Sally Shapiro first came into our lives way back in 2006. This duo, because Sally Shapiro is a duo, made up of ElectroPop producer extraordinaire Johan Agebjörn and an blissful unnamed singer whom we shall henceforth call Sally (to avoid (or create) confusion), have put out some of the most exciting, listenable, Italo-Disco tinged ElectroPop records in the last decade. Released today is album number three, Somewhere Else, that has already spawned the acclaimed singles What Can I Do? and Starman, the latter featuring a guest turn from Toronto’s Electric Youth.
The album is a thrilling excursion through poppy, dancefloor friendly electronic music with heart. Johan’s beats are always meticulously produced. Clean, shiny and pitch perfect whilst Sally’s sugar sweet, personal vocals tell tails in the most appealing way. This time around the pair have a little help with Anoraak, Le Prix and the aforementioned Electric Youth all doing turns on Somewhere Else.
Sally and Johan too some time out from their album release prep to chat with us about how this unlikely partnership hooked up and what the album holds:
ER: First off, how did you two get together?
S & J: We met in a youth environmental organization back in 2001 where we both worked at the office. But we actually didn’t discover our common interest in 80s disco until 2004!
ER: Did you both come to Sally Shapiro with the same influences, or do you each bring something different with you?
S & J: Johan is more the expert on various genres of electronic music. Sally has a good feel for what is a good and catchy pop song. She can’t really deliver a good vocal performance if she’s not into it. In the beginning, it felt like poppy 80s disco was the only thing that worked for both of us, but we think that we have broadened a bit since the start.
ER: I always feel that there is a 60s British Pop influence to Sally Shapiro songs, in a kind of Saint Etienne way. Is that the case or do you think there is just a 60s Pop influence in classic Swedish Pop in general?
S & J: We don’t think that the 60s are a conscious influence, but we listen to British pop like Saint Etienne and Belle & Sebastian for example. “What Can I Do” was very inspired by Belle & Sebastian.
ER: With so many good ElectroPop artists coming out of Sweden, and the music seeming to be the more dominant form of Pop there, do you think there is a reason for ElectroPop finding it’s spiritual home in Sweden?
S & J: We don’t know. When we grew up it was not like that, Sweden was a guitar country and far behind the UK when it came to appreciating electronic music. But Sweden was also early a very computerized country so maybe that’s a reason.
♫ Sally Shapiro – What Can I Do?
ER: Where does the name Sally Shapiro come from? Are we right in thinking Johan chose it? Is it named after anyone?
S & J: It was Johan’s suggestion to use a pseudonym in the tradition of Italo disco stars like Valerie Dore and Katy Gray. It’s not named after anyone, but we wanted a name that sounded English, with a surname that was not too common and not too uncommon. And then the first name should begin with the same letter as the surname, and it’s beautiful with names that end with a y, isn’t it?
ER: Sally’s said she has no interest in being a Pop star. When you originally wrote songs together was it with the intention of the public hearing them, or just for fun?
J: Well the goal was to make a track for fun and hopefully that someone wanted to release on a 12″ record. But we never thought it would reach out to more than the Italo disco fans and vinyl collectors to be found on various forums on the internet.
ER: Were you surprised with the reception Disco Romance received, and how fast it became a hyped record?
J: Yes, though it actually didn’t become hyped that quickly. At the very beginning, the distributor complained that it didn’t sell so well. Then Pitchfork rated it “best new music” and everything changed, it got re-released twice and licensed to different countries. But the whole process of re-releases and finally two remix albums based on the tracks took one and a half year.
ER: And now, three albums later. How would you say your sound has changed since the first record?
S & J: It’s a bit more varied, we’d say, but still grounded in 80s disco, which is still the ultimate genre of music. But these days we take influences also from trance, euro dance, IDM, jazz, electronic funk, indie pop etc.
ER: Is there a theme that runs through Somewhere Else?
S: There’s a theme in all our music, we think, about melancholic longing and hope. Hoping that something will be better, maybe in a different place, somewhere else.
ER: How did the collaborations on the new album come about?
S & J: Johan released the album “Casablanca Nights” in 2001 with a lot of collaborations, so he’s got quite used to working with other producers and he likes it. He works with Le Prix a lot, sometimes they meet in Stockholm but mostly via the internet as we live in Lund in Southern Sweden. The collaboration with Anoraak was originally Anoraak’s idea and a different version of that track appeared on his album a few years ago, we’re really happy with the track and wanted to release this version too. The collaboration with Electric Youth was our idea as we really like them. Both those collaborations were carried out through the internet, we’ve never met them…but it would be nice! Apart from the collaborations mentioned here, there are also lyricists, co-writers (frequently Roger Gunnarsson) and guest musicians involved on the album.
ER: How does the writing and recording process work for Sally Shapiro? Is Johan allowed in when Sally’s recording now?
S & J: No, Johan is still not allowed in. Johan is the composer and producer, sometimes together with other songwriters and producers. When he has something almost finished he plays it to Sally and gets some feedback. We then write the lyrics together, and the vocals are almost always the last things that are recorded before finally mixing the track.
ER: Is there a favourite synth or bit of studio kit.
J: Not really, it shifts. Yamaha DX-7 wasn’t used before this album, it can sound really smooth. Earlier there were a lot of sounds from the Roland Juno-60 and Jupiter-4.
ER: If money was no object, what synth would you love to own?
J: Elka Synthex.
♫ Sally Shapiro – Lives Together (Johan Agebjörn Dub)
ER: Are there plans for Sally Shapiro beyond Somewhere Else?
S & J: Not which are official right now.
ER: Are Sally Shapiro more of a full cooked breakfast, or bowl of cereal kind of duo?
S & J: Bowl of cereal probably. Sally drinks coffee, Johan drinks tea.
Many thanks to Sally and Johan for speaking with us.
Sally Shapiro’s Somewhere Else is released today in the UK and tomorrow in the rest of the world. It comes highly recommended.
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