Melbourne’s own, Shelley Segal has been one busy singer-songwriter. The spirited artist made the move over 12 months ago to go and live in LA, and in that time she has been writing with different artists, performing constantly, has opened her own publishing company (already locking down a sync deal) and is now currently touring the US to promote her latest offering, Somebody Like You.
Mark Moray – Shelley, let’s start from the early years. Your father is a musician that started a band with Paul Glass playing Klezmer music, which is a style of music that was traditionally played by the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, so it’s identification with Judaism, is strong. Therefore, did you find yourself of having a strong connection with the Jewish faith?
Shelley Segal – Hi – thanks so much for having me! Yes, I actually grew up performing in my dad’s wedding band – that’s where I got my start. I first sang with them when I was 11 years old. My Judaism was always a really big part my life. Both sides of my family were Jewish with varying degrees of observance. We went to synagogue every week, we kept the dietary laws, celebrated the chagim (festivals) and I attended a Jewish day school from kindergarten right through High School. I performed with my dad’s Jewish band at weddings, bar-mitzvahs, parties and at Jewish aged care facilities. I attended a Jewish youth group called Habonim as a participant and later as a youth leader.
MM – Most parents are supportive of their children’s ambitions, so can you remember at what point did you believe that being a musician was to be your chosen career, and did your dad give you advice about the music industry and how challenging it could be?
SS – I think growing up surrounded by my dad and other professional musicians normalised it as a career choice for me. I used to sit at band rehearsals and do my homework, getting up to practice a song or two in between. I was already performing full evenings by the time I was 15 and the same year started performing my own original music. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a songwriter since I started writing at 11 and realised there were people who did just that. Diane Warren was a big hero to me. She had success with her songs across different styles. She had the enjoyment of hearing her songs on the radio while not having to deal with the trappings of fame.
My parents have always encouraged me to follow the career of my choice. I don’t think they would care what I do as long as I worked hard at it.
MM – How hard was it to decide that moving to the US was the right thing to do for your career, and why LA?
SS – It was hard to make the move. I love Melbourne, I love my friends and family so much, it’s hard to be away all the time and not be part of each other’s day-to-day lives. I’m missing births, weddings, and funerals. But I think it’s been the right decision. I’ve found a lot more opportunities for myself as a writer and for my artists in the US and in LA particularly. I’ve opened up my label True Music in the US now and this year also started the publishing arm of the company. Los Angeles is the hub of artists and of film and TV music, which is where I’m looking to get into. I’ve already had my first sync – writing a song for the Emmy award-winning Venice: The Series and I’ve had international artists record and release my songs.
MM – Your new single – ‘Somebody like you’ is a song that you wrote on a personal level. Looking back at that situation (being told that you should break up with your partner because he wasn’t Jewish) do you feel that it was that moment, what made you decide how you feel about religion?
SS – There are a lot of different moments all together that have shaped my world-view and in particular how I feel towards my religion and faith as a whole. When I first learned about evolution in biology class at 16 – that was the first time I realised that the biblical account of creation might not be literally true. Until that point I had believed everything I had been taught and had actually been trying to become fully kosher and even more observant. From that age, I began questioning things but it was a long process. When my father rejected my relationship outside our religion I was shocked. The god that I believed in at that time would have been happy for me and for my love. I thought that religion was meant to be a helpful, unifying force and at that point in my life, it was the cause of pain and separation. However, I still believed at that time. it wasn’t until several years later of questioning and exploring that I considered myself an atheist.
One thing that really challenged my beliefs was travelling. I met so many different people all with different worldviews and began to see the context of my own upbringing and understand that it was equally worthy of criticism. I also saw a lot of suffering and poverty overseas, sometimes in the name of religion. The problem of suffering is not sufficiently answered for me. I also began to take issue with the laws of my tradition and the Abrahamic traditions in general. The way they define women and women’s roles, the way they treat homosexuality, the potential for dogmatism. I now believe in a more human-focused morality that chooses what is wrong or right by how it affects living beings, as opposed to a morality coming from a purported divinity. I am also keener to question authority.
I do still hold an appreciation and affection for certain elements of my culture and incorporate them into my life as I see fit. For instance, I often perform Hebrew liturgical songs as part of my original set.
MM – How has being an Atheist (you even recorded an album “An Atheist Album’ 2011), changed the way you see things in life compared to when you were being brought up within a Jewish culture?
SS – I think a major change for me is the way that I assess information and my approach to my own world-view. I try to employ critical thinking. I want to have good reasons for what I believe now, rather than just taking things on faith or tradition. I’m a lot more open to the idea that foundational beliefs I hold can be wrong. I feel like I take more responsibility for my beliefs and actions in a way now because I have to decide myself internally what is right or wrong.
I no longer believe there is anything after this one life we know we have for sure. I find it makes me focus on this life and my appreciation for it in a different way. Death and loss hurt more deeply. It was hard realising that I will never be able to see my grandparents again and one day, everyone I love. It’s hard facing my own mortality. But this worldview has given me the strength to face it. To understand how lucky I am to be here, how fleeting it truly is, how beautiful and moving it is that we can experience these moments together, this depth of emotion, the beauty of our planet, stars, endless forms of biodiversity.
I have a deeper appreciation for scientists, for people throughout our history who have dedicated their lives to growing the body of knowledge to bring society to where it is today. For everyone who continues to love and live and fight for a better world in the face of death and uncertainty. To me, the only reward is each moment and the hope that we can influence the people around us in a positive way. The only afterlife is the impact that we have on others that continues after we are gone.
MM – I love your song ‘Morroco’ from the ‘An Easy Escape’ album 2014, the video comes across as if you are having fun, but how serious is the drug culture in Morocco?
SS – Thanks!
I wanted to have two layers to this song, as there were two different layers to my time there. Reflecting the parts of the country that I saw – beautiful, vibrant, fun, upbeat and the contrasting elements that I experienced as well. Morocco is famous for its hashish. It’s a very accessible place for tourists. A lot of people come to enjoy themselves and after a few days, I started to see a contrast between the fun, partying getaway that was available to tourists and what it was like for some of the local people who were providing this experience. Poverty, homelessness, child drug use, sexual inequality was the backdrop to a lot of tourists’ partying and drug use. I started to question my place there. No country is without its problems and I loved Morocco but that contrast, in particular, was really striking to me.
MM – You collaborated with Adam Levy – guitarist for Norah Jones & Tracy Chapman for the Album – ‘Little March’. How did the meeting with Adam come about?
SS – The producer that I worked on with my first record introduced me to Adam. He had worked with him on a previous project and thought that we would work well together. It was my first co-writing experience. I had collaborated before but to sit and write songs together in person was a first for me. Adam is such an incredible talent and wonderful warm person, it was a pleasure to work with him and he made it so easy. We spent 3 days in NY writing the tunes from Little March together, talking about life and our experiences as inspiration for the songs. We spent a further week in downtown Los Angeles recording it and Adam came to Australia and the two of us toured the record around VIC, NSW as TAS. I’m so grateful for the experience and loved every minute of it -it’s a special project to me!
MM – What is planned on your list for 2018 and do you have any plans to visit Melbourne in the coming months?
SS – 2018 is going to be a big one!!
I’ll be coming home for most of Jan. I’ll be touring regional Vic with shows in Paynesville, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Warrnambool.
I’ll be releasing the EP, which ‘Somebody Like You’ is from.
In Feb I’ll be showcasing at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, MO.
I’ll be performing a 6-month residency in San Diego.
I’m also working on a conservation EP project that I’m really excited about. It’s a collaborative project with a biologist in Washington State about the Puget Sound Watershed. We’ve written songs about the local habitats and the species that live in the area. We’ll be working with animators and 360 video to tell the story of this unique part of the world.
I’ll also be working on releasing and promoting artists from my label True Music and will be writing with other artists and growing my publishing company! So very busy. Looking forward to it all.
SHELLEY SEGAL ‘SOMEBODY LIKE YOU’ LAUNCH SHOW
FRI 29 DEC | YARD BIRD, BENDIGO, VIC | 18+ | Free Entry 8-11pm
SUN 31 DEC | HICKINBOTHAM WINERY, DROMANA, VIC | 18+ | Free Entry 1-4pm
THU 4 JAN | CALLY HOTEL, WARRNAMBOOL, VIC | 18+ | Free Entry 8-11pm
SUN 7 JAN | THE TAPROOM, CASTLEMAINE, VIC | 18+ | Free Entry 5pm
FRI 12 JAN | PAYNESVILLE WINE BAR, PAYNESVILLE, VIC | 18+ | Tix at the door 7-10pm