Shura (Photo: Hollie Fernando)
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Album release week has Shura, synth-pops lesbian pope,feeling like Ice Age squirrel Scrat, whose acorn keeps getting away from him. The acorn is representative of my well-being, my sanity,says the 30-year-old British musician. And its always a hairs breadth away.

I am Skyping with Shura, who is calling from Rough Trade, a record store in Nottingham, England, just days after the release of her second album, Forevher, the follow-up to her 2016 debut Nothings Real. Named by her girlfriend, Pauline, who she met on the dating app Raya while living in London (the two were in a long-distance relationship until Shura moved to Brooklyn), the title represents For Her,” “Foreverand Forever Her.And calling it simply Forever was out of the question; that name was already taken by the Spice Girls. 

During our chat, and without the video feature activated because Im literally in a cave and look like I havent slept,Shura discusses playing dress-up with her gay twin, her infatuation with fun nuns, writing a Titanic musical from the perspective of the icebergs and being scared of Madonna. 

After Nothings Real, did you anticipate making another breakup album?

When I finished writing Nothings Real, I was kind of like, I dont know if I can make another record again,because it does take so much out of you emotionally. At that moment, I just didnt feel like I felt anything at the end of that – (it) just really, really kind of sucks you dry. Not necessarily as a negative either. I was just exhausted. So I I kind of imagined retiring! 

One and done.

Bye! Exit stage left! I was finishing touring with Tegan and Sara and M83 and thats when I started talking to my current partner and was like, Maybe I can write some songs again.I was attracted to someone and that was exciting, and I was writing about that. It wasnt until maybe a year into the process of writing that I was beginning to decide what to record and I was like, Oh, shit, this is gonna be a really different record.I always love artists who do that, who make big leaps of faith and take risks; sometimes they pay off and sometimes they dont, but the fun is in trying. 

How did you decide to include lesbian nuns in the religion (u can lay your hands on me)video?

I love nuns. I had this calendar as a kid called Nuns Having Fun and it was images of nuns smoking and riding a rollercoaster. Images of women who are traditionally not meant to have any sort of worldly pleasure in that sense. Its a life of: You make a commitment to God, and so you see these people doing naughty things and its something that does spark joy and makes you laugh and smile. So Ive always loved nuns. And then I remember seeing Jude Law in The Young Pope and I thought he looked amazing, and I just went, I want to look amazing.I have this really great job where I can do that. And if you dont do that as a pop star or as a musician, I think youre missing out on one of the funnest aspects of the job. 

Thats something I learned from doing Nothings Real, because I was at a major (label) and maybe nervous about them turning me into something that I wasnt, which they didnt, actually. But I was still nervous about it. I really tried to cling onto, Im gonna wear a denim jacket and a beanie and Im just gonna be me.And actually, I was like, But I can be anyone? Why wouldnt I choose that? Thats fun.” 

I used to love dressing up as a kid. Id dress up as Zorro and Peter Pan. I remember (my brother) Nick and I doing Beauty and the Beast with the dress and the beast costume and I cried, and then we swapped and he wore the dress and I wore the beast costume and we were like, This is perfect.So Ive always loved inhabiting different personalities. After three years of silence, I was like, I wanna come back and I wanna be the pope,because I thought that would be hilarious. Anxious lesbian comes back and shes the vaping, lesbian pope.

In fact, youve envisioned the entire album as a lesbian musical of sorts with a similar queer, religious motif. 

Yeah. Oh my god, I still really wanna do it. 

Have you truly given this much thought? 

I want to get someone good to write the script, for sure. I was thinking that it would be absolutely hilarious if (Fleabag creator) Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote the script for it; shes just in my head right now because shes sort of everywhere. I feel like shed nail it. I started thinking about the story and was like, Maybe it has to be someone whos a girl growing up in a convent school.Thats where it would start. I also just like the idea of it being a dream sequence with popes and lesbian nuns. 

And maybe a cameo from Sister Mary Clarence. Let her run the convent for lesbian nuns. In fact, maybe Sister Mary Clarence has been a closeted lesbian all these years and she finally has the opportunity to come out during your musical.

I mean, that would be amazing. I feel like youve thought about this more than I have so maybe we should get you to write the script. 

Call Phoebe. Well collaborate.

Yeah, perfect. Amazing. Well do one night on Broadway. 

One night only!

Of course. It has to be one night only. If I make a musical thats more successful than any album Ive done, that would be amazing, especially given that I really didnt like musicals growing up because I kept hearing my brother rehearse them and I was like, Shut up. I dont care about tomorrow. I do not care! Annie, leave me alone!

Do you have serious aspirations to pursue a musical?

Ive written a musical! I wrote one when I was at university. I cant say it was very good. And it was very short, so Id have to develop it. But I wrote a musical about the story of the Titanic from the point of view of the iceberg. It was this love story between two icebergs (laughs) in the Atlantic. And there was like the Greek chorus, so to speak, but they were seagulls. There was one bit where they ended up in Chile and there were penguins and there was a song called Its Chilly in Chile,and the main iceberg was called Ferdinand and he ended up obviously dying because the Titanic crashes into him. So its a tragedy. I dont think Ive told anyone that before, so there you go. Exclusive. 

Based on the religionvideo, I assume you may have been a bit obsessed with Madonnas Like a Prayer.” 

You reckon? (Laughs) We had The Immaculate Collection on VHS, which I suspect was a way of keeping my twin and I occupied for large swaths of time when we were being a bit hyperactive. We would sit in front of the television and stare, and that would just be us for a couple of hours. So shes been a huge inspiration musically and absolutely (the religion) video is intended as a nod and homage. I discovered the other day that I released the record on her birthday, so that feels like a nice kind of full circle. I was tempted to be like, Happy Birthday, Madonna!and send her a link to my album but then got too scared because I thought shed just scream at me. 

Forevher manages to be both explicitly queer and incidentally queer. And your queerness has been a major talking point during recent interviews. Did you expect the queerness of this album to be as big of a focus as its been while promoting the album? 

When you come from a queer perspective, you never really feel like what youre doing is super gay because its just what youre doing. Its only when you start to see it through the eyes of other people – when you see fans and theyre so excited that it is explicitly queer and theyre like, Oh my god, this is the album that I needed when I was a teenager that I didnt have.” 

I did an interview recently and the headline was, Shura sometimes forgets shes a lesbian(laughs). I just forget in the same way that I forget that I am a woman sometimes because I dont really wake up every day going, Where am I gonna take my vagina today?If you are going to be openly queer, its always going to be a part of any conversation. For Nothings Real, actually, it was still a talking point even though I never used a pronoun. Even when I wasnt being explicitly queer lyrically, it was still a part of the conversation. 

How does it feel to be using specific gender pronouns on this album?

Its fun to be able to do it and be like, I dont care. I dont care that someone might go, Oh, shit, OK! Let me switch this off.’”

How were you writing about being queer at the age of 16, when you first started writing songs?

The language I would use was very decorative. I would use metaphors and allegories, and it would be much closer to poetry lyrically. I would never be specific about what was going on. I would kind of talk in… 

In code? 

Exactly. But I understood the code. And anyone who knew what it was about would know the code; anyone who was a fan, if they understood that I was gay, would also get the code. But I think just growing up in general as a writer, Ive found where I thrive is in the really mundane and the really specific. 

Thats the thing: When you first start making music, its normally because youre a fan, right? It takes you a while sometimes to discover what it is that youre good at. Maybe you try to emulate some of your heroes and then over time you discover what youre about. As a kid, I wouldve loved to have been a rock star. I wouldve wanted to be in a rock band and shredded (laughs), but Ill let someone else be good at that and Ill do this. One of the most important things about being creative is knowing what youre not good at. 

What else are you not good at? 

My singing voice, I wouldnt describe it as especially acrobatic. I have, I would say, a relatively delicate voice. Some of my heroes – some of the people whose voices I love, like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey they are voices. You hear them and you know who it is straightaway, and I was just like, Well, I cant sing like that so Im gonna stop trying and I have to find the way my voice works.Another thing Im not good at it, apparently, is buying presents, which was really tragic to discover.  

Who told you that you werent a good gift giver? 

My girlfriend! I thought I was brilliant at buying presents until this relationship. But I dont know whether Im not very good or shes just very, very picky about what she likes. (Laughs) 

I used to buy Mariah Carey albums and give them to people as gifts even if they werent fans.

When Nothings Real came out, my twin bought 10 copies of the album and gave them to everyone he worked with. (Laughs)

How has love changed the way you approach queerness in your work? 

Im exploring a different side of my queer romantic experience, which is like joy (laughs). For a start! The queer stories were exposed to are quite dramatic stories; in film and music, we dont get to see a lot of happiness or things working. This record is about a three-year period, a little time capsule of a really lovely time … before it goes wrong! And hopefully it never will (laughs). Its made me sort of feel braver in terms of expressing my queerness, but then also makes me feel more vulnerable. 

Declaring being in love is putting yourself in a vulnerable position. But Im somewhat used to putting my life experiences on record, so for me its maybe not as big of a deal because its just what Ive always done. I guess its a bigger audience now (laughs) than when I was 16 and recording on a MiniDisc recorder for my friends at school, who were like, Ugh. She just wishes she were Avril Lavigne.” 

What is Paulines favorite song on the album? 

Her favorite song is The Stage.I think she likes the rhythm of it because its quite weird. Its quite a weird record. Quite a challenge. I was a bit nervous about putting it out before the record was released because, musically, its a demanding listen because of these huge shifts and chord progressions and key changes that never really materialize. I finished the record in January and was like, I just delivered something. I dont know what it is. I like it. But I dont know what it is.” 

Do you know now? 

I definitely have a better handle on it now. And actually, this is (laughs) gonna sound awful, probably, but the more I get to know it, the more proud of myself I am. The more I kind of impress myself. Like everyone else, Im still getting to know it. Its like having a kid and when they get to be about 4, 5 or 6 and you start to realize theyre developing a real personality and youre like, Oh, I made one of these children! Great!Thats kind of like me with my album. Im like, Oh, wow. This is all right. Well done.