Shura: ‘I’ve achieved exactly what I intended to do’
Manchester’s Shura is happy to be different – and flattered about being compared to Kurt Cobain and Kylie
Shura grew up in Manchester as a self-confessed guitar-toting “weird” teenager who was fluent in Russian
‘It taught me that I was capable of surviving. I went there on my own, and you realise how afraid you might be of doing something. Actually going there, learning Spanish, and figuring out what to do and planning my day – it sounds really boring, but you get a sense of what it is you’re capable of.”
Manchester musician Shura is talking about the time – several years ago, when she finished university – she spent in South America and the Amazon. She had been left a small sum of money by her grandfather and “wanted to spend it on a memory, rather than, I don’t know, a car. I wanted to have an experience that I’d remember for the rest of my life. I’m still very much like that – I value doing things that I’ll remember.”
Just when you think the generation that has grown up with the internet has crossed over to a life of digital self-containment, along comes a twentysomething who keeps technology at arm’s length. Shura’s new album, Nothing’s Real, brilliantly blends studio-generated synth-pop with genuine emotions.
“We live so much through our phones now, it’s ridiculous,” says the woman who was born Aleksandra Lilah Denton. “It’s so important to actually go out and experience life. I love the likes of Twitter and interacting with people on social media, but sometimes it’s important to walk in the mountains. That sense of adventure is something that I know I will crave for the rest of my life, and it will be my way of relaxing.”
She had a multicultural upbringing, thanks to her Russian mother, who is an actor, and her English father, a documentary film-maker. She graduated in English literature at University College London and has an athletic side too: she was a nifty enough soccer player to be selected for Manchester City youth teams.
The family movies her father made during her childhood and teenage years directly influenced Nothing Real’s sense of memoir. Throughout the album, samples of “appropriate” home recordings are used, resulting in unfamiliar measures of personal depth and warmth.
“It was important to do that because a lot of the album is about looking back, nostalgia, I suppose, and of being confused how quickly you grow up when part of you still feels like a child. Missed opportunities, as well. I wanted to make something that acted like a time capsule.
“I know on one level, intellectually, that we currently all exist together. But now the album exists outside each of us, yet has all of us, my family, on it – and it will exist for as long as there is a medium to listen to sound. I feel such a product of the relationship between my parents and my brothers, and so as my album is, in a way, my first hello to the universe, to the world. I felt it would have been really weird for them not to be a part of it.”
A weird teenager
Shura grew up in Manchester as a self-confessed guitar-toting “weird” teenager who was fluent in Russian. She worked weekends at a record shop. Early influences such as the Smiths, Pixies and PJ Harvey gradually made way for explorations into the music of Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, and Burial. (The last of that group, adds Shura, is “the first time where my instinct for the music was instant; I totally got it. That really opened my musical horizons.”) On top of that, she was exposed to a family album collection that included the likes of Madonna, Elton John and Tina Turner.
She was recently described as looking like Kurt Cobain and singing like Kylie. That description, she says, suits her perfectly. “When I was told that someone had said that about me, I knew they absolutely got that I was not a pop star in the traditional sense of the term, or of how I present myself, or how I dress.
“I’m massively inspired by a lot of music, and while what I now come out with could never be described as nothing except pop music – even if it does lean towards the left – that description is a fair one of my personality, and also what the experience is of going to see me perform live.”
Expect the unexpected, then? She has cowritten songs with Athlete’s Joel Pott, and Greg Kurstin, the latter a producer and songwriter who has worked with the likes of Adele, Katy Perry and Sia. And a final “secret” track, The Space Tapes, is equal parts self- indulgence and creative exploration.
“That’s exactly the aim I had when I was making the record,” she says. “That’s what most people do with the final song, but not me. No matter what I decide to do on my second or third album, I wanted to make sure there would be no one that could ever say they knew exactly what it was going to sound like.
“So, you know, hurrah for me, in that I’ve achieved exactly what I intended to do.”
- Nothing’s Real is out now
ON BEING DIFFERENT: ‘CELEBRATE THE FACT’
“I’ve always been a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, but I don’t see that as a negative. To a certain extent, most of us are. I, like, celebrate and embrace the fact that I’m a bit different. For whatever reason, that can sometimes make you stand out.
“We’re so interested in selling the idea of perfection to people, but that’s silly, because how can you sell something that doesn’t exist? I remember when I was 13, thinking about being a musician, and telling people that I’d be wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket, and how cool I’d be. Now that it’s happened, my persona is very real; I’m a bit dorky, a bit embarrassing, but so what? I realised quickly enough that I just need to be myself. There’ll always be some people who will want me to be just that.”