INTERVIEW: Shilpa Ray | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Of course I write diss tracks…where else am I going to put my anger?” Experimental punk icon Shilpa Ray’s fourth album, Portrait Of A Lady, marks, in many ways, the beginning and the end of a personal journey through past abuse. Spurred on by wider discourses surrounding #MeToo and the Trump administration, Ray found herself being incessantly reminded of trauma from her past, which is especially true of her song Lawsuits And Suicide: “I wrote the song after reading an article about a famous guy that had been outed and one victim said that the man would text her all of the time threatening her with lawsuits or suicide. I remember in my 20s, when I was in an abusive relationship, the same line was given to me.” Ray’s quick to label it a diss track, pointed anger towards that man who tried to ruin her life. “You can’t express anger in most societies, there’s a lot of judgement on that. So how do you do it? How can you do it productively? I’ve got to put it somewhere.”

A stronghold of hip-hop, Ray’s use of diss tracks is tied to her love for the frank specificity of the genre: “There’s something very benign about rock and indie rock – everyone seems to be having a great time and I don’t identify with that. I like to say things exactly as they are. Even with metal, they can be singing about flowers but it’s gruff so you just assume it’s angry. With hip-hop, the lyrics are very pointed.”

everyone seems to be having a great time and I don’t identify with that. I like to say things exactly as they are

Portrait Of A Lady is full of rage, glamour and weight, all encapsulated into curt and epochal songs which are titled spectacularly, ranging from Heteronormative Horseshit Blues to the seismic Manic Pixie Dream Cunt: “It’s crazy, all of the insane things that happen in the US and that’s the kind of word that’s censored?” Every track defies the amount of space possible for a song to take up, which Ray ascribes to her massive, and seemingly uncontainable, voice. However, it’s also down to the tropes and familiar ideas she pulls into her orbit; in Manic Pixie Dream Cunt she yowls “Go gaslighting” to the distorted tune of “Go grease lightning”, and littered throughout are callbacks to glorified movie training montages from the 80s. “The 80s was winning, power and triumph set to synthesisers. Even the slower songs weren’t soft, they were Power Ballads.” And so, in Bootlickers Of The Patriarchy, Ray creates a Maniac-esque tempoed dance track aimed for processing and hitting back at female betrayal. 

Her songs are curt, polished and focused, however Ray isn’t dismissive of the time and mess that has gone into sharpening her thoughts and self-confidence: “I wish I was stronger back then, but the truth of the matter is you’re going to go through trauma repeatedly. The difference is, you learn how to say no faster.” It’s a sentiment that she now carries into all aspects of her life, recently taking to Twitter to ask if she’ll ever get better at cutting out toxic bandmates sooner: “Negative people and energy tend to get the strange paths in our culture, we think we have to accommodate them and bend over backwards. You’re told time and time again to take it for the sake of art – it’s bizarre and torturous. I’m trying to stop buying into the male bravado and arrogance, that’s on me. I think I’ve finally figured it out.” 

Shilpa Ray plays The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Sunday 25th September. Portrait Of A Lady is out now.


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