Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition

Shy Shy Shy broke my Spotify

Repeated listens to the Copenhagen duo’s new album ‘Make Up’ have created some entertaining, and hilarious, suggested playlists.

Published: March 14, 2018
Words: Astrid Cordes, Simon Kjeldgaard & J.Scott Stratton

At the risk of showing my age, I can honestly that say that, in the mobile age, listening to an album six times a day can have some interesting effects. When I was growing up, the risk of hammering into an album over and over, was the eventual wearing down of a tape head, or a getting a scratch on that $20 CD. But now, it results in an AI and algorithms creating suggested playlists based on that sound that can be weird and down-right ridiculous.

When Shy Shy Shy’s new album hit the streets, or more accurately, the interwebs, I was instantly hooked by the sound. It was familiar but new, and every song on the album has a hook takes you back to some point in the past. It’s glorious. I had heard earlier tracks from the band, but nothing hit me with the impact of their current album.

It wasn’t until about a week in of listening to the album at least 2 to 4 times a day that I realized that it was influencing the algorithms that work behind the scenes in Spotify.

For one, the app mysteriously seemed to revert to Danglish….where all the functionality was in English, but I was being suggested things like En Perfekt Fredagspakke (The perfect Friday package) and Ung og Vild (young and wild).

I listen to a lot of Danish bands, but nothing that would suggest I would be responsive to either one of these, let alone suggestions of Danish X-Factor Originals or Hot DK Hits. Now I can’t blame this on Shy Shy Shy, but what I can say about the band, is that they pull from a myriad of different influences, and their Danish. I’m not pointing the finger here (slyly pointing the finger here), but one plus one equals…well you get it.

What I found the most entertaining, was the algorithms attempt to suggest similar bands in a Daily Mix. Anywhere from Neil Diamond (no lie) to Tears for Fears, and Haim, Fleetwood Mac, and Nik og Jay. Not that I was particularly complaining, mind you. All of those bands are fantastic – minus Nik og Jay, that’s just horrible – but it was just interesting and humorous, to see a piece of code try and put Shy Shy Shy into a box.

A few weeks before the band dropped the album, I got a chance to Skype with Simon and Astrid and find out more about how they create their sound, where they get their “actual” influences, and how they translate their sound to a live performance.

There is so much about your sound that is reminiscent of different eras. I would love to know more about how you pinpoint those iconic musical inspirations – the synth, the snare or the hi-hat sounds – to reformulate them into your own vision?

Simon: Both of us have listened to a lot of different music from different eras, and that’s why you’ll find elements in our music that refer to music from the 60’s up until now. We really enjoy trying out more or less unusual ideas and see if we can come up with something new. In our song “Beautiful Boys & Girls” you’ll hear a lot of 80’s analog synthesizers (Jupiter-8, Juno-60 among others) and an almost Beach Boys-like sing a long part.

“Someone Else“ is a completely different story. I would say that the guitar leads you in the direction of country music or Dire Straits while the strings remind me of Disney score music. In “Making a Fool” we have used the iconic 808-cowbell sample you’ll find in numerous songs from especially the 80’s. To give a final example, the hard-hitting bass and kick sound in “Summer” is inspired by the 00’s club music.

I’ve been listening to your new album a lot, and I like that the lead vocals are something that you both pass back and forth to each other. Does that mean that you each write your own songs independently?

Astrid: Yes and no. We never write anything entirely from scratch together. Instead, we get together and present the songs and ideas we’ve been working on and then finish them together. Sometimes we just have little fragments like a hook, some chords or a lyrical idea, and sometimes the songs are almost finished, and we just perfect them together.

For example that was the case with “Trouble.” I had written the whole thing at home and made a fast and very basic demo of it. In that version of the song, the chorus was a little different though. The sentences were arranged in another order so that the post-chorus “smell it in the air…etc” came in the middle of it, and I stayed on the low note on the word “trouble.”

Shy Shy Shy interview with blacklisted Magazine

As soon as Simon heard the demo, he suggested going up at the end of “trouble”, to give it a more memorable sound and a little more excitement by ending on a more open note. He also suggested altering the structure of the chorus to clarify my ideas. These two things made the chorus a lot stronger, and that is what we do. We help bring out the best in each other’s songwriting, and no Shy shy shy song is made without both of us writing on it.

On that note, I want to dig a bit deeper into the songwriting process. How much of the music is created digitally, and how much is instrumental?

Simon: Usually, when we start writing a new song together, we power up the Roland Juno-60 and a Roland TR-505 drum machine. Those two instruments are often the only ones featured in our demos. All analog – except for the iPhone recording it.

When we get to the studio and start recording the final versions of the songs we are using a lot of analog instruments, but we are also not afraid to use the digital opportunities we have nowadays.

We have done a lot of drum programming with our producer Rune Borup on our newer songs. It makes it possible to hear a lot of slightly different ideas very quickly and match it with a bassline etc. When we have found the right drum pattern, the drums are often partly replaced by live drums though.

As I mentioned earlier, you just released your first LP at the beginning of this month. Tell me about that.

Astrid: We did, and it’s our first full-length release. It feels terrifying and amazing at the same time sharing it with the world. It’s called ‘ Makeup,’ and we gave it that title because all the songs revolve around the contrast between what we feel and think vs. what we do and how we act. Someone called it a “coming of age”-record, but that was never our intention.

I don’t think I know anyone who, regardless of their age, isn’t sometimes in conflict with themselves, who never doubt themselves or has a hard time doing the right thing or fantasize about having a different life.

This record takes root in our own insecurities, and we hope to give our listeners a chance to recognize themselves in our awkward stories and feel a little bit less alone. Or maybe we’re just trying to feel less alone ourselves; honestly, I’m not really sure.

Shy Shy Shy interview with blacklisted Magazine

Simon: In the past, we’ve written mostly about love, but we wanted to challenge ourselves and write something more personal, something that struck a little deeper. We’ve also tried pushing the boundaries of what Shy Shy Shy can sound like. We’ve experimented a lot with genres, writing styles, instrumentation, and as I mentioned earlier, borrowing elements from everything from 80’s pop, country, and dance music. We have deliberately worked with the use of clichés and kitsch instruments, such as rainforest sounds on a keyboard and a wooden flute Astrid brought home from Peru, in a mix with modern production and acoustic instruments.

Listening to Shy Shy Shy, it can be quite hard to pinpoint whether it translates to live performance, or if it’s a studio project. Can you shed some light on this? Is Shy Shy Shy a live band?

Simon: Yes! Shy shy shy is a live band, and we love to play live shows! We have been playing shows since 2014 at venues and festivals throughout Denmark, Germany, and Scotland.

When we play live we bring a drummer, a bass player and a synth wizard. Apart from singing, I play the guitar, and Astrid plays on a drum pad and a synthesizer. The five of us do our very best to translate the sound of the records to a live performance, and we’re actually becoming quite good at it. If you read this and you’re still in doubt, don’t hesitate to come and see it for yourself. You can expect an additional layer to the music if you see and hear us play live.

Now that this record is out, what is in store next?

Well first off is, of course, playing more live shows. We’ve been locked up in the studio for over a year, and we’re dying to get out there again. Music is one of those art forms that only exist in the present. You can’t linger on it like you can on a picture. You have to experience it “in the moment,” and you have to give yourself to it entirely to fully understand it.

Being on stage, we get to dive into the music with our band and the audience, which is a unique and very precious thing to us. It is very inspiring and often leads to new songs and new ideas. The future is open for us, we try to seek out new possibilities and challenges and always welcome opportunities given. We just spoke to a movie director we know about maybe collaborating with one of her upcoming projects. It would be the first time we would be writing on the base of someone else’s pitch, which is really exciting.