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Sally Shapiro & I share the guiltiest of pleasures: our mutual love of a certain French chanteuse, Mylène Farmer. As if by coincidence, my discovery of Farmer was in the same week of interviewing Sally Shapiro; meaning that now I will always have some sort of mental connection between the two. This connection is not arbitrary. Farmer has been overly-protective of her identity since the late nineties and exists almost as the French “metaphor” for chanteuse – much like how Sally Shapiro is the anti-hero of the nu-disco scene. Like Farmer, Shapiro’s fervent inability to play the game has lead to an esoteric fascination with her, the pathological shyness, her thinly adroit singing, her profile in the barely-there promotional pics, how she records alone – I could go on.
On one level it could be argued that this tenacious attempt at privacy and solitude is the most un-disco of attributes – shouldn’t disco be the most social and wildest of experiences? Maybe. But, by not giving away anything, Ms Shapiro (not her real name – that is a secret) is facilitating the wildest of disco dreams – the romanticism inherent in the ability for her fans to construct their own fantasy about and around her. This will be helped by the recently released album My Guilty Pleasure on Munich label Permanent Vacation. Her second album after ‘Disco Romance’, a more confident and, at times, forceful Sally is on display here, perfectly complimented by the synth-obsessions of Johan Agebjörn. Tracks like My Fantasy and Looking At The Stars percolate with arpeggios and sparkle whilst appropriating elements from late Eighties house.
There is a darker undercurrent on ‘My Guilty Pleasure’, it is more dynamic and expressive – it moves beyond the ever-joyful stoicism that so badly afflicts Italo disco. The album also represents an opening-up of the Sally Shapiro project on some level with the additional production of Tensnake and the collaboration with Cloetta Paris. Recently it seemed like Sally Shapiro as a live act may be a possibility, what with the recent DJ gigs they undertook as part of a North American tour. However it seems that this is just as fanciful as the Sally Shapiro we’ve all created.
What is the dynamic between Johan and yourself on ‘My Guilty Pleasure,’ has it moved on from you singing on your lonesome? Do you feel more confident second-album in?
Yes, I’m more confident compared to the first album. In the beginning Johan had to talk me into recording for each song; that could take days, now it’s luckily not like that anymore. But I still don’t let Johan into the room when I record.
You’ve also collaborated with Tensnake and Cloetta Paris on the new album, on ‘Disco Romance’ there was certain fascination of the interplay between Johan and you. Are you now opening up the ‘Sally Shapiro’ project by collaborating with other artists? How do you think this affects the music?
We’re opening up the project but not so much. Tensnake guest-produced Moonlight Dance and Cloetta Paris wrote a song and provided backing vocals for another, but mostly it’s still Johan and me. Roger Gunnarsson co-wrote a few tracks and this probably affects a lot of our tracks to become more of 3-4-minute pop songs than stretched-out dance tracks. But we still see the project as consisting mainly of Johan and I.
Since ‘Disco Romance’ there has been a proliferation in disco-orientated acts, it’s even permeating the pop charts; do you think this is a good thing for the genre? What are your thoughts on this?
Not so many thoughts, really. They might be disco-oriented but disco is a very wide concept, we don’t see ourselves doing the same thing. We’re more into the romantic, melancholic, less-bombastic side of disco that seems to have less chart potential.
In every interview I’ve read there seems to be a fascination with your shyness, it is almost as if it is part of the package – you get the impression your fans would be disappointed if you started to lose your ‘mystique’?
A lot of them seem to be disappointed that I don’t perform live, but I don’t know. I think that not giving away too much of your personality can be a good thing, because then you can imagine what you want. Maybe some people would be disappointed if I didn’t turn out the way they had imagined me.
I feel like your voice sits well with the French chanteuses, I know you cite Mylène Farmer as one of your influences, what is it about her voice that appeals to you?
It’s difficult to explain what it is. It’s the sound. I sometimes listen to her before I record, to get in the right mood. There are more French artists like that…Elsa for example.
Has it also got to do with the sense of mystery she [Mylène Farmer] has created around her?
No, I don’t think so. Personally I’m not so interested in the private lives of artists. Maybe that’s also why I don’t want to share my private life – I don’t see the point, the music is enough, as I see it.
You seem fixated in nostalgia – from bonding over Christmas songs to your appropriation of the term ‘Guilty Pleasure’ to your love of ‘Eurovision’? Do you find comfort in the past more than the future?
In a way, yes. I do often dream away in the past, however, it’s not always comfortable. Both Johan and I are very nostalgic people. We loved the 80s-nostalgy film “Music & Lyrics” (with Hugh Grant & Drew Barrymore), for example. I don’t know why, of course because we grew up in the 80s, but other people who grew up in the 80s are less nostalgic about it.
The remix project(s) of ‘Disco Romance’ were really varied and a perfect supplement to the album, particularly the Lindstrom & Tensnake remixes, is this something you’re considering for ‘My Guilty Pleasure’?
It seems like people are expecting it, and producers want to make remixes, so why not. But I don’t think we’ll release as much as two remix albums this time that was kind of mad!
Is your love of the remix an 80s obsession?
I wouldn’t call it an obsession, but it’s interesting to hear how a song can sound completely different.
How did you go about selecting remixes, was this artists Johan liked or did you work together on selecting the remixers?
Mostly Johan, as I’m not so much into checking out producers and stuff. Sometimes the record labels have ideas too, and sometimes it’s just someone who contacts us and want to make a remix.
Since you record the vocals alone, have you ever disliked/disapproved of the way a remixer has presented/changed your vocal?
Yes, once a remixer pitch-shifted a vocal so that I sounded drunk or something. I got it changed in the end though.
You’re based in Sweden although released on various European & North American labels, how has Sweden (and Scandinavia) warmed to your brand of Italo disco?
A few indie-poppers seem to like it, and it seems like this second album will go better than the first one. I think that without the international attention we wouldn’t have been recognized though.
‘Disco Romance’ was awarded “worst cover of the month” from Vice US and you seemed almost pleased about it, any attempts at deliberately “bad” cover art this time? I know you’ve worked with Geoff Wilson?
The first few twelve-inch singles and the first edition of Disco Romance was supposed to look cheap 80s…but now we’re a bit tired of that, because the music is meant seriously and we don’t want the cover art to be ironic. Now the cover art is more luxurious 80s, like Sandra. It’s made by Mathias Schukert in Berlin.
What are the plans for promoting the album, will you tour or do anymore DJ dates like the recent North American tour?
No, I won’t do any more DJ dates. I tried but didn’t feel that standing on stage was my thing. I won’t do much promotion for the album. Actually in many ways we are a nightmare for record labels from a promotional point of view. Bands who tour sell much more albums. So you can be sure that the record labels releasing this album are really into the music!
If you wouldn’t play live would you consider using a performer to lip-sync in your absence, this was particularly prevalent with Italo disco – à la Valerie Dore? Or can you, equally, not let go of your work in that way?
I’m not so much into that idea, I don’t think people would appreciate it that much either – it’s a bit funny with all the 80s disco artists who did that, but the few times fans found out about it, they were really angry… We’re not into fooling people.
Lastly, what’s your favourite guilty pleasure?
Hugh Grant movies. I can watch the same Hugh Grant movie embarrassingly many times.
If you like mysterious disco, you probably really like the Golden Filter , whose records we release.