Irish R&B outfits are few and far between, so when a group like Shookrah appear on the scene, an instant curiosity is aroused. Pay heed to this curiosity, and you’ll discover that Shookrah joyfully make the genre their own. The music they make is gorgeously authentic, combing syrupy soul with Irish roots firmly planted in the ‘sesh’, which allows them to create a distinct sound that lies somewhere between R&B, Hip Hop and Pop.
The Cork based collective are about to release their Clichés EP, as well as perform at Body&Soul 2017, and in anticipation of this we caught up with Emmet and Senita to discuss the band’s new music, growing fan base, touring, and how exactly they concoct such sweet sugary jams.
The excitement of your upcoming EP Clichés is throwing you into the limelight, and you’re gaining a lot of exposure at the moment. As a band, what is most important to you in your self-representation? How would you hope to come across to new listeners?
Emmet: Music is very subjective by nature obviously, so it’s kind of impossible to predict exactly what someone will like or hate about your music. At the risk of sounding a bit up ourselves, I think our music is at least different to most music going on at the moment. There are elements of various styles old and new and they’re all just sort of buried in there, covered with the sounds that could only ever be made by this particular group of people. But I think there’s enough variety of sounds and influences in there that something is bound to stick out at some point for someone. That’s the hope anyway. I think we just want to come across as ourselves rather than an amalgamation of references, and I think if we can do that then we’ll be all the better for it. I know that for me, when I listen to new music and I can’t quite figure out where the artist is coming from, I might have to give it a few listens but that’s what will hook me in. That’s what we’re trying to do I suppose, come across essentially as a pop band, but with plenty of that more elusive ‘thing’ that makes people want to listen again and again.
Obviously, playing live is very important to us and it’s always something that we’re improving on, re-working songs to make them work live and so on. We’re conscious that the strongest impression you can make on an audience is still how you come across live so this summer we’re going to be playing shows in a way that’s much more full of purpose and concentrates on making it an experience that leaves people satisfied. We’re excited about Body&Soul this year as we’ve got two gigs: in the Bulmers Lounge and the Woodlands Stage – the latter of which is at like 3am or something, which is gonna be crazy fun. We’re really excited about that. There’s always a great buzz at Body&Soul and we’ve always had a great response from the folk there. I like to think the kind of music we play hits people in that spot where it chills them out with a nice hit of serotonin but also gets the ‘aul hips shaking.
The six of you have channelled your own individual creative influences into one big mash-up of soulful R&B/Hip Hop goodness with its own distinctive sound. Do you think having so many of you involved in creating your sound is what makes you so unique?
Emmet: That’s definitely a huge part of it. We all play our roles, kind of like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Golden Girls – we each bring our own little neuroses and skill-sets and somehow we usually blend them during the process of working out a new tune without killing each other. More often than not, we all write our own parts, but if for example a drum bit is too fussy or something, there’s no hesitancy in others pointing that out, and I think that makes for a healthy creative environment. I think our egos have all been clattered around the place so much during writing or recording that we’re all able to take notes on board, and besides – if you want to keep your part, you just slowly sneak it back in over the course of a few jams. It’s a microcosm of democracy really.
You’ve described your main influences as the likes of Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, James Brown, Thundercat and Erykah Badu, but you’ve also spoken about a prog-rock influence as well. How do these very different styles work together when you’re in the first stages of making new music? Your music is very soulful, does this genre have the biggest influence on you as a group?
Emmet: I feel like the conscious influences have somewhat evaporated at this stage, even though obviously they’re still playing a role in what comes out of us when we’re jamming an idea or whatever. Usually we’ll just start with a groove, a bassline or keys idea, something like that, as long as it has that initial feel that pricks your ears a bit. Then one of us usually gets a big proggy and wanky and suggest we chop a 16th note off or have the guitar do a little noodley syncopation or something, just to make it a bit more interesting or challenging from both a playing and listening point of view. Then Senita will sit quietly with a notepad while we jam it out, and usually before we even start on structure she’s got hundreds of words written down and at least one really cool hook. The woman is a hook machine. Then we just distil it down, refine it and see what comes out the other side.
You’re touring around Ireland at the minute. How is it going so far? Would you hope to venture into gigging outside Ireland in the near future?
Senita: Ultimately, yeah! I think that is high on the agenda for this year into next year. It’s been on our agenda to add to the widening plethora of sounds we locally associate with Ireland and on another level present that pride and variety to the world. People are paying attention to what Irish artists are doing in the R&B sphere with more curiosity because it holds up on an international level, and we are aware of that and building towards playing some gigs in the UK and wherever else would be viable.
In some of your upcoming gigs you’re supporting Billy Ocean. If you could perform with any musical act, living or dead, who would it be? Are there any artists you would like to collab with in the future?
Senita: I would definitely like to get a chalky producer to warp up some of our tunes or give us a beat to re-interpret but specifically made for us- someone like Kaytranada, MNDSGN, or Knxledge…they’d mess it up the right way!
Your writing so far has been focused on quite specific subjects, covering topics from the idea of womanhood to fears of getting old. Are topics of identity important to you in your writing?
Senita: I guess those songs were meditations in some way on where I have been at, or how my friends and I behave. I have also covered appreciating and acknowledging friendship while you have it in light of a number people moving away…I just write about how I am I suppose and what’s on my mind. Identity definitely is one that I come back to a lot of the time, because it’s probably the most honest question that I can ask myself or anyone else. I am not an absolutist, so I like to document how I or my environment shape shifts and talk myself through why and how it is doing so and whether that affects me.
The video for your new single ‘Our Own Way’, starring Timmy Creed, really captures the essence of a ‘sesh’. Is this part of Irish culture something that’s important to you as a group?
Emmet: In the sense that we love the odd (very often) sesh, it is very important to us as a group. We go to parties all of the time with each other as a sort of synergistic team building, going forward. Of course, it can be detrimental to ‘real life’ when one constantly parties like its 1999 (although who can turn down drinking cans of Bavaria in your primary school uniform?), especially as you have growing commitments as you get older. The video doesn’t really have a particular message which we kind of intended (partially because we knew how difficult it would be to follow a narrative timeline in real life house party), it’s just an attempt to appeal to that feeling that pops up from time to time at these kinds of events where you just start to question whether you should be there or how you’re actually benefitting from it. At the same time, it’s not like drinking and whatnot isn’t fun anymore, it just changes over time and becomes a bit less common. The whole concept was written by a friend of mine Shane O’Sullivan (plays with Elk) and it just jumped out as us straight away because of our own tendencies to enjoy the occasional soirée.
Clichés is released this Friday, 19th May, and you can catch Shookrah on the live stage soon. Keep up to date with their dates here.