Hailing from South Africa and New Jersey, indie newcomer Shalom’s music can best be described as eclectic, veering into electro-pop, industrial, and art rock. A Rutgers University alum, Shalom immersed herself in the DIY arts community and started playing bass in a band before branching into solo material. In December 2020, she released a short EP to Bandcamp called the first snowstorm of the year, which eventually got her noticed by the legendary Nebraska indie label Saddle Creek.
After teaming up with legendary producer Ryan Hemsworth (Mitski, Swet Shop Boys) to record a full-length album, Shalom launched the release of her first official double-sided single in June of this year, which included a poignant bass-driven cover of “Agnes” by Glass Animals, and a hypnotic skittering dance pop track called “Bad to the Bone,” with hints of Indigo de Souza and LCD Soundsystem.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Shalom to discuss her unapologetic upcoming album, coming of age as a black woman in a predominantly white and male DIY space, and getting past a nasty bout of writer’s block.
How did your upbringing in South Africa intersect with the music that shaped your life?
I was pretty depressed as a teenager, so music has always been what’s kept me going. My upbringing has definitely impacted my sound because I didn’t grow up listening to any classic rock or anything like that. I’m a pop girly. I really liked radio pop music. A site that was huge for me when I started leaning more indie was 8-Tracks. That opened so many doors for me and began my exposure to other kinds of music. I have the radio and 8-Tracks to thank for most of my taste. A lot of what I listened to in my teens was Martin Solveig, The Weeknd, The xx, MGMT, and I had a big Lana [Del Rey] phase too. The 1975 was also a core band for me.
Tell me about your experience moving to New Jersey and how you got acquainted with the local scene there. How did moving to New Jersey affect your relationship to music?
I lived in the alternative arts community Rutgers. So a lot of the alt kids lived there. I spent a lot of time around people in bands and found people like this everywhere before, so it was awesome to be there. It ended up not being the best experience. My best friend and I got excluded from a lot of the events. But everybody went to shows. There was a band in the dorm called the Off Brand and I was like their biggest groupie. They started taking me to shows and I eventually started going to shows by myself. And then I started booking shows and throwing shows in my basement for three years. And then I finally started playing shows. It was nuts to have gone through that trajectory.
The thing about New Brunswick is that it’s the only home I have in the U.S. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I was born in Maryland, but I don’t have any conscious memory of it. Being a part of such a close-knit community in New Brunswick, everybody knows everyone else, and it’s a really enriching experience. It makes the connection that you have to the music that much stronger. Because it’s not just music, there are real people that you love and care about behind the music.
When did you have your first brush with songwriting and what are some valuable skills you’ve picked up since then?
Maybe age seven or eight. I was always writing little ditties. At one point, I remember being in the kitchen with my older sister and we were looking at a catalog ad for an electronic store. And my sister started teasing me for having a crush on the “game dude” in the ad. And that turned into an hour of us just riffing off each other and making up raps about the “game guy.”
I’ve been writing short stories since grade school. The first way that I identify myself creatively is that I’m a writer. I wrote poetry when I first moved to Jersey and it kind of turned into songwriting when I started playing bass in 2019 and I was like, “Word. Now I have an instrument. Now I can make songs.” And then I played in a band for a little bit and suffered from writer’s block after the band broke up. Once I managed to start writing again, the first thing I wrote was the EP that I put out on Bandcamp and then Saddle Creek noticed it and signed me!
Can you describe what your mindset was when you put out that first EP?
Nothing. Literally, there was nothing going on in there. It was peak 2020 so I was doing these song covers online. I did a cover of “Agnes” by Glass Animals on my Instagram story and the band reshared it. That made me go, “Wait a minute! Maybe I’m kind of good at this.” That was why I put “Agnes” on that first EP and also the reason why I re-recorded it, cause I really love that cover and I wanted to put out a more produced version that didn’t sound like a demo. I feel like the band resharing it was them giving me their blessing.
What has working with Ryan Hemsworth on your upcoming album taught you about collaboration?
That anything is possible and distance means nothing. We started making this record in February of last year and then suddenly it was September and we had 15 songs and it was like, “Whoa! How did we do that?” Ryan is the most chill, ready to listen, understanding person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I don’t really talk like a sane human being and I’ll be like, “Ryan, I need this to sound dirtier, but like sand, not like mud.” And he’ll be like, “Okay, word. Got it.” And then he’ll do it. So it’s really cool that we are able to communicate that way. And I spent some time with him in February, which was our first time being able to make stuff together, which was really cool because we made seven or eight songs in four days. We didn’t really talk too much about it because we were just in the zone. So working with Ryan has been a really great experience overall. I’m really stoked. To continue working with him.
It’s really taught me that collaboration is all about meeting the other person where they’re at. I think everything on the record sounds really cohesive because Ryan and I are on the same page.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
New singles come out in early September and my debut record will be out next year. Thanks for having me!
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