Brendan: Hey everyone! Brendan The Blind Guy here. Today, I’m lucky enough to be speaking with activist, artist and all round lovely person – Shelley Segal. How are you Shelley?
Shelley: [laughs] I’m well thank you, I’m really good thanks Brendan. How are you?
Brendan: I’m very well thank you. So first up I want to talk to you about your new powerful emotive single ‘Somebody Like You’. Now, I know the general gist of the story, but for those who don’t know it and haven’t checked it out, which I mean, you’ve really got to check it out people if you haven’t, then kind of tell us, go through the story of how you made the song and what it’s about.
Shelley: This song is about someone trying to interfere in a relationship. I grew up in a religious community and a religious family, particularly in a Jewish tradition. In Judaism it’s a big no no to marry outside of your community. When I was 18 my first boyfriend wasn’t Jewish and that was a really difficult time for me and my family. I was told that I needed to break up with my partner, my then partner because of his religion, or his lack of religion more or less. It was an incredibly painful time for me. It was really horrible. I’m very close to my family and I was also very happy with this person in my life and what should of been a really exciting and happy time of my life was actually very painful and very challenging and very divisive and I ended up having to leave home over it. I ended up moving in with my partner and his family who were very amazing and supported me during that time. I think it’s something that people have to deal with very often. People they’ll try to interfere with relationships that they may be the wrong religion or the wrong gender or the wrong race, the wrong sexual orientation and people want to tell you who you can love and how you can love but really you can’t help who you love. We should be able to love who we want an how we want. Today is a great day. We’ve had Australia come through and vote for Marriage Equality which is, really exciting and you know –
Shelley: - It’s been a long time coming but I think it was a resounding ‘Yes’, and I hope our politicians can follow through on that. That’s it there. What I’m saying is that people can’t tell you or try and control something so personal like, your love.
Brendan: Yeah exactly. It’s a thing that’s so personal, yet so universal and common for people, so yeah it’s really thought provoking and very emotive. You’ve done really well and I mean, I can’t understand that, I found out that even though Australia voted 63% - ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality, which it should’ve been 100%, but there’s still a political debate behind the Bill and I just shake my head. As you said, you can’t control who you love, I don’t wake up one morning and go “Oh you know what! I feel like being straight today!”. It doesn’t work like that.
Shelley: No. And now we’re having a discussion about, it’s going to be about religious freedom. Well I don’t think that anybody’s freedom should take precedence over any one else’s freedom, just because they have a religion. You know, I don’t have a religion and my freedoms are just as important and just as sacred to me as any body else’s in this country whether they have a religion or not and I think all of our rights and freedoms need to be protected equally and I think we are moving in that direction and that’s really positive.
Brendan: Mmmm yeah definitely, I’m just in awe at the complexity and the depth of it. Yeah it’s really good. Really good.
Shelley: Thank you. That means a lot, I really appreciate that. Thanks, yeah the chorus it says “I can’t love somebody like you just because you want me to”.
Brendan: Mmm [affirmative]. Yeah, as I said, it’s something that a lot of people can relate to. Again people if you have not checked out the song... get online and do it.
Brendan: So, I noticed you do a lot of work outside of your music career, which is hectic enough as it is, so, I know you’ve got your own record label which is exciting-
Brendan: - but you’re also a humanist, activist... so you’ve done a lot of performances at fundraisers and awareness campaigns and everything, so being very active in the community.
Brendan: So how’s your experiences, outside of the music career, kind of affected your career as a musician and affected your music?
Shelley: Cool that’s a great question like, for me, I feel like it’s all part of the same thing you know, it goes hand in hand my experiences in my life influence my music because they you know, that’s my experiences, that’s what I’m learning and that’s what I reflect back on when it’s time for me to write and then my music kind of you know is formed from what I’m doing at home and in other areas of my life as well. So when I’m writing, I’m consolidating my thoughts and thinking about my world view and about making decisions about what’s right or wrong you know, forms the decisions that I make. I find that it’s a very holistic and just like everything forms the other side.
I got into humanism, after I left my religious tradition, you know just to focus on people, on human rights rather than a way that’s stating what’s right or wrong based on, a focus on human rights as opposed to a divine intervention or some kind of religious morality and yeah, I work with different organisations who raise awareness in different communities and where they raise money for different issues and that’s where I start singing about them as well. Learning about these kind of issues influences my music as well and with my work and with my label, that’s really interesting because, I get to see both sides of the business. As an artist and you’re touring, you get to see all the challenges that come with that. If you’re running the label side of things and you see the business aspect and you know you’re involved with management and all that kind of admin stuff, you know, that influences all your artwork and art practises. You have this extra knowledge of how things work and that kind of influences your artistic decisions as well, and also from the management side of things, I know what it’s like as an artist, I know what the challenges are about and I can help make the process easier for artists that I manage and guide them through the process as well.
Brendan: Yeah wow. Very, very active and yeah ... You're making a very positive impact on the world around you, so well done.
Shelley: [laughs] Thanks. I'm trying. We all do our best.
Brendan: Yeah. Well, okay, so, you're very active with ... and passionate with what you do inside the music industry and outside with human rights. And there's so much going on, and growing up with a traditional Jewish family wouldn't have been easy. Now, I'm going to go right into the deep and meaningfuls here, what has been the biggest challenge for you, personally, and how have you overcome them?
Shelley: It's hard to say, exactly with this. The biggest challenge that I think this time that we're talking about earlier that I had, in my family. I think that was one of the hardest times in my life, because it was something that was supposed to be happy and pleasant years, ended up being something really divisive and made me feel separated from my family, and made it feel that what was right for me was wrong. Or someone was trying to tell me that it was wrong. And that was incredibly painful and difficult and it was hard to talk about things with my family and I guess I've overcome it, I'm lucky in a way because I know not everybody who goes through that situation of leaving the faith of their family or dating outside of the people that their family want them to be with. Sometimes that can end in complete separation.
I'm lucky in that way that my family and I were able to work things out, and I guess I tried to be less angry and more articulate. As I got older, I got better at taking my anger out of the conversation. Which is not to say anger's not a legitimate response to discrimination, it absolutely is. But I think for me in that situation of overcoming that problem in my family, just being a bit more forgiving and accepting, and becoming better at articulating my ideas really helped us to overcome that. And then I have to give them credit as well, for being able to push themselves, outside of their boundaries, and to be able to meet me where I am.
And actually, my father, even though he's the president of the synagogue, he recently came with me to the US, and he's a musician as well, and he performed with me at this big free-thinking secular community, atheist event. And he performed my music with me.
Brendan: Oh, wow.
Shelley: I was very proud.
Brendan: Yeah. That's great. Wow.
Shelley: I think as much as I like to articulate my beliefs and I like to have debate and discussion. I think discourse is a really great way to bring about change. Even though I feel very strongly about what I believe and I will fight for it, I do understand that part of living in a rural society and a rich society is being able to get along with people who disagree with you. And a lot of my family and close friends, I don't see eye to eye with them, politically on a lot of issues, or religiously, when it comes to ideas about how the world has come to be.
But I think most people mean well and most people are good, so if we can find the places where our world views converge and work together to make things better for as many people around us as we can, then I'm really pleased.
Brendan: Yeah. Very mature. And you know it's ... music does wonders to help you get past your stress and anger. I know without music, every time I came across an issue, it'd be on the verge of a homicide. So, you know.
Shelley: Yeah. It's totally saved lives, a million times over. In music sometimes I forget that I even have that ability to make you feel better about things. You know it kind of builds up and builds up and then I write a song. I feel so much better and, "Oh, I wish I had done that weeks ago." It's a great way to get things off your chest and to feel your emotions, I think in a manageable way. It's almost like you can put your feelings in a space that's separate from you and that part of you and you're able to see it and dissect it and then feel it, pick it up and do a song, feel that way again, and then its hung up. It's kinda like you almost compartmentalized the way that you're feeling and be really cathartic in that way. And it's also great way when there aren't words to say and we don't know what to say that has meaning. It works well with that.
Brendan: Yeah so, changing the tone to a happier note, you've done all of these amazing campaigns and built a very strong career in the music industry since '09, and becoming a very well known name, and rightly so for your music. And also, you've currently got your song, ‘Saved’ ... mind blank there. You've got your song ‘Saved’ featured in the cable network series, The Atheist Experience. That must be very exciting. What's the highlight and your best experience out of everything that's happened?
Shelley: Oh, wow. Yeah, it's been an amazing journey. I'm really lucky to have a great team around me that's helped me. I loved having my song ‘Saved’ on that show. I used to watch that show when I was going through my change in world view, I was leaving my religion, I watched that show regularly. I used to watch it with my brother, and late into the night. Just to think that my song is now the introduction to that show is an amazing feeling and really enjoyable.
I just had another experience like that this year, when one of my songs that I wrote with another good musician, Andrew Robertson, we wrote this song ‘Begin Again together’, and it got used in a web series an Emmy award winning web series called Venice, and that was an amazing experience to watch the show and see it come on and be part of that. That was really, really cool.
I think the best experience, the best part of all this is to me, I mean, I love performing, I would probably perform even if no one was there. Don't tell anyone. Well, I want people to come. But, I would always just do it anyway whether there's two people or twenty people, I'm always gonna do that. But the best is hearing back from people. People writing to me and telling me, "I heard your song, and it made me feel less alone." Or, "It's the way I see the world and you put it into music, and now I have music that makes me feel beautiful or makes me feel understood." And that makes me cry. That makes me so happy. It makes me feel like what I'm doing is totally worthwhile. And the artist, in my life that I love has provided that to me. It's so beautiful and moving beyond words. And then to think that finding that I can be that for somebody else is really, really incredible and it makes everything worthwhile and it makes me so happy.
Brendan: Yeah. Well, you and your music are very influential in a positive way, and very moving. So, it's not surprising that you get that feedback.
Shelley: Aw. Thank you, Brendan. Awesome.
Brendan: So, I just wanna dig into how you write these amazing songs and kind of the complexity behind it and you know both the music and the lyrics being like you know your latest single ‘Somebody Like You’ has got a quite powerful hard hitting rock edge to it. It’s very confronting and hits you in the face. Not literally obviously, so I just want to know kind of what's your process on writing these amazing songs? What's the key?
Shelley: There has to be some kind of spark, you know there needs to be like something that happened to me or something that happened to somebody close to me or something I had read about. Something that reaches an experience that usually sets me off. And something that has a long history. So, that song, ‘Somebody Like You’, I’ve lived through that experience of being told that I can't be with the person I love, or shouldn't be with the person I love, and then the pain of that experience. But then, I wrote it years after that experience.
After having different problems in different relationships, and different partners, and so something that looking back and seeing that experience from the perspective of an older person who had the confidence like that and a bit of hindsight and then just being able to see situations in different perspective. After I've written a song, without the poetry within in it, you see it in a both simplified way but also a more complex way because you see it what's happened over that time. I don't know if that makes sense though. I hope it does. And then often I'll start with a little rhyme, maybe the chorus line just will come to me first or maybe a cool little riff on the guitar.
I do a lot of my writing ... Like right now, I'm in a hotel room in New York, I'm here just writing and I have my guitar with me, next to me on the bed and I just pick it up as soon as I have a moment and something will come to me and that's usually the seed of the song. Sometimes it comes out straight away and sometimes it takes a little bit longer. Or at the moment, there's one song I just wrote another verse to the other day, that I'd started writing years ago. A song sometimes gets built section by section over years. It's different every time. And with ‘Somebody Like You’, that was the first time I'd make a record with my band. Quite often I'm doing studio projects like with session musicians or friends that I know that play. But this was the first time of using my real band that had toured with me for a couple years and ... that was a different experience and that was really special.
Lauren who did backing vocals and plays flute on this project. She's bringing in her band. They're doing different things and so we don't get to see each other as often anymore, and she's one of my best friends and that's really hard but I feel really close to them. So, in a way, now I get to have a record of that time and the sound that we have together forever.
Brendan: Yeah. Nice. Yeah, you really do earn the title that I've read, of being a wonderful storyteller. Storyteller and poet. You've definitely earned that title.
Shelley: Thank you.
Brendan: No worries. So, I noticed that in December and January, you're actually coming back to Australia excitedly, and you're doing a few homecoming shows in regional Victoria, and I'm very upset because I'm stuck in New South Wales and can't come to one of the shows, but-
Shelley: Oh, no.
Brendan: Yeah, so you'll have to make your way to Sydney sometime soon. I really hope you do. But, for those lucky people who can come to one of the three shows, on either December 29th or January 4th, and January 12th across regional Victoria. And for more information for that head to Shelley's website or Facebook page because I can't remember all the ins and outs of the amazing show because that's when I got teary that I couldn't come along. But, what can those lucky people that can go to your shows expect, and from the point of view ... like, I focus a lot on sound quality, but on top of that, interaction with the crowd from the artist, and how they engage the audience and project energy. What can those lucky people expect at your shows?
Shelley: I love telling stories. I try not to talk to much. As you can tell I can definitely talk a bit. But I, you know, I like to tell little stories that, what inspired the song, and where they come from. I tell stories from being out on the road and crazy touring adventures. I got stuck in a blizzard, in a show in Wyoming this year. I do like to share that kind of behind the scenes stuff with the audience. And I'm going to be performing as a duo, with myself singing and playing guitar and Andrew Robertson will be joining me on acoustics and electric as well, so it'll get more then when I'm doing my solo show. Yeah, throw in some fun covers that I love, and stories and songs from my whole back catalogue. Seeing as though now I have studio credit.
Brendan: Wow. And now, I'm really having to hold back the tears because I can't go. So, out of all the amazing stuff that you've done and currently doing, what's your goals for the near future that you want to accomplish, whether it's in the music industry or as a humanist.
Shelley: I think I'm really lucky that I'm doing exactly what I wanna be doing. So, I guess short term I'd like to be doing the same things, but really in a stronger way and maybe have a bigger reach, and have everything be the way that it is but to keep growing. And keeping pushing myself. I'd like to make more time to read, a bit more. And hopefully be able to stay informed and keep writing about things that I think are important. And keep pushing myself and the world around me to be better.
One project I'm working on, I'm really excited about is a project called Puget Sound Watershed, which is a project that I'm writing with a marine biologist from Tacoma in Washington State. It's about this amazing area called the Puget Sound Watershed. It's about all different animals that live there, from orca whales to salmon. The biggest salmon species in the world. It's sort of educational. It's meant to teach people about this particular environment and different animals but also how the ecosystem works and how watershed works for every species and every piece of it is affected by every other part of it and hopefully to spread a message about conservation and preservation for the area and for the planet as a whole.
Brendan: Wow. Everyone can be hearing lots of awesome things coming out from Shelley Segal, whether it's musical or as an awesome humanist, in the very near future, it sounds like.
Brendan: Nice. Okay, now, this next question I love asking artists because I get some really amusing answers from this. Okay so, what's the one story or experience that comes to mind if I say, "Hilarious. WTF." Like that one moment that makes you shake your head and go, "Oh my God."
Shelley: Hilarious. WTF. Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Brendan: Don't hold back, if I need to put an explicit label on this I will.
Shelley: The last thing I laughed at so hard that I cried, is this video that Emily published On The Map. She sent this video of a family in Scotland trying to remove a bat from their house. Nothing that's rude or exciting but it was just so funny. Every once in a while you see some video like that. I’m pretty overcome. That's all I can think of right now. Did you see that one?
Brendan: No, I didn't actually.
Shelley: It's really funny. I have to get it and see if I can send it to you. It's pretty funny.
Brendan: Yep, definitely.
Shelley: Yeah, so I guess being on the road, you definitely get a lot of disasters and a lot of interesting experiences and you have to just roll with it, and sometimes they can be pretty funny. There's one experience I had, that comes to mind, in Arlington, in Texas which is a bit out of Dallas, I was doing a show there I come out singing and halfway through the first song, the PA system died. I'm gonna entertain these people, why don't we try and get things fixed. I went out into the audience, and tables, and I just acoustically went round and started doing sing a long songs. Try to get everyone to try and keep the mood up. But they ended up getting the PA system going but it still took half an hour. It was an interesting experience. I just ran with that.
Let's see. A lot of times the kind of problems we run into on the road is PA equipment... one thing I think I mentioned, earlier this year, in February I missed my first show ever because I got stuck in a blizzard. I got stuck in a blizzard in a town in Wyoming called Warren, where not much really happens. I got stuck there for 36 hours snowed in.
Brendan: Oh wow.
Shelley: I definitely just had to laugh that one off.
Brendan: Yep. What else can you do? Well, that definitely fits the WTF category, those right there. So, nice. Okay, so what's happening behind the scenes at the moment? What sneak peek can you give fans for upcoming music and projects?
Shelley: Oh, sneak peek. So, I have another couple of songs that'll be coming out soon off an upcoming EP, that ‘Somebody Like You’ from, which I'm really excited about. I also started a project I’m looking forward to sharing that. I also started a subscription service last year. If people aren't familiar, you can subscribe to artists and creators. So my page, I put new music up on it every month. It’s a dollar a month. It's very behind the scenes. I have my own studio, and I set up and I make videos around my house of new songs. I share all my new releases there, and demos and tour diaries. Also, when I go on the road, I make tour diaries, and put them up on my YouTube channel. If you follow me on YouTube, you can see the videos of my last tour. Which was like a couple of weeks around the south, in Arkansas, in Georgia, back to New York, all over the country, and I'll be putting that up on YouTube soon. That's a way to kind of connect with me and get those kind of things, sneak peek too.
Brendan: And you only charge $1 a month for that? Wow. That's cheap. Nice.
Shelley: Yeah, I wanted to make it really accessible for everybody. You can also download all of my albums. All of my earlier albums are on there available for download as well.
Brendan: Wow. All for $1 a month. You're too generous. Too generous.
Shelley: It's a great way to connect with people.
Brendan: Yeah. Definitely. No doubt about it. Okay, so I've got one more question. I'm a lot like you where I can just babble on and on and on and chat all day. I am a quarter Irish, so talking is one of my specialties. I mean, but this interview would go for probably two or three hours if I just let loose.
Shelley: Yeah I bet we could do that together. We could get to five hours I reckon.
Brendan: Well, I have actually had an eight hour phone call once before, so that might be a challenge to beat in the future but for now, okay. What, being very inspiring, and just an all around lovely person, what message do you have to your fans, especially ones that might be trying to succeed in the music industry and follow in your footsteps?
Shelley: Well, sure. I wouldn't say I'd be qualified to give any advice but if I think there's some things that really helped me along the way, I think try and be kind to yourself, not too hard on yourself. Be hard on yourself musically. In fact, I'm very hard on myself. I want to make things at the best level that I can, so I'm hard on myself in a way that pushes myself, but I'm kind to myself in a way that helps me to accept where I make mistakes. I feel like when you're doing something like a career in music, making a million mistakes and only by putting it out there and putting it down can you correct that and refine that.
I'm kind to myself in that way that I accept my flaws and my mistakes and I just try and keep going for next time and never give up. And I also try and find ways to really hold onto what I love about what I do. I love playing, and there's a lot of rejection in this career. There are way more no's than yes's. As long as I have some element of this that I love, that makes me feel good and just flows me and moves me and rejuvenates me to get back up and do it again. To me that's writing. To me that's collaborating. To me that's performing. I know I have that, I can go back to that. And that’s the part of it that makes me feel good and makes me happy and feel love. And try and keep that space and not let the negativity or the mistakes or the rejection kind of seep into that. I just want to keep that for myself.
Brendan: Well, for someone who's apparently not qualified to give advice, that's very valuable and insightful advice.
Shelley: Thank you.
Brendan: So, is there anything else that you're apparently not qualified for, that you could add to the conversation? Because it seems to just be all gold and quality.
Shelley: I don't know. Sometimes. You know, just what I said before. I think love yourself and be kind to yourself, and you deserve to be happy, and to be loved. Everybody deserves that. And so, really try and keep thinking positive to myself in that way.
Brendan: Yeah. Nice. Well, as I said, unfortunately we are out of time. We probably could keep this going for hours upon hours, but... to be continued. It has been amazing talking to you. You are truly a lovely human being and I've absolutely loved every second of chatting to you. And I really look forward to seeing and hearing new projects from you in the future.
Shelley: Thank you. Thank you so much for the interview, and for supporting musicians and artists. I really appreciate it.
Brendan: Yeah. Anytime. I always love talking to talented, inspirational people like yourself. So, two birds, one stone there.
Shelley: Awesome. Well, I'll let you know when I come out to Sydney and-
Brendan: Definitely. Please do. Awesome. Well, have fun in New York writing some new music, and we'll be in touch.
Shelley: Thank you.
Brendan: See ya.