Image credit: Mike Le Puitt
This last week I have been given the opportunity to interview and be interviewed by the amazing Shantilly, a songwriter as well as a curator. The first few questions have been asked by me for Shantilly, and the other four questions they asked me. Enjoy!
What do you believe are the ups and downs of being in the music industry?
Shantilly: The music industry is centred around numbers – most importantly money. And because of that, you get a very limited view of the world from those that rise to the top. I’ve had a lot of difficult experiences where people talked about my weight & looks, predatory men preying on my dreams and ignorance about the industry, & once I came out as nonbinary there was what felt like a huge shunning of me and who I was, because I didn’t fit into any marketable box. I felt like I was scary to people & I became a pariah.
The beautiful aspects of making music & being in the industry is the sheer amount of passion. The sense of community is so strong when you can find it, & seeing so many people come together to make projects happen, to make shows wonderful, & to create a sense of home & catharsis for an audience, is always awe inspiring.
I see that you’re also a curator and have set up Queered Sound. How did your ideas for this come to life?
Shantilly: I’ve been performing for a long time & I’ve seen the opportunities for growth at venues & things I really loved & there was always this thought in the back of my mind that maybe, I could organize shows too. This past year I’ve been working for Cherry Bomb Weho as their brand manager. And in this process I learned how to build a brand, promote events, and what it really takes to make an event a success & a safe space. I was still making music & doing shows & while I was planning my tour with my amazing manager Maja from Queers to the Front, she suggested I try putting on my own showcase. It was a terrifying and inspiring thought, and something in me said — you have the experience now go for it.
Queered is an opportunity for me to take my two great loves – art & community organizing – & put them together to create something very needed in the music industry. Queer artist deserve spaces where we feel safe & welcomed. & I’m really determined to create that space.
What is your songwriting process like?
Shantilly: It always starts with a melody. I try to spend at least an hour a day playing my guitar or piano. & I will noodle around until I find some chords or a melody I like & I let that melody inspire me. So a chord progression inspires me to hum a melody & then lyrics or a story just pop into my mind. Sometimes I’ll finish a song in one sitting & sometimes I take a lot of time to research, read poetry, or watch a movie and see how I can add to or refine what’s there. Songs usually aren’t finished for me until the final master comes in. I could spend forever editing. If the audio engineer makes the drums stand out more in the mixing process maybe I’ll want to go in and make the lyrics a little more aggressive or change the way I sing a certain part… I try to put a time limit on my projects to make sure I don’t get stuck editing forever!
Any advice you would give to those who feel let down in their music career?
Shantilly: Always remember why you do what you do. There were so many times where I almost quit & even now I don’t feel satisfied with where I’m at or think I’ve done enough. But in those moments I think of all the things I love about music. The moments where I really connected with someone with my lyrics. How it feels to perform to a crowd that really wants to listen to what you have to say. I also think of how important it is for folks to see more Black nonbinary people doing what they love & experiencing joy.
I would also say — find artists whose career is similar to the one you want & study them. Read about their journey. Make big goals, then smaller ones and stay consistent!!!
Why did you start writing about music?
LaMusique/Françoise: There was a point last year where I knew I definitely wanted to start a blog at an early age as a side hustle, so I could give myself time to enjoy it and see what it is like and not be so pressured into the success side of things. I realised music was the only thing I could continuously write about, despite never properly studying it. A lot of people who make music want to hear more about how their music makes their listeners feel rather than the exact techniques they used, and I find it quite easy (and fun) to write about that.
When listening to a new work, or finding a new artist – what inspires you? What do you look for?
LaMusique/Françoise: When reviewing music, I always talk about the three main parts of a song: the instrumental, the vocals and lyrics. I’m always looking for at least one of these components to be really strong, which I can then write loads about. The songs don’t necessarily need to be a genre I like, they just have to be a good representation of the genre they are.
I would say I only have a select few artists where I listen to pretty much all of their music, or am a ‘fan’ of. In certain songs I think I can get over a boring voice if the melody and lyrics are good. Some people also like an artist to have an aesthetic or persona that comes with them, and I definitely think helps, but ultimately, if someone’s music is really amazing it doesn’t matter.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
LaMusique/Françoise: I really like the fact that there are so many opportunities within the industry I’ve chosen. Opportunities like working with interesting people and being apart of communities where music curators can get involved. I didn’t anticipate their being such a big social aspect to it and loving this as much as I do. When I published my first article and said I was open to reviewing musicians, I didn’t expect to get a submission from an artist the very next day. And it’s not just artists, but also music promoters that always provide me with great music to review.
Who’s your favourite artist right now?
LaMusique/Françoise: This doesn’t feel very current as I’ve been a fan for a year now, courtesy of The Weeknd’s collaborations, but my most listened to is still by far Lana Del Rey. She’s not really like any of the other artists I like, or the artists I review, but I find that her lyrics always tell a story and that she has a different atmosphere for each album. She made me a bit more open to listening to sadder music.
Some more recent and more underrated artists I have gotten more into in the last year are Alfie Templeman and Thomas Headon, who have a dream pop kinda style (probably my favourite genre actually).