In October of this year, the multi-talented Eliza Shaddad released her debut album Future, which has received much critical acclaim and marked her out as one of the brightest talents in the industry. Here she tells Daniel Gumble about her role in the record’s production and her hopes and ambitions for 2019 and beyond…
Eliza Shaddad’s debut album Future has been a long time coming. Released on October 26, the record followed two EPs - Waters (2014) and Run (2016) - and took more than three years to complete. Produced by Mercury Prize-nominated producer Chris Bond in close collaboration with Shaddad, Future’s sonic DNA can be traced back to the otherworldly atmospherics of mid-’90s trip-hop and chorus-soaked alt rock, while its taut structures and melodies make for an immediate and intimate listening experience that one mightn’t expect from an album that endured such a protracted gestation period.
PSNEurope editor Daniel Gumble sat down with Shaddad in an East London cafe to find out how she and Bond managed to create such a cohesive record amid difficult circumstances...
Tell us about the inception of Future
Songwriting actually started three years ago. Some of the songs are from around my last EP. I’d written an album by December of 2015 and the plan was to go into the studio and record it in March 2016 after touring the last EP. We got there, started recording, had loads of stuff in place, a publishing deal on the table... and it all fell through while we were there. For several reasons it just went wrong, so we had to stop and take stock. But things had been going so well that we decided to go on for a little bit longer in the studio. So we did half the album in that session and came away thinking we’d go back in a couple of months, but it took so long to get schedules to align and to get funding sorted, so we didn’t go back for another year. Then I went back in August last year for a week to finish it. By that time I’d written a heap of new songs, so I had to pull everything apart and piece it together as a new album.
Chris Bond is credited as producer. How did you find working with him?
I worked with him on the last couple of EPs. He’s a great producer and a great musician. For this record his brother Andrew was the engineer, but there was a lot of collaboration in the studio, and as we had less and less time to discuss and really get into stuff, the more we were using the original ideas that I’d laid down in demos at home. So there were certain songs I was really happy with but I’d want to try some drums over the top, so we’d start tracking drums over the demo, but the longer we went on with it the more we felt we didn’t need to re-record it all as it was already fine. There was so long between the main recording sessions, so I took the songs we recorded in the first session and added layers and brought them back to the next session. Some of them were kept and some weren’t. Also, I asked Chris not to work on it without me. I wanted to be there for all the decisions. I mixed it with Adam Jaffrey, and I was in the mastering sessions. I wanted to be there for every single moment, and I thought that deserved a co-production credit - partly because we used bits of stuff I’d worked on at home and also because it was my vision that held the project together.
How collaborative was your relationship with Chris?
I write the songs at home on guitar, then I’d demo them on GarageBand or Logic and build up a really comprehensive picture of what I want the songs to be. Then me and Chris go back and forth on email discussing ideas and then go to the studio, where we’d rehearse everything and play the songs. We’ll keep anything and everything from the demos that feels right, and if we have time we’ll experiment. It’s a very complementary partnership. The reason I originally wanted to work with him four or five years ago was because I loved the atmosphere he created on the records he’d worked on. He’d worked with Ben Howard and Monika Heldal and [the work he’d done with them] was expansive and widescreen but intimate. I really admired his work.
How different was the process of making Future compared to the EPs?
Apart from how long it took?! With the second EP the production of the demos were slightly less formed than they were this time, just because I knew less. There was a bit more experimentation because it was more open. By the time we got to this record, especially with all the waiting, I had such a clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like and what it needed to be. In some ways it’s tighter and more cohesive. And the songwriting has changed. My mood changed and therefore the songs changed. And it’s hard not to take into account industry feedback. So if a song naturally comes out quite short, I previously would have been like, Let’s give it a double-length intro, but now I find it increasingly hard not to think of all the different people who would say, No, it’s good if it’s short because it’ll do better on radio or Spotify, all that bullshit. I don’t think that affected the songwriting, but it might have affected the length of the intros!
It must be a difficult path to navigate
It causes a lot of stupid arguments. For example, the first song on the album has a 16-bar intro and it sets up the whole album. And that was going to the the first single and everyone was like, You need to cut it down, it needs to be three seconds ideally. I’m not going to start the album with a three-second intro! So we have two version of that song on Spotify and there is a four-bar difference between them. It’s pathetic.
How important is it to you to continue making traditional albums in the streaming age, with singles and EPs seemingly the most commercially viable format?
The sense of achievement and satisfaction at completing an album is so huge that I don’t think just making a single could compare to that, although it would be much cannier! Albums still have a lot of meaning because it’s a proper body of work and it represents you.
What were your production influences for Future?
Going into this record I had Portishead’s Dummy on repeat on the five hour car journey to the studio. I’ve been very lucky in that Catherine Marks mixed the last EP and I listened to her back catalogue and totally trusted her to get the sound and the vision. When I was growing up I listened to a lot of stupid music on my own and then my sister introduced me to a lot of really good music. She was listening to stuff like Hole, Skunk Anansie, Radiohead, Tori Amos, that sort of thing.
Another influence was the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. I love that soundtrack and the variety of songwriting and styles. It’s so hard-hitting but also enjoyable to. I was analysing the tracklisting and thinking about what it was that I loved about it so much. I really wanted to inject some of that variation and diversity into this record.
Where was the album recorded?
Almost all of it was recorded at a studio called Deep Litter in Devon on a peninsula with a lighthouse at the end of it - it’s on the last farm before you get to the lighthouse. There’s water on all sides and there’s lots of fog, it’s super moody. And there’s no phone signal or Wi-Fi. You’re just locked away in a barn for 12 hours at a time.
Talk us through the mixing process
I went around the houses a lot. I finished recording and immediately started doing test mixes of White Lines. I did a lot of test mixes and it was never quite right, so we tried I few different things and I just decided that I needed to be there and be a part of the process. I found it hard to connect with something that I sent off and that would then be sent back to me. We found the perfect person in Adam Jaffrey who I knew because he’d worked on my old label mate’s (Palace) record. He had just moved into a new studio in Greenwich, and I told him I wanted to be there for the whole mixing process, and he said, Well, you can be here for a lot of it, but maybe not all of it! After a couple of days he was fine, I would come in every day after 12 and we’d make decisions on things in
Because the songs are so varied the rough mixes we had were really sonically different and it was hard to see how they would fit together well on an album, from stuff like You’re Core, which was way rougher, compared to something like Daydreaming, which was really smooth when it came out of the recording session. But we managed to find a balance.
Do you feel like next time you’d want to be more technically involved?
I’m planning the next record already, but I’m taking baby steps on that side of things. What I’m really interested in is taking my band in - I’ve never gone into the studio with my band - and recording stuff, taking it home and then messing around with it.
Even if you’re working with the loveliest people ever in the studio - which I think I am - it can still be intimidating in the studio, taking that leap from artist to producer, but I’ve learned so much from these amazing people I’ve worked with and watched so closely. I definitely want to move further in that direction. I feel quite free now that I’ve made a record.