Moscow-born, London-based singer-producer Shura broke on to the scene in early 2014 with the release of Touch. With an epic 100,000 plays in a single week, that track propelled her to celebrated festivals around the globe. Remarkably candid, Shura confessed to the risks of her electro-pop plunge, just as her accelerated assent up the ranks approaches a highly anticipated debut album. No pressure, then.
Sitting with Glamcult before her Lowlands’ performance, Shura’s sole rider request is a glass of water. “I’m supposed to be this glamorous artist that somehow dropped out of a pink cloud with a song called Touch,” she jokes, recounting touring life. “And yet here I am, drooling with my neck like this,” she cocks her head to one side, cursing the photos that subsequently landed on Facebook.
Shura’s pop-star status is still an irrelevance to all but the music press, it would seem—not least to herself. Born Aleksandra Denton to a Russian actress and a British documentary filmmaker, Shura grew up in Manchester, her childhood documented with camcorder snippets just like those of many other families. Yet unlike most, Shura now finds herself “a recognizable human”, which makes her family affairs, public affairs. Family videos of her singing Elton John songs completely naked as a child, or her twin brother’s staring roll in her music video for White Light, garner platinum-level media attention these days.
Music was always a family affair in the Denton household. Her parents favoured an oldies-but-goodies playlist of Elton John, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Pink Floyd, while older brother Oliver introduced Shura to the likes of Ed Rush, Optical and Burial. In spite of a constant childhood soundtrack, Shura is still a terrible dancer: “I’m not gonna be doing a Britney any time soon,” she affirms. “I’ve got my guitar as my safety net.” If it hadn’t been for a guitar lying around the house and her dad’s willingness to teach the 13-year-old Shura the basic chords, that “safety net” wouldn’t exist.
During her pre-synth, pre-Touch teenaged phase, Shura indulged the folksier feel of an acoustic guitar, and walked to school listening to Kings of Leon—although she’s keen to clarify that she’s more into Courtney Barnett, Hinds and Tame Impala these days. “When you’re a teenager, you’re trying to really desperately carve out your personality or your space and be different,” she muses, confessing that she never used a chorus in her early music because it was “lame” and uncool.
The discovery of the synthesizer presented Shura with a new sonic palette—and a process more fit for her “boisterous” personality. “You don’t have to have that great control. You can sort of just go like that,” she says, making a Beethoven power gesture on the small table. “You play a nice chord and go: ‘Fuck me! That sounds amazing!’” Her YouTube synth education eventually led to a 2011 collaboration with Cyrus Shahrad, aka Hiatus. His quest toward audible perfection and insights on production brought Shura closer to an eventual shift in sound and mindset.
“You get a bit older and you say, ‘Well, how about instead of trying to be different, just trying to be good,’” Shura explains of a decision that resulted in more fans, but also questions. “When you start to make something that maybe other people could like or could connect to or… is slightly more commercial…” she peters out before continuing: “There’s that fear of if people then don’t listen to it, what does that say about you?” When writing a song purely for herself, Shura could hide behind its inaccessibility. Now, however, she’s settling into the reality that her sentimental synth tunes come with a degree of risk and vulnerability.
Shura released her sophomore track, Just Once, in a cloud of nerves, awaiting confirmation that the attention garnered by Touch was no accident. An hour after she released the single, Devonté “Dev” Hynes, a musician of musical purists and of multiple accomplishments, tweeted her. “He thought it was brilliant and I just cried, I just started crying because it was just a relief that I’d done something good.” It didn’t stop at Dev; Cyril Hahn and Jungle concurred that Shura had solidified herself in the electro-pop world. Being vulnerable had paid off.
That vulnerability extends to the lyrics. Shura’s songs are intensely personal, addressing the post-break-up “friend zone” and the difficulties of telling someone you love them (in 2Shy). Reliving such experiences should be difficult, but handing them to others in the form of a song eases Shura’s burden. “So many people have messaged me, going, ‘Describes exactly what I’m going through,’ or, ‘You read my mind,’ so you kind of… it’s almost like a problem shared is a problem halved,” she muses. The song’s original meaning morphs as it is shared among her listeners.
The storytelling of this self-declared “Queen of Awkward” continues to expand beyond the expected relationship dilemmas. Sci-fi movies such as Interstellar left an impression for its themes around time, family and aging. The latter is a topic that has plagued Shura ever since she read Confessions by St Augustine as an English literature student at university. A beautiful line about the difficulty of conceiving a time when, following the death of his mother, the author would not live alongside her in the world, still rattles her perspective. “You become more interested in the past as you grow up,” she says, “because you have a better concept of how absurd time is.”
As she continues down the debut-album path, Shura’s nostalgia around her family builds. “As you grow older you go, ‘Well, you know, maybe the future doesn’t have anything better for me but I’m okay with that.’ You just try and live in the moment as much as possible and appreciate who you have.” With audio recordings of her family and anecdotes of being three years old potentially in the mix, these reflections may soon become clearer to her wider audience.
Even pink, electro-pop-musician producing clouds have their grey days. “I sound like the cheeriest pop star in the world, don’t I?” Shura jokes over ramble through death and potentially unmet futures. But with hundreds of fans awaiting her performance and an Xbox FIFA session in her tour bus, Shura’s gloomy future will have to wait.