Henry Shaw has just released his debut EP, “Ghosts”, which is now streaming in all platforms. The album consists of four songs: “Ghosts”, “Joyride”, “SSR’Eyes” and “Curtain Call”. We had the chance to analyse them one by one with him. Henry opened up to us about the meaning and the stories behind the songs, among other things regarding his solo EP. Keep reading to not miss out this exclusive interview with English singer and songwriter Henry Shaw.
Question: First of all, congratulations! Happy your first EP is finally out for the world to listen to?
Answer: Yeyy!! (laughs)
Q: It was kind of a long path but now that it’s all finished and released, which was the hardest part of doing it?
A: Good question… All of it was quite hard if I’m honest (laughs)! But the hardest part, I guess, was getting it to musically and sonically sound the way I heard it in my head. During the mixing I was very cautious of it being over produced and becoming too polished and making it lose its authenticity. For something that’s only four tracks the whole thing seemed to take a long time, there was a lot of work done in the background.
Q: And what did you enjoy the most?
A: I think what I enjoyed the most was getting to use different instruments on it. Originally it was going to be a very simple record with just acoustic guitar, piano and vocals. But then, As I always do, I got over excited and started to through all sorts of instruments on it.
Getting to use the pedal steel on “Joyride” was a really exciting moment because It’s an instrument I’ve always loved but never quite had the right song to use it in. Then one day while listening back to the demo I started to think that it might work really well. I got in contact with someone in America who plays it and I sent over the demo with a vocalized recording of the parts that I could hear. I thought it would be a lot more interesting to give him a few jumping off points but mostly I wanted to let him have free rein over the song to see what direction he might take it. From the first listen back, I was just blown away by the work he’d done, I couldn’t stop smiling. The guy’s name is Hamilton McKay and what he did to the track was just incredible. Straight away he just understood how to compliment the song.
Another great moment was getting to work with strings for the first time on SSR’Eyes although that took a lot more work. I ended up writing parts using a computer and then getting someone to re-record them. Hearing those back for the first time was a very exciting moment. I loved the fact that it sounded like nothing I’d ever done before. Again, it was just being able to use instruments that I love but never had the right songs for.
Q: Are you happy with the feedback you are getting from the album?
A: Yes, so far! It’s an honest record, as we’ve said before and I felt very vulnerable putting it out… But there’s been some positive feedback. I’m still not totally sure about it, but I think that’s because I’ve heard it so much. I guess that’s the thing with anyone who is creative in some form or another, they’re always going to be able to tell you what they wish they’d done differently or where the mistakes are.
Q: Where did you record the album and who did the production?
A: The recording was very sporadic. I demoed pretty much all of the songs myself and then it was a bit of a patch work thing re-recording them. I never intended to do it that way. Originally, I wanted to get a band together and go into the studio and record it all live but for whatever reason it didn't pan out that way. It ended up being recorded all over the country. The drums were recorded in London, the bass was recorded in Brighton, the pedal steel was recorded in Colorado (USA) and the strings were done in Manchester. So, it’s weird, it shouldn’t work but it kinda does. In regards to the production, I guess that was just me.
Q: Did someone help in the writing process of any song or was it all you?
A: The lyrics and music were all written by me but as I said, there’s was a nice bit of collaboration with the pedal steel and strings.
Q: What song did you write first and did that song played the catalyst to the theme of the EP?
A: I’d had Joyride for a little while but the main catalyst for the EP and the first song I wrote was “Ghosts”. I sat at the piano and wrote that, and it was definitely the song that helped me write the rest of the EP. There were a load of other songs that got written and demoed but didn’t make it to the final EP because I wasn't sure if they were adding anything more to the record. I still think some of them are good songs so they might end up on the demo version of the record.
Q: So, you are putting out a demo version too?
A: Yeah, as I said, it started off as a very sparse record and gradually became more of a full band thing. So, I thought it might be fun to put out an alternate and outtakes record. What could’ve been...
Q: How many songs did you write before you chose the four that made it to the EP?
A: I wrote around eight or nine tracks, I think.
Q: Do you have any plans for playing the songs live at some point?
A: Yeah, I’d like to. If I did, they’d be a lot closer the demo versions of the songs, just me and whatever instrument. Maybe when I get a band together at a later stage it might be interesting to play them live as they are on the EP.
Q: As you said it is such a personal record… Was it kind of a relief to write the songs and put them into an album?
A: Yes of course. When I put the EP out the other day, the songs and the album felt like ghosts themselves. For a record that’s only four tracks it took a lot longer to get right than I ever intended. I knew I needed to finish them and release the album, more than anything so I could put a full stop with that part of my past and finally let go.
Q: Now I would like to go a little bit song by song…
I went through a break up with a girl that ended very suddenly and pretty badly… One moment we were living together and then the next we weren’t. I guess it was that feeling of seeing someone all the time and then suddenly they disappear. Somebody that’s there and one moment they’re gone, but then all the memories are still surrounding you and you can feel their presence everywhere. That was kind of the bigger picture of it rather than just straight up relationship, it is more about having someone around and then they’re gone.
Q: It is such a haunting song…
A: Yes! That’s kind of what I was aiming for…
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
A: That song came pretty quickly. I think I wrote “Ghosts” in an evening. There might have been a few lyric changes afterwards but the basis of the song came pretty quickly. A moment of musical inspiration and the flood gates opened...
Q: A friend suggested that in “Ghosts” you can hear a bit of “Afraid of Ghosts” from Butch Walker. Was it a little bit of the inspiration behind the song?
A: Interestingly I wrote that about the same time I got into that record. I like the sound of that album; the songs are great. I think in “Afraid of Ghosts”, which if I’m not mistaken was produced by Ryan Adams, all the songs where done in like three takes because he wanted to capture them as pure as he possibly could. Definitely there was certain inspiration with that, not necessarily musically. However, there are some songs that were left out of the EP that are very influenced by that record.
I’d had “Joyride” for quite a while but I’d never found the right place to put it. As I was writing and putting the EP together it came to mind and I thought that it was similar to the songs I was writing. The track is basically a meditation and conversation with yourself. The singer is faced with his own morals, temped by the fruit of another that leads him to question who he is as person. Meeting someone new has made them question the relationship they are in…
There’s this lyric I’ve always loved from the song “Sit Down” by James that says: “If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor”. In Joyride the singer kinda has that same thing, they wish that they hadn't seen what was on the other side of the fence…
I’ve had the title for quite a while but the actually song went through a few incarnations. Musically, it was very different to start with, it had drums and electric guitar solo intro... there is a whole different version of it but it just wasn't capturing the right feeling. Then one evening I was sat at the piano and I stumbled upon some chords and it just started to work. It was such a eureka moment after struggling to make this other version work for so long. When I’m writing or working on a song I tend to leave my phone recording because sometimes you stumble upon a vocal or a melody and If you’re not careful you can end up forgetting how you played or sang it. When I sat down to listen to what I’d recorded it actually made me cry! Probably because I’d finally been able to capture the song and the feeling I’d been chasing.
Q: Is there a metaphor on the tittle about antidepressants or anxiety meds?
A: Yeah it’s probably not that obvious but it’s a play on words with SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which are anti-depressants. Like a lot of people now, I take antidepressants. It’s scarily becoming very common place. I mean they can sometimes do wonders for people but on the flip side if you’re not careful they can completely go the other way… It can be a very scary thing. The song’s about being with someone who starts taking them and it goes the other way, you just watch them disappear...
I went to see a play in London called “Girl from the North Country”. It’s a musical set in America during the great depression and storyline is all tied together by Bob Dylan songs. The songs are re-worked and played live on stage by the cast. Seeing that really influenced the feeling of how I wanted the song to sound, even though it probably doesn’t really sound like that, it’s certainly what I had in mind. Being in the theatre gave me the title... and the title gave me the ending I was after...
Q: The lyric sound to me like a couple that is gradually growing apart…
A: Yeah, you’re right. The realisation that it’s coming to end and then having to have that final conversation... and then having to renew life after that... It’s always a tough situation that nobody gets away with unhurt. Strangely, the end of a relationship has a lot of similarities to watching a play. It can all be very dramatic and sometimes feel like the moment is playing out in front of you...
Q: There is a line in the song that says “it wasn’t losing you, it was losing me” …
A: Yes, I felt like I really captured what I was feeling with that line… When getting into a serious relationship you ultimately invest a lot of yourself and you put a lot trust and faith into that other person... and if for whatever reason it fails, you don’t just lose them, you lose the part of yourself that believed in someone and the bigger picture.
There’s a line in the chorus that goes “you take a part of me and leave the world we knew behind”, because when it ends It can sometimes feel like the whole world you created together disappears. The in-jokes you have, the names you might call each other, they all just become memories that you start to forget...
The lyric that really does it for me in that song is the final line, ‘“I Just watched you drive away, like some off-Broadway play, such a F*cking Cliché”. That was me making fun of myself for writing such an earnest record... I mean, I never intended to write this EP, but you know, life happened and for my sanity I kinda had too...