Interview: Shilpa Ray

Words by Alex Norelli 

Shilpa Ray expresses a wild breadth of experience with soulful brooding melodies while rocking a harmonium within an inch of its existence.  Charged with punk energy and lyrically profound, her show as an opener for Sharon Van Etten at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was a rocking hightlight of the Northside fest. Check her interview below.

Alex: I looked up your name and Shilpa means “Stone, Perfectly Created”. Do you try and live up to this? How do you relate to perfection as a concept for the artist?

It can also mean the stone mason or sculptor. I’ve failed so much in my life that I stopped trying to live up to anything. I just like the concept of living. My curiosity saves me all the time.

Alex: If you could play a show anywhere in the universe where would it be(other than Northside festival)?

Outside the Milkyway cause I’m tired of it.  Oversaturated, hyped up derivative scene. Jupiter using Proactive to get rid of it’s red spot, Saturn making you think that he/she was the first ever cross dresser, Mars having no redeeming qualities other than getting humans to spend a lot of money on it, I’m done. I wanna see something else.

Alex: If you made a concept album from a book what book would you choose and why? 

I actually do that a lot. My most recent record that I finished was inspired by Brave New World. It’s called “Last Year’s Savage”

Alex: What are you listening to right now?

Every summer I obsess over one band. It becomes the soundtrack to everything I do. I walk around a lot with my headphones on. This summer is the summer of Flaming Groovies.

Alex: Are you the first person ever to rock a harmonium the way you do? and if not, who are your inspirations? Also, it doesn’t seem like it was designed for the kind of playing you do, how does it hold up? How do you?   I read you’ve get “strange musical injuries” from playing …

I guess so. I didn’t have a whole lot to draw from and have had to adjust my sound in a rock format from scratch. I was awful at first. Maybe it still is but I’m alone in this. I get blisters on my thumb and my wrists tend to ache if I don’t warm up. Th guy I go to for repairs always yells at me due to how much i abuse my instrument. Perhaps some day I can make the cover of Harmonium Player Magazine. Nah, they’ll end up bestowing that honor onto someone more compelling than me.

Alex: Reading a lot of your quotes about gender and what it means to be a female musician in America in this day and age is very inspiring. How do you see your role in issues such as gender, art and equality?  What do you see the role of the artist in this? 

I actually don’t go through my everyday life thinking about my gender or my race. I didn’t even know I was “tiny” till people started pointing it out. We live in a visual culture though and unfortunately the music aspect of being a musician is the last thing people notice or care about whether you are a man or a woman.

I am a feminist but I’m not part of the feminist police. I hate the extreme political agenda of it. I don’t care if you want to stay home and raise your kids it’s none of my business. Also,  If that’s what you choose to do, there’s value to that. I don’t care if chicks get photoshopped in fashion magazines or if you’re not rocking out properly according to the public. Who has time for that shit?  I believe in closing the wage gap, providing adequate healthcare for women without having our bodies constantly up for debate in the government. I want equal representation. I want women to be confident in the decisions they make. I’d like to see more women in science. I would like women to know that they don’t have to be marketed to because we are not all the same. It’s like the misconception with Africa. It’s a continent not a country. Get over it. Other than that, people should do whatever the hell they want.

Alex: I am always fascinated by obscure compound words like Erotolepsy, which I looked up and was coined by Tomas Hardy in his book Jude the Obscure.  Do you find yourself creating new words to bridge gaps in meaning, or to illuminate experiences that standard English has insufficient means to describe?    You certainly create rock solid rocking poetry throughout your work.  And I feel like you’ve created far more new titles and sayings than many. What is your relationship to language as a tool for expression?

I was born and raised here but my first language was Bengali. I learned English through watching TV. Sesame Street and Guiding Light. Bengali is a very expressive language. Most of the great poets of India are Bengali. The direct translation of “irritation” from English to Bengali is “You’re lighting me on fire and beating me with a stick!” How could I not have a love for words?

Alex: Who is one musician that really inspired you but who you think should be more well known?

There are many. So many. Musicianship/artistry and fame do not go hand in hand. Sometimes they do but there’s a lot business behind it. I’ve found many street performers that are more compelling than most of the  known nonsense out there. If you want to survive playing music it’s a whole other game but that doesn’t mean you’re the best at your craft. You can also go to church, listen to some gospel and get your mind blown.

Alex: If you could turn anything in the universe into an instrument what would you and why?

I’m content with the human voice. Nothing beats the feeling I get when I sing. A critic can rip me to pieces but they can never take that feeling away from me.

Scored some photos during her Northside show at Music Hall of Williamsburg.




Photos copyright Alex Norelli. Also, fuck yeah on Brave New World. // solid.


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