text by Aki Yamamoto

Interview with Shygirl about “Nymph”

――It’s been a while since the release of your first full album, “Nymph”. How are you feeling about it now?

Shygirl :It’s interesting because I have been using the past couple of months, January and February to take a physical distance from the album and the world of the album. I have been working a lot for Luxe which is a progression of that. But I left that out for a further collaboration so I haven’t been as in the middle of everything as I was when I was making the album.

This time I let people go off in their separate corners and respond to it and then see what is done to it when it comes back and how I can curate it. To do this I needed this space. You can’t be as invested in it as when you first made it otherwise the whole thing will be too tight. You can’t see the potential of something. It’s really interesting because you start this conversation and let this conversation run away. I think I was kind of an ovule in this process. I love ovule and I love inviting other people to be ovule into my life. I think that ovule was that. That small viewpoint that you could see how I was feeling at this moment in time. How I was responding to sharing myself and making music. Each time you share yourself, you have to go back to yourself and see what you are left with. I think that’s where I am at this moment. I don’t have a clear feeling about this album yet. I’m still in that process where I am gathering a version of myself and getting a different perspective. I like that process and I like that its part of the making process. I’m excited about where the conversation will go when it comes back to me.

――You were open about sexuality and personal experiences on this album. What was the reason for selecting this theme for this album?

Shygirl :I think the idea of sensuality and sexuality as a woman and the new part of her identity before you even make it yours. It’s something that other people perceive when they look at you. The archy typical stories of women, when they are spoken about, are about their sensuality, their power and the men and people standing from that. I think for me, that is something that felt foreign sometimes. When you are growing up and you don’t know what it means to be a woman or what type of woman you are, and when you do become that woman, how much of it is by your own choice and how much of it is by stereotypes people have put onto you. I think men for me have been saying that there have been stereotypes of women long before we existed but there must have been something human in that. To cling to those ideas of what it means to be a woman not just through the male gaze but through how I see myself. Do I identify with this character, for me it feels true because other people before me have spoken life into this story. So I am just picking up where they left off basically. I don’t feel like I chose this subject, it is just it exists and I’ve leaned into it a little bit more to convey my message about who I am. I think I discovered who I was through this journey in real life, so it made sense to do it in music.

――Do you intend to keep this theme moving forward?

Shygirl :Yes. I am never tired of being amazed by the hold you can have with people by being in tune with yourself. There are things that people desire when they look at me and I am not making it up, I am just existing. Sometimes it’s good to embrace those things and find power in them but ultimately those things will be there regardless. I wanted to show people that it’s just human.

―― When you were making the album, was there any music or art inspirations?

Shygirl :I come from an art school background so whenever I approach a new idea, I go back to the basics of how to explain this idea best to myself. I have a lot of loose threads and thoughts of feeling. They are not clear sometimes and you are gravitating towards some things so you note them down to know what direction you are going. For me, I always feel like I can articulate my stories, the visual world that it’s living in and what picture I am trying to create. Going back to when I was fourteen-fifteen, the stories I was drawn to then, were about the test of devils, Ted Hardy stuff, Romanticism, the brutalist approach of love and The Fruitility of it. It was a lot about reality, even in the romantic portrayal of it. I think I like that and I haven’t stopped to consider how that has affected my approach to it. But this is me trying to unpick myself to find what has formed me as an artist and the types of art I look at. It’s about me being more brutal in my work. You can get a bit flowery when writing and there are a few ideas that are there and I knew I wanted to lean into more of the reality. This idea of my reality. So everything has to act to that in some way. I knew I wanted to be vulnerable and expose myself a bit more and not shy away from the sensitivity. I think in my initial work I had dispersed what I needed. You needed to have some desperado to step on stage and get people to listen to you. Now I know people are listening to me, I can remind people that I am human and I have this sensitivity. To get to desperado I had to leave myself completely. To enter yourself into relationships you need to be open to feelings, fragile and get the most out of them. So this album was saying that. That feeling is just as important as the confidence you get because of it.

There are times when I wasn’t always successful in love or the idea of what is that success. Everything is a success because you are experiencing things. I got that when I was reading those stories before and Tessa getting what she wanted. She didn’t get what she wanted and ended up being poor but her story was something to be learnt from and it’s in the journey of things. I don’t care about the destination, I only care about living in between. For a lot of the album, I was focused on the making process being fulfilling. I wanted to enjoy every element of this. If I just wait to enjoy it at the end it won’t happen. Because you put too much faith in that. Putting out an album is incredibly overwhelming. I wasn’t prepared for how it would feel. As the type of eyes that I would be, I always imagined that nobody would understand me. It’s like an ego thing. So I wasn’t interested in people understanding the album, I just wanted to be proud of it. When people did, the responses were exactly how I intended them to be. That was incredibly overwhelming because you find yourself no longer the ovule, you are in the room, and people are looking at you and embracing you. I wasn’t necessarily happy or sad. I was just overwhelmed with emotion to find myself in that space. That feeling was so new, it was so bizarre. This wasn’t my first release but it was the first thing I had a such intention for. I think I made myself vulnerable in that process. I used it as an introspective and a tool to reflect on who I was at that moment and who I intended to be moving forward. I think I am incredibly grateful for what it means to be myself and that also pays my rent. That is a great thing. Not everyone has the opportunity to use their existential. It’s been hugely rewarding to have people reach out to me. It’s also overwhelming when they are artists and audience saying how much your experience resonates with theirs. They didn’t need me to explain the songs, they felt it. I only want to continue this moving forward. I like a little bit of pressure, if there is no pressure I wouldn’t be motivated. I want to rise above expectations.

――For “Nymph” you worked with Sega Bodega and other producers like arca, Mura Masa, Vegyn, BloodPop. How was it like?

Shygirl :I was really lucky that I have a friendship with all of them even before approaching them to make this music. I work with a lot of male producers and there is something about the relationship between using a man to convey a female perspective. I like the power dynamic of that in music. I feel like that helps to amplify the message when I’m thinking of lyrics. It mimics the outside world environment in a small space. I do think a lot of what I am saying is in response to the male gaze so to have this small safe space which symbolizes the same interaction for me. All of them have this belief in me, which was important when I started to make the album. We’ve worked together on smaller things and there have been more equal collaboration (pretty much fifty-fifty) of them putting down the ideas for the directions and so did I. But with this album, I had so many different producers on one track, I was pretty much saying what the direction was going to be. I think they had to trust that process. As soon as someone trusts you, it encourages you to take them on that journey. If they didn’t trust me maybe I wouldn’t have finished the song. I think for me it was really important to work with friends. I need to be understood emotionally, I am not technically trained and I am learning a lot while making. Sometimes I don’t have the vocabulary or the technical boundaries of making music but that has opened me up to experimenting and pushing things because I don’t know what you are meant to do. For the people that I work with, they do know and it’s nice to have the cautions back and forth like, “Are you sure?” “This is what you want to do?” and I would be like “No I’m not sure but we will try”. I think it should be like that experimental space. We learn things as we go along and it’s nice to have friends there working with you.

――Do you have any fun or interesting episodes of working together?

Shygirl :I booked a house in Brighton to focus on making this album. It was like a long weekend and I wanted to get my ideas down. I can come and get everyone’s attention and we were all in this house. I was playing quick food, hangout and making music. I wanted everyone to play with ideas. The first track on the album, “Woe” was the defining song that set my course around what I wanted to express in this album. I wanted to encapsulate the strength of my writing when it comes to rapping and how melodically I progressed. It wasn’t just rapping anymore, there was a combination of singing and poetry. My poetry was amplified and it wasn’t where I started originally. I wanted to make songs that weren’t expensive. Making “Woe” at that house was what started this album.
I think we were making pasta at the time and it was in the kitchen. You would imagine making records in the studio, but actually, we made it in the kitchen on laptops. The bulk of the song was made when I walked around the garden and came back with the verse. I think music for me should be like that it should be informal, it should feel like jamming with friends. It’s how I imagine bands in the 70s to be like, they were just hanging out. You get inspired by your relationship with your friends, family, your lover or whatever. How else do you have those moments unless you are in those informal moments with people you love? My collaborators, I do love my, I love the fact that they have enabled me to share how I feel. There is always going to be some sentiment to that and I think that shows in the music.

――You have had collaborations with major artists such as Lady Gaga. How would you describe those experiences?

Shygirl :It’s really interesting because we haven’t met. I linked through Bloodpop and I was flattered. I think I had a session with him and he put my name forward. You can’t always be in a room with people and it’s hard. You kind of guess what someone wants and the only way to do that is to not think about that. The fact that they asked you means that they want what you want. So I took that initiative and if they didn’t like it, I would have some direction. If I want to work with any client, I have to show them to have a better idea of what they want. They initially offered me a different song, but the song I love was the one I was working on. When I heard it I always felt like it speaks to me and I could always imagine what I could have done with it, which was also nice because not often get that much inspiration. That was the first ever remix I have done in my life. I liked the pressure of having to do something for the first time with someone like Lady Gaga or Blackpink. That’s a good amount of pressure to have. I think you would want to rise to the occasion and I think I did. I am proud to have this as my first experience. Since then working with Björk was completely different because I had to have some personal time with her. She sent me a lot of stuff about her writing process and what the lyrics meant to her. I like to know what the sentiment is, and what emotion we want to convey. How do you want to make someone feel? Once you know that it is easier to build the bridge to that place. It was nice to understand what her intentions were and so I didn’t have to focus on the words or how I could twist what she had said. I could twist what she meant and it was nice to challenge my perspective and put my voice down with it. It was worth it to do it with someone like Björk because I never imagined it. My journey with music has always been very organic and I started as a friend thing. I never woke up and say I wanted to be a musician and do this thing. Every day I said I liked something and all this happened to be something I was good at. So I didn’t imagine that I would meet people who inspired me and they listen to your music and want you to work on theirs.

It’s such a gift each time. Any artist would appreciate another artist that they admire inviting them to their world.

――Did those experiences with other artists give you confidence?

Shygirl :I think it may have subconsciously, but I don’t think I have changed much afterwards. When the song comes up or when you do the thing, it doesn’t feel as momentous as you would have imagined. Because you are just completing the job. Once you insert yourself in any process, you become very critical of it. I’m very critical of my work and it’s hard to take a step back, especially when you are pairing yourself with people you admire. My album is different because at some moment in time, I am proud of it and I am happy with how it sounds. I am already moving on creatively. As soon as you have something quantifiable in some way like remixes and collaborations are outside my world. You kind of become more critical of yourself. That’s how I end up looking at it now, I don’t feel very far from it right now. Even the Gaga lot, feels quite recent in my creative history to be able to be proud of it. I tell myself that it’s a good thing to be proud of, but it’s harder to take it in because you are always looking at the next thing or something you could be doing better. It is really difficult.
Even when the Björk thing came out I was more belated working on it than when it came out. As long as I share something it’s no longer for me, it’s for everyone else. The moment when Sega and I were sharing the demo and I got the final mix, I was in LA. I was driving back to my hotel and I remember tearing up because it hit me to hear voices together. Her voice was something that I listened to as a young child. It was music that my dad shared with me and it was part of our bonding. To hear my voice with hers on a track felt so overwhelming. Once you share it I’m not going to go back to it again. I just had my moment with myself with this driver who had no clue what was happening in the backseat. I’m just looking out the window. (laughs)
I’m so proud that Sega is one of my best friends and it’s so nice to have these moments together that are very very personal. I want all my collaborations to be like that. I want all my collaborations to be emotionally impactful for me. Not just to do something for my career. I think my journey in this is not about big numbers of statistics. Those things are great I’m someone who loves school and I love marking things in some way, but you cannot quantify emotion and be moved by something. I find it incredibly powerful to be able to make something that not only moves but moves other people. I feel blessed to have that conjure to communicate.

――In your music, we can experience experimental techno, reggaeton, jungle and UK garage. How did you discover such genre of music? What do you like about electronic or dance music?

Shygirl :London is quite a collective anyways. I’ve been a listener of music much longer than a making it. Growing up my parents listen to music all the time, I think they were the first. But you start to have music you are drawn to. My parents were not listening to Psychedelic trance. That was me figuring stuff out.
My dad was listening to Aphex twin, Björk, Rochine Murphy, and Destiny’s Child. He gave me my first Destiny’s Child. I always had this feeling of really strong female vocalists. Music was in the house. It would tell me what time of the day it was cause I would know if my mom was cleaning the house or not. Certain music would be on when my mom was cleaning or when my dad was getting ready to go out. I could sense what mood they were in by the music they were playing. So that was already in my core.

I do think there is an essence of London for me. When I was at school there was a lot of grime and rap. I wasn’t necessarily following rap at that time but it was there in my peripheral vision. I was way more into pop and I have always been into pop but I do appreciate the emotion in that. It wasn’t only till I got older that I revisited that. I have a lot of friends that know the history of rap and schooled me on it. By that time I already started rapping by myself. I think I never emulate someone with my music as a rapper. I wasn’t listening to rap that much and I wanted to find my voice, I didn’t want to manipulate anyone’s flow. I was DJing as well, but going to clubs, in general, was important. The places I would go weren’t prescriptive on the genre. It was queer spaces. Lots of clubs are like this is hip-hop or this is garage spaces but queer spaces were everything. It involved so many different types of people who go to those places. So I do think finding myself in this queer community helps me pull things together. To me, the thread that connects everything is the narrative. The music can change but the vocals, and storytelling. I don’t mind playing with sound because I don’t think it’s the thing that anchors everything together. It won’t be as jarring to go from hard electronic music into a soft pop element because you have the similarity of my voice and the perspective throughout. Ultimately it’s just love music and when you love music you want to share. I want to share how people may be put off when it’s hard music not everyone will listen to Arker but there are pieces of Arker that complement other sides of it. I am marrying all these things together and giving people a taste of all these things I love.

When I was in lockdown bijork and I would zoom each other because we were writing things for our album. We were meant to be writing but we sat there talking for ages. Even before we started working with each other we knew because my creative director worked on hers as well. When she used to visit London we would be hanging out. It’s always nice to have someone from the same narrative. We talked about how working with producers isn’t always great. There are always things that another vocalist would understand. There are a lot of egos you have to manage. Sometimes you just need that therapy of having someone who understands your experience. I do these interviews and insight into other people but it’s so nice to have someone who understands.

I complain about things but I love my life. You have to complain about things every so often. You can’t complain to everyone, because they would be like life is great. She is the best person to complain to, she gets it. I think it’s important to have a mentor you know. I text Bjork all the time now, she’s honestly so welcoming and still so inspiring. We had an interview together and just had a conversation. I just feel so lucky to have access to people who have been in the industry for a lot longer than I have and paved the way for me. To have this real-time connection, saying thank you to your idol and they are still contributing so much to the industry. Even if they aren’t putting out music, they are still mentoring.

――Your attitude during live performances is powerful, similar to female pop icons and Divas. Do you have any pop stars that you are influenced by?

Shygirl :I went to a gig and I watched Mirriah Kelly. I am just inspired by her with her audience while maintaining this distance. I enjoy that in a lot of theatres before, in my idea of what it means to be a performer. You give so much so they think they have access to you but what you love is something that they don’t have access to. It is about being viewed and it’s a privilege but you are also separate from them. When I was watching that show, every interaction she had was by her design. I felt like she decided to do that, I didn’t just invade her space. I think that’s important in this day and age and there is so much access to Instagram. The classic divas didn’t have that, they didn’t need to post every minute of their life. To bring back that charm of performance I need to maintain this difference and a glimpse of vulnerability. I find so much strength in being on stage alone. Having this space on stage that is mine when there are no dancers, it’s just me. I have to command the audience’s attention. When I’m on stage I am so calm because I know it’s mine. I could do anything I like with that stage. People have invested that energy and I feel that energy from the stage. I want to be as calm and myself as possible. It is something that I have learned in this journey. Being on stage wasn’t something that drew me into making music. I kind of hated it at first. I couldn’t understand how it could be inspiring for me. Now I am accessing it in a way that is inspiring to me. Finally, the stage design is how I want it to be, my performance is better from performing so much. I started to refine it, and I know I’m not the same performer as when I first started. It’s always good to know you’re better. Also, the music has changed and the messaging is different. I just love having this moment. I am very particular about having moments of silence as well, acknowledging the audience. At the moment on stage, I have a huge tilted mirror, so the audience can see themselves and I can see myself with them as well. It’s nice to have a reminder to the audience that they are also present, and their contribution would change where the show would go. I’ve always wanted to have that. I hope to bring that show here as well. I think it would be amazing.

So to answer the question, it’s Mariah Carry. I think it’s her vibe. I would love to have that vibe and she’s an amazing artist. She knows that and it’s good to know that. Everyone reinforces that knowledge, they have paid for the show. That’s what I love about headline shows. I already know you love me, it’s great and I just need to do the shows.

――Do you know any Japanese Artists?

Shygirl :I have a close friend who just started making music, called Nina Utashiro. We have been friends for like four years. We met in London with another friend. She used to work in styling and production which is a similar background to mine. I love her videos and we are doing videos together while I am here. I just love the tonality of her voice. Nina, I invited her to be in one of my videos. The video we are working on together is for Woe. I wanted it to be as real as possible. I am not wearing any makeup in the video, I’m including friends lovers and places where I can be spontaneous in. It’s been nice to not put any façade to it in a literal sense. It feels very art school. I wanted to get back to that feeling for a second. The deluxe for me is very experimental. There are no real parameters for a deluxe. It’s a moment of a real experiment, a moment you can make. I have always loved college and that’s what it feels like.

――After the Burberry campaign, there have been more attention on your fashion.
What’s important to you when selecting your outfit?

Shygirl :I care about what I feel. I think it’s always something that makes me feel nice. If you don’t feel nice you don’t look nice. There is a direct correlation. Sometimes I want to amplify that I feel terrible. I have three days of feeling terrible and I make myself look great so I can feel great. I do love being eccentric sometimes, but I do like amplifying a sensuality to something. I love costume jewellery anyways. On this trip, I bought far too much jewellery. I’m like a magpie, I just pick things up. I do love expressing myself in clothes. It’s a comfort thing. Even if some clothes are uncomfortable, the rigidity of something is reinforced. I’m strong because I’m wearing a corset, I can’t breathe but I am still here. You know what I mean. There is something in that.

Even in that drama of something, I performed at the British Fashion Awards and my outfit was done by Kei Toyoshima, he’s a designer of a brand called 66 North, a puffer coat company. I think my outerwear was synonymous with my vibe. I love a puffer coat and being encased. We had this idea of creating a dramatic look, so we ended up with this. I love the long train, and I can exist in spaces where I can do something like that. He had a huge costume for the dancers. It is fun working with designers who are inspired by what I do and I am inspired by them. We have a synergy together, we are responding to each other.

This show Caty Cadwallader, Creative Director of Mugler, was there, we worked together and met up recently. It’s so interesting that the people who are at the top of their game, would say that they’re inspired by what you do. They play your music in their studio or atelier, and that informs the decision-making. That’s so crazy to me because I am inspired by fashion. I am inspired by the perseverance of this idea they want to create. Sometimes it’s separate from reality. It’s good to have something that exists beyond that so you can create your reality. I do, I create my reality every day. I am always inspired by the theatre of the fashion people. It’s kind of refreshing. I grew up in a working-class family and to be a frivolous fashion person was not in my peripheral vision. The characters you find in that area, I try to take that energy for myself. I want to be extravagant in my music and life. It’s nice to see people do that for themselves. Some people exist in a fashion that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

I do love clothes. As an artist, I am constantly conveying messages within my body with what I wear, what I say, how I look. Everything is telling me something. I think it’s important to be conscious of what I am trying to say and how it can amplify or distract. Working for Burberry, gave me a lot of room to say how I want to look. That is important to me. I am not just a model, I am not just there to accept everything. If you invite me to your place as someone who can contribute more than an image, there is messaging in there. Some brands don’t even stock the size of clothing that they are making for the shoot. Those things are important for me to know. Do they have ambition for this, is there a misrepresentation for me? I get a lot of young people messaging me to wear their clothes. It’s not something that I reach to do, but it’s inevitable. You are visible and some people are inspired by your visibility. I never had that growing up. I never really had idols when I was growing up. I lost myself in books but it’s a lot different now. People who look at my Instagram now think the whole world of it. Fashion has a big influence on that. When I was talking to Burberry, even as small as what I wanted to do with my hair, it was important to me to look like Shygirl. Otherwise, I don’t see why I would be doing it. Even something small as having my natural hair out, I have it out all the time when I am not working. I had a lot of issues making music because my music was very athletic or straight away absorbed as rap just because of how I looked. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being part of that group, it’s set your black culture. I have to think about what messages people like them will present if they are pushing for my natural hair, or to have a model darker than me in the campaign.
I want people to be aware of those things if they are going to contribute. A lot of people in fashion don’t think about that awareness because fashion is just like that. I can talk about that and push for what I want. It’s the one privilege I get on set. I used to work as a model agent for three years so I know what it’s like to not have that voice. Loads of models have to just do their job and just go home. When you have a platform it is important to use it. I was like no I’m not doing it and then they are like okay fine we will do what you want.

In the end everyone is happy because you will do a better job if you enjoy it. I do enjoy working with brands that have good messaging. When you see yourself on a billboard, it’s real. It’s as if you are in the metaverse or something. That’s what my mom and people who are outside of the arts would interact with. They interact with commercials and advertisements. The people who engage with the arts and music are people who chose to lean into creative stuff but there is plenty of people who don’t. I think it’s important to feel like a part of the world.

――Will you be releasing something new soon? Can you tell us anything about it?

Shygirl :It is a remix of one of the tracks from the album. I am working on the Deluxe in general so there will be a lot of vocal remixes. I have invited vocalists to add verses or change the song and take it into their world but this song is the first collaboration. I don’t have any features in the album and that was intentional because I felt like I had so much to say. Now I have some room to see how someone will take it. This one in particular, as soon as the vocalist took part, felt like it was meant to be. Her voice sticks with it so well. We had the opportunity to work on it together from her home studio in LA. It’s like me and Tinashe and we changed the beat a little bit but it’s still the song in essence. I won’t say which song it is, but that is the first feature in my work. It is nice and I wanted to work with all the women on this song. The song is about the toxic side of a relationship. When you break up with someone and you feel like you can hang out again but you need to give them space. It’s about that moment when you want to forget what you just said and go back together but you know that’s not the right thing to do. It was nice to have someone I consider a strong woman on that as well. Tinashe was perfect and her voice was amazing. I can’t wait to have this song out.

text Aki Yamamoto(IG

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