Siobhán Kane spoke with Sarah P of Keep Shelly In Athens ahead of their gig in Whelan’s last Wednesday
Forest Family, the label imprint of Gorilla vs. Bear have helped to guide Keep Shelly in Athens from the beginning, which was around 2010 when producer RΠЯ was looking for a vocalist to help round out some of the songs he had been working on. Along came Sarah P, and the band was born. Since then they have released a number of EP’s, including In Love With Dusk, and Our Own Dream, remixed several other artists including MMOTHS, Porcelain Raft and Tycho, and have been harnessing a soft, fleshy electronic sound inflected with Balearic beats, and a sense of melancholy. After touring with St. Vincent and performing at Coachella, Sarah P tells Siobhán Kane about their journey so far.
You formed the band around 2010. How did it all come about? Was there a particular vocal style you were hoping for?
Well, it all happened really fast. Our first three tracks had vocal samples. The whole idea of the project, though, was that it would be a boy-girl duo. We met through a mutual friend and we started working together. I guess the whole style came out from our working together.
Your sound brings to mind Saint Etienne and Everything But the Girl in parts – both with distinct female vocalists – are they two bands you hold dear?
Definitely, those two bands are influences of Keep Shelly in Athens. And, well, I have to admit that Tracey Thorn is one of the singers I admire most.
You have worked with Irish musician MMOTHS on ‘Heart’. How did you feel about the finished result?
We met through John from Solar Bears. I had just done a collaboration with them and then MMOTHS had the idea to rework his 3 song. I really loved the song from the first second and it was really nice to write lyrics and lay vocals over it. It wa an interesting collaboration and I think both sides liked it.
You then also remixed Solar Bears’ ‘Cub’. How satisfying do you find remixes?
I don’t know, I mean we remixed Solar Bears and they remixed us as well. We collaborated for their song ‘Alpha People’. We are people who like to work on each other’s stuff, and we value each other as artists. Plus, we became friends. As for the remixing thing, it is really interesting to reconstruct a song, to work on someone else’s ideas and try to make something else from it. The challenge for Keep Shelly in Athens is to make something new, inspired from the original track. But, always, the point is to respect the artist and their vision.
Your cover of Jesus and Mary Chains ‘Just Like Honey’ was beautiful, honouring the original, but imbuing it with your own sense of things, how did you get approached to do that for the compilation, and did you have a choice of songs? What is it about that song that particularly resonates?
Thank you so much for your good words. This song is a beautiful, emblematic one and the compilation gave us the chance to review it. The whole idea of the project was wonderful and we would definitely participate in that for that good purpose. The idea was the same song covered by different artists. So we didn’t have the choice. But as I said, the original is a gem. So it was exciting to work on it. It happens to be one of my favourite songs ever.
How have you been finding taking your layered sound out live? Is it hard to fully translate what is there on record?
That is a nice question. It is true that the adjustment from the record to a live performance version gave us hard times! We worked much on it because we wanted to bring physical musical instruments on stage. It was work, work, work! Until now we had just guitar and drums. In the UK and Ireland shows we are going to have a double bass as well, we are really happy that our vision – to make it more interesting on stage- is coming true.
Greece is in crisis at present, your music almost seems like a response to that, a calm amidst the storm – do you think that partly explains some of the sound, which is comforting and healing?
We don’t really see it like that. Of course we are aware of what is going on. It affects us our living. So I suppose that it is directly related to the way we are making music. But that comes from our personal experiences, from our routine and our wishes for the future – if that works as a comforting sound during this crazy era, that’s good news.
In terms of comfort, which other musicians do you like to listen to that brings that sense of things?
Many influences….but if we had to mention just a name then it would be The Cocteau Twins.
How did Coachella go? It is such a huge festival, did you enjoy the experience, and did you get to see some bands yourself?
It was a great experience. For us, for a band who has not a full length album yet, that was amazing. It was one of those dreams that you think they will never come true. It was definitely a big deal for us, to go there and do our best. Participating in one of the biggest festivals in the world was one of the things we are most proud of. Of course, this gave us the opportunity to catch other bands sets, some of them twice. The best for us were Radiohead by far, Amon Tobin, Noel Gallagher, and M83.
There is a dramatic aspect to your music – something like ‘Our Own Dream’ is urgent, melancholy, and true. I like the way you sometimes give everyday situations a dramatic soundscape, because that is sometimes how it feels.
We don’t really sit down and say “now let’s write a song about…”, it would never work like that. It comes naturally and then, after all that, we can say what it’s really about, what is the point of each track. Sometimes it is more introverted, some other times it comes out more extroverted. I agree with you, life can definitely have dramatic aspects, it’s from where we all draw material – musicians, filmmakers, artists in general… The main inspiration is our backgrounds, our lifestyle, our daily routine… then we translate those “elements” in music and lyrics.
What is Kypseli like? Is it the village that is on the island of Thera or Athens? I like the way you have integrated it into the band name.
Kypseli is a neighborhood in Athens. It used to be a classy place to live mostly in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but now it is overpopulated and maybe an unsafe place to be, but it is still inspirational.
What is the landscape like for musicians in Greece at the moment, considering all that is happening, how has this impacted on the creative community?
It feels like lots of things have changed. Now artists don’t really wait from their Greek labels, or from managers and PR people to help them. Work is done basically by themselves and most of the time it’s better like that-bands know better in the first place what is the best scenario for them. When it is clear to you what you are trying to do, then you can proceed to collaborations with people you choose to represent you. There is a movement of people trying to communicate their music out of the country. It is no coincidence that there are people like Acid Baby Jesus who toured in the US and EU, and a valuable artist called Larry Gus who recently did shows in NY. In addition, many new acts are coming to life and it seems like rough times can inspire people, maybe this works like a way to overcome the hardships. Recently we collaborated with a Greek artist called Rasel Fame. All the artists I have mentioned are definitely worth listening to. Finally, a new band called A Victim Of Society are really promising…
Your music is particularly reminiscent of that hazy feeling between waking and sleeping. Does it inform you work? When you are anxious do you dream differently? I sometimes have this dream where I am driving a car, but halfway down the road I realise that I can’t drive and it careers off the road. I also have a recurrent dream of falling, which is quite frightening.
I know that falling dream. It is the one I dream of the most. I have to say that I am quite an anxious person so this one is… haunting me! But I sort of enjoy that feeling of danger, I guess I got used to it and I always know that this is the endless well, and I will never reach the bottom…vertigo! Most of the time, I wake up from that nightmare, though. It is crazy. When I am pretty calm I can dream of beautiful shores-sand, sun, sea and my beloved ones, this is always the best thing! But sometimes, it happens that I dream of the raw truth. And, to go further, if you are asking me, I believe that those dreams are associated to the ones “fortune telling” you. I mean that maybe, you know what is going to happen because you had the signs but the only time you piece together the data is when you are sleeping. So it feels like you read the future when it is all about cold logic covered by a hazy veil. What do you think about that?
Gorilla vs. Bear and their imprint Forest Family have taken you under their wing, how did it all evolve?
We definitely owe so much to Gorilla vs. Bear because it gave us the chance to make our dreams come true and to be heard further away from Greece. Forest Family is a great label, we were absolutely lucky. It is gratifying and really important to work with people who believe in you and are supportive in each attempt.
Keep Shelly In Athens play Whelans on Wednesday 9th May with Ginnels and White Collar Boy.