Interview: A Candid Chat with Eliza Shaddad at SXSW

Thursday, March 21, 2019
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Not only is Eliza Shaddad an amazing musician, but she's also a remarkable storyteller.  Late last year, Eliza shared her moving debut album Future, and we were blown away by the project. We had the opportunity to catch up with her in Texas during SXSW before her set to chat about the album, songwriting and remaining patient when working on music. 

How has SXSW been for you so far?

Manic, but fun. I got in last night and I was quite stressed about things like immigration and stuff. Just because my Father is Sudanese and I had loads of trouble getting a visa on the way here. But it was fine and I sailed through and they were really friendly and nice (laughs), and then I met up with ISLAND, who are on the same label and are playing here, I saw Chagall play who is really techy, everything is live-triggered, it was amazing, it’s been amazing! 

Sounds awesome. So, I read somewhere that you have a background in philosophy? Is that true?

Yeah, so I did five years of study and have a MPhil in Philosophy. 

Wow, that’s pretty impressive!! 

Thanks (laughs). 

And has that background had any effect on the way you write?

I think so. If more than anything, it impacts my worldview and I’m always trying to contextualise stuff and I can see both sides to most arguments. It means when something happens, I have a real crisis, like ‘but how do I deal with it’ or ‘do I see it like this?’, because it’s also perfectly valid to see it in all these different lights according to your philosophy. It probably helps because I need to get stuff out for songwriting.

When you’re in that crisis mode, you probably wish you could shut it off too (laughs). 

Oh yeah, definitely. 

So many of your songs are quite personal, is it a natural thing for you to be open or can it be difficult?

It’s really natural for me to write. Sometimes it can be difficult playing it to people, but playing it live, I never find it strange being that emotional. Playing people recorded tracks like permanently etching it on something that they can listen to all the time is a bit weird sometimes and often before releasing a song, I have a moment of panic, where I’m like, ‘okayyy, I didn’t really think about letting the whole world know about this thing’. 

Do you enjoy working alone? 

I like working alone and working on the demos at home, but a lot of it is an open process once I get into the studio. My producer Chris Bond and his brother Bear are great musicians so they’re always contributing stuff. Live, I play with amazing bandmates, and they’re always throwing things into the mix. I never feel that alone, but ultimately I am solo artist and it all rests on my shoulders (laughs). 

Last year, you released your debut album Future, what was it like working on it?

It was a real rollercoaster. I was so happy with the music and how it was progressing but I had loads of delays. And in the end, it took two years to actually finish it. Most of that was sitting around and waiting to get back into the studio or for calendars to align and stupid frustrating stuff. So by the time it was ready to go, I was full of relief (laughs), so much relief. 

How do you handle all that waiting? 

You go mad basically (laughs), I just went mad and worked on new music so the album changed quite a lot because in the space of two years I wrote new songs. But generally, I just went mad with frustration. 

Have you thought about coming to Australia to play?

I would love to! I have been to Australia twice now, and each time I thought about organising something. I was visiting for a family wedding and then something else. I want to play shows but I also just really want to go around Australia and see it and chill out and enjoy it.

I’ve heard your stuff on triple j a few times! 

I know, how crazy! I spent ages trying to figure out who the hell was playing and requesting it (laughs). I have some family, who are actually in a band called Palms, who are amazing!

And as soon as the SXSW craziness ends, what do you have planned?

After this, I am back in the studio working on the next record, immediately.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (Folio)

You can listen to Future by Eliza Shaddad below: