Shura Makes Love Songs To Last “Forevher”
The British songwriter recounts a chance meeting at a Marfa Dairy Queen and other inspirations for her sophomore album.
“Welcome to Dairy Queen” has not led to many great songs, but that’s how Shura met Tommy. The British musician born Aleksandra Denton was getting ice cream in Marfa, Texas at her American girlfriend’s insistence when the two were greeted by a cheerful ninety-year-old man. “Because it’s a touristy town, a lot of people come through there, and he just likes talking to them,” she tells me on the phone from Brooklyn during a summer lightning storm. After exchanging pleasantries about tourism, Tommy somberly described the peace he felt after his deceased wife visited him in a dream to thank him for being faithful and encourage him to romance someone new.
“tommy,” the song the man inspired, begins with Tommy’s recollection, recorded that very day in the Marfa Dairy Queen. The way Shura sings it, Tommy’s wife tells him, “I’m in heaven without you, but just take your time, I’ll be alright” over glimmering synths.
forevher, Shura’s new record, captures the thrills and comforts of love deepened by the nagging reminder that even the best relationships have to end. Across eleven songs, her second album showcases her incredible craft—not least of all, the ability of a young queer atheist musician to easily convey the pathos in the religious dreams of a straight male generations removed.
Growing up, the twenty-eight-year-old singer had to adapt mainstream pop songs to fit her sexuality. “We didn’t have queer love songs,” she says. “We just had love songs that we would make queer in our minds.” forevher was her attempt to prove the opposite, to make “an explicitly queer record with explicitly queer artwork and have people who are maybe not queer relate to it in the same way I would listen to Boyzone or 911 or the Backstreet Boys or Celine Dion.”
For these songs, Shura drew from her own formerly long-distance relationship. Lead single “BKLYNLDN” basks in the relief felt after her girlfriend made an unexpected trip from New York to Shura’s home in London. “This isn’t love, this is an emergency,” she sings. “Keep thinking of that picture that you sent to me.” Like other songwriters who have grown up with the internet in their pockets, Shura realizes the technology we rely on to stay in touch can just as easily make physical distance more unbearable.
The single ends with a strutting coda, set after Shura has moved in with her girlfriend in Brooklyn. “We could take the subway to the beach where there’s a breeze, because we’re in America!” she proclaims. Motivated by her new home, Shura focused on soul and folk, the genre that produces what she considers “the most classic songwriting there is.” She rattles off a list of American greats she has studied, including Joni Mitchell, Minnie Riperton, Prince, and Frank Ocean, who is particularly admired for his “irreverent” approach to song structures.
The music, in turn, took on more relaxed grooves than the upbeat songs of her 2016 debut, Nothing’s Real. Shura and her writing/producing partner Joel Pott enlisted drummer Liam Hutton and bassist Axel Ekerman to develop her demos. The rhythm section recorded the entire album over the course of four days, pouring foundations for Shura and Pott to build the rest of the songs around.
“We didn’t have queer love songs. We just had love songs that we would make queer in our minds.”
“When I used to play stuff, I would play it badly, but then I would fix it to the grid and make it perfect—whereas one of the reasons this record is groovier is there are these two human beings that were playing in response to one another,” she says. “It’s not always perfectly in time with Pro Tools, but they are very much in time with each other.” Ekerman slaps to match the crisp snare sounds on the swaggering “forever.” On closer “skyline, be mine,” the bass dances around the hi-hats of a Bonham-like backbeat. Along with backing vocalists and other instrumentalists, Shura emphasized working face-to-face, building off the human connection.
The one exception was Will Miller, brass player for Whitney and Resavoir, who contributed horns to “princess leia” remotely when the mutual admirers couldn’t align their studio schedules. The song describes the way Shura felt after learning of Carrie Fisher’s death while getting off a flight where a veteran’s casket was being transported home. Miller’s horns add an elegant warmth as Shura ponders whether she herself is dead, too—death “served just like it was a soda / didn’t want it but it’s complimentary.”
In a family of sci-fi fans, Shura grew up idolizing Princess Leia, and eventually the actress who portrayed her. “There is this weird part of you that dies when your heroes die,” she explains. “It’s almost akin, though maybe not as painful, to your parents dying—because your parents are superheroes, in some sense.” The specter of loss hangs over loved ones, familial and romantic, but Shura also celebrates “the absurdity of death.” “I’m always in a state of mourning something I haven’t lost yet,” she admits.
She felt a similar sense of mourning in Tommy’s dream, an emotional link that allowed her to fold his story into the rest of forevher. “There was a part of his subconscious soothing himself,” she says, “telling him ‘the reason that it’s OK to move on is because you were faithful to your wife for her entire existence, and it’s OK to find happiness still.’”
Though she invokes afterlife in her lyrics, Shura, a “card-carrying atheist,” shuns organized religion because of the way people use it as a crutch to support their own preconceived notions. “If you already believe homosexuality is wrong, then you are going to take a book, say the Bible, and point here, here, and here where it proves to me that my belief, that I already hold, is true.” She notes that in Christianity, the ideal woman is a physical impossibility—both a virgin and a mother. On “flyin’,” she absentmindedly asks, “Does anyone think a virgin had a baby?” before apologizing to her lover for texting her too much.
But Shura also uses religious imagery for fun. On “religion,” she’s ecstatic on the chorus as she sings, “Oh girl don’t stop, please / you can lay your hands on me.” It’s her entry in the esteemed canon of pop stars mingling sex and worship. “I remember watching The Immaculate Collection on VHS and watching the video for ‘Like a Prayer’ and having my tiny child mind blown,” she says.
forevher is poised to feel similarly explosive to young listeners, who’ll find it on a streaming service rather than cassette tape: an expertly produced funk-pop record that captures love and loss for queer people in 2019 America. It’s perfect for nightclubs and bedrooms, anywhere you can pull a loved one in close to dance. The album ends with Shura singing a plea so simple it could be a prayer: “Be mine.” FL