoy and dance to.
aTTa and Shira E will play at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville on August 15, 2013, beginning at 9 p.m. and ending at midnight. Entry is $5 at the door, and event posters will be available for purchase and may be signed by the performers after the show ends. All ages are invited, and encouraged, to experience, dance, sway and discover.