Inspired by Scott Walker and Jeff Buckley, Nadine Shah honed her craft among jobbing musicians in a Soho club. She talks to TAMZIN LEWIS about the release of her debut EP
FOR Nadine Shah, songwriting is a bit like “hanging your dirty laundry out”.
She has been writing and recording since her early 20s and is about to launch her atmospheric single, Aching Bones, armed with brooding lyrics and discordant piano.
“My songs are a bit morbid,” she says, “but I don’t want to be a stereotype.
“I’m not really that miserable, but the songs are. They are very personal and include themes of unrequited love and also mental health.”
The first song that Nadine, who grew up in Whitburn, wrote was Dreary Town, following the death of a friend.
She says: “Before he died, I didn’t really have a reason to write. The song was quite simple, but people seemed to like the song so I kept writing.
“But I keep thinking someone is going to catch me out.” Nadine went to The King’s School, Tynemouth, and Church High in Newcastle before leaving the North East when she was 17 to live with her journalist brother who currently works for broadcasting company Al Jazeera.
As a teenager she loved Jamie Cullum, Nina Simone and Cole Porter before her tastes broadened to include singers such as Jeff Buckley and bands like Radiohead.
While studying A-levels at college, she supported herself by singing in restaurants and spent her spare time in a jazz club in London’s Soho.
“It was great as I hung out with loads of old dudes,” she says.
“My friends were all blues and jazz musicians in their 60s, and they taught me really good discipline.
“They weren’t massively famous but they were respected as musicians and they adored their craft.”
Nadine, 26, who had never had formal music lessons, got a keyboard and spent two years teaching herself to play piano.
“It finally started to make sense,” she says. “I didn’t have an epiphany or anything, but the more you do something the better you get.
“Trained musicians sometimes say that they love my piano style and people that aren’t trained say, ‘Do you not think you should get lessons?’”
Nadine started writing her own music about four years ago, dropped out of art school and joined Newcastle-based band Knievel, which she says “was a lot of fun”.
“We played club nights, which I’ll probably never be able to do again with my own miserable material, so it was good to get that out of my system.
“Although maybe they could put me on at closing time to get people to leave.”
For the last couple of years, Nadine has concentrated on her music career and producer Ben Hillier has helped her record an album’s worth of material.
A tight budget meant that the video for the Aching Bones single and some of her songs were recorded in a warehouse used by her dad, who runs Curtain Superstore in Blaydon, Gateshead.
Nadine says: “Ben suggested that we record some of the songs on location and we looked at churches and lighthouses.
“I thought to save money we could do it at my dad’s warehouse so you can hear the rustling of the shutters and traffic going past.
“Watching Ben Hillier work was fascinating. He has made some of my favourite albums and it was humbling to work with other musicians playing my songs.”
She adds: “Sonically, it is quite a strange album. Aching Bones is quite menacing and industrial while Winter Rain is quite pretty. You have to listen to it in order so I don’t think it would work on shuffle.”
The album, Your Dumb and Mad, is likely to be released in autumn 2013, while Nadine’s debut EP will be launched on the river terrace at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on Monday.
Nadine says: “I love the Baltic. I used to be an art student and remembered how excited I was when it first opened. To have such a beautiful art gallery in the North East with wonderful exhibitions is exciting.
“My main worry was that it would seem ostentatious having a gig there , but I wanted to have the EP launch on Tyneside for family and friends, and it is a bit of a press event too, so I wanted to showcase my home town.”
Nadine Shah’s Aching Bones EP is launched at Baltic on Monday at 7pm. Nadine is supported by Symphonic Pictures and there will be a DJ until 2am. Tickets from www.wegottickets.com and on the door.