Nothing's Real: Shura Opens Up About Her Deeply Personal First Album

Nothing's Real: Shura Opens Up About Her Deeply Personal First Album

The British singer-songwriter and musician talks to V about her long-awaited debut record and its surprising inspiration

The British singer-songwriter and musician talks to V about her long-awaited debut record and its surprising inspiration

Photography: Sam Hiscox

Styling: Vincent Levy

Text: William Defebaugh

“Where are you, Shura?”

These are the first audible words on Nothing’s Real, the debut album from British singer, songwriter, and producer Aleksandra Lilah Denton—better known as Shura. A sample of home footage from when she was a child, the question is posed by her father, introducing the record on a hazy, synth-laden track called “(i)” that sets an intimate and intriguing tone for the music that follows. Tackling the dense and often pretentious subject of time, it’s a complex body of work—one that can only be fully understood after delving into the artist’s own history.

Epitomizing what is now being referred to as “bedroom pop,” Shura began her experimentation with music at the age of 13 with no formal training, working out of her home in Manchester. “I didn’t really want anyone to know that I wanted to write music or make songs because, in a way, I didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to do it for a profession,” she recalls. “I wanted to do it to express myself. As I grew in confidence, I was able to come out and say that I’m a musician.”

SHURA WEARS CLOTHING PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE JEWELRY HER OWN

For Shura, this declaration came in the form of 2014’s “Touch”—a track she wrote after returning from a six-month post-graduate trip during which she found herself in the Amazon Rainforest. After being rejected by numerous labels, she decided to release the song herself, along with a self-directed video that immediately went viral (it’s now

at over 26 million views). A dreamy blend of ’80s synth pop and ’90s R&B with a production level that’s years ahead of its time, the song is nothing short of mesmerizing. In the video, we see couples of varying ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations embracing and being pulled apart from one another. It’s a simple yet fitting concept, considering the song was written about heartbreak.

“It was three years—my first grown-up relationship. After she moved out, it was this big hole in my life. Eventually, we reconnected as friends, but if you have that chemistry with someone, it’s always there. So, then we were in this romantic friendship, and we had to break up again. We’re friends now, of course. I guess there are just different stages of endings, aren’t there? You need to reprogram the way you react when you see them, and that takes time. The funny thing is, when the song was finished, I asked her to do the original artwork for it. It all came full circle, the design having been done by the girl who inspired the song. For me, that was the full stop at the end of it. I was like, Okay, it’s definitely done now, I can move on. This song now belongs to everyone that’s listening to it; it’s no longer mine.”

Following the popularity of “Touch,” Shura experienced unprecedented anxiety about living up to the expectations set by a newfound Internet fanbase. She passed up offers from “virtually every label,” taking her time to “ignore the noise” and focus on writing more music before eventually signing with Interscope/Polydor (owned by Universal). As fate would have it, it was out of these events—the relationship that inspired “Touch,” and the subsequent pressure resulting from its success—that her first album was born.

Nothing’s Real is about my first-ever panic attack, which I had about four months after getting my record deal. But it’s also about when my partner broke up with me, and we were reminiscing about our past relationship and she said, ‘It’s not real. The past doesn’t exist because it’s already happened, and the future doesn’t exist because we haven’t experienced it yet—and the present, you just have to live in it.’ So, it’s about the concept of time. The record has me as a child, me as a teenager, and me as a grown-up from all of these family recordings. I wanted to merge the past, the present, and the future by putting moments of my life on a record.”

It was an idea that she got, in part, after watching Christopher Nolan’s 2014 science-fiction film Interstellar with her former partner. In the film, a man embarks on a journey that inadvertently reconnects him with the past and the daughter he left behind. In fact, it’s this movie that Shura refers to in her song “2Shy” when she says, “Let’s go find a corner we can go and sit in / And talk about that film instead of us.” The concept of reaching into the past in order to preserve the future was one that stuck with her.

“After that, I started watching these old family videos. I was crying, looking into my past. I had no memory of the experiences, and yet I remembered them, but only because I was watching them as if they were a film. And that’s what life is, isn’t it? It’s a film. We have a window into the universe—a tiny, tiny window. And when we die, the movie’s over. I wanted to put these things into the record, partly to make it me, and partly so that my family would exist somewhere forever. One day we will die, but there’s this physical and musical creation where we will all be. Maybe no one will care about that except me, but I kind of made the record for me. If other people like it, that’s so cool. But I made it for myself.”

Nothing's Real is available now from Polydor.

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