Freethought Dayton members, Nick and Jason, recently got a chance to chat on Skype with singer, songwriter, recording artist and freethinker, Shelley Segal.
We talked with Shelley about her atheism and her music…. Freethought Dayton members that traveled to D.C. last year will remember Shelley from the Reason Rally.
Our discussion with Shelley started by recalling the excitement we all felt being at the Rally. The cold and the rain could not dampen our spirits on the Washington Mall that day
Jason – “So we saw you at Reason Rally… Was wondering how you enjoyed it… It was a pretty awesome day. Did you have any backstage stories or interactions [that you would like to share]?”
Shelley – “The whole thing really…. I didn’t spend much time back stage because you couldn’t hear the speakers from the room. I was standing on the side of the stage the whole time under an umbrella. Backstage I got to meet Richard Dawkins, Tim Minchin, James Randi, Nate Phelps, and Jamila Bey. That was pretty cool hanging out backstage… I was just sitting on a little couch trying to practice guitar. I tried to play this song and I couldn’t play it… it was just before I went on. I was like ‘Oh my god!”. You just get a little bit nervous… it was building up… My favorite part of the backstage stuff was when Bad Religion were playing – me and Jessica Ahlquist were dancing and jumping up and down and going crazy with Todd Stengel.. we thought no one could see us but we heard later from people in the front that they could all see us and that we looked pretty funny.”
Jason – “So when did you start singing and writing music? Since you were a little girl I guess…”
Shelley – “Yeah exactly. I started singing probably when I was about three, maybe even before that. There’s a video of me singing a Phil Collins song”.
Shelly starts singing the song for us. “When I think of you all I have to…”At this point in the interview, we experience a few technical difficulties. Nick starts singing the catchy tune in a bit of call and response with Shelley. Then the echo problem starts and then feeds upon itself until nothing is left but echo. We all turn off our video feeds. Then, with the aid of headsets, this groovy kind of interview continues.
Jason – “What was it like playing in your father’s Jewish wedding band as a kid?”
Shelley – “I loved it.” Shelly described how it helped her with the nervousness of performing. Her father’s band exposed her to a broad range of musical forms. “It helped me appreciate music” and “it brought me joy”.
Jason – “What drives you and your song writing?”
Shelley – “I’m 25. I’ve been writing songs for 14 years. I always wanted to write.” She described how she would write music as a kind of therapy. She’d feel relieved after writing a song. “It became about capturing the moment.”
Segal will release her two very different albums ‘An Atheist Album’ and ‘Little March’ on February 22 and then spend March and April in America.
Shelley talked to us a little about her experience of co-writing the jazz album ‘Little March’ with Adam Levy. Shelley – “My last producer introduced me to Adam Levy… it was a collaborative effort and my first co-writing experience… We were playing the songs for about a year and recorded it in December. I’m so pleased with it. It’s really different than ‘An Atheist Album’… Shelley said that she’s very eclectic in her tastes. She writes jazz, folk, and blues. “This album is much more bare bones than ‘An Atheist Album'” with guitar and bass… there are even a couple of tracks with her dad on violin.
Shelley described how she has done most of her performances on her own. She enjoys the flexibility of that approach… she says she can “slow down, speed-up,” and interact with the audience. Shelley said that she loves being a “traveling troubadour” but she also misses the energy of the band.
Jason – “Do you ever play with your old band mates?”
Shelley described how she was living in England when she recorded ‘An Atheist Album’ and her old band mates, studio musicians, are touring on their own. She’s looking forward to a reunion someday. Shelley and her boyfriend accompany each other on guitar. They take turns with lead lines and solo bits and use the two guitars for additional layers of sound.
Jason – “Do you ever have a hard time remembering all of the lyrics to a song?”
Shelley – “No. I was a cover singer and played in pubs for years… [I can probably remember] a thousand songs.”
Jason – “What’s your process for writing a song? Do you start with a melody, lyric or chord progression?”
Shelley – “So I try to capture a moment. I’ll come home and start writing…” Sometimes she works on it all at once. Sometimes she focuses on the melody or the lyric first, but lately she says that as her guitar skills have increased, she now often starts by writing the guitar parts first.
Jason – “Who are some of your favorite artists? What music inspired you growing up? Are you particular in listening to certain artists or certain kinds of music?”
Shelley – “I love all music – there’s not a genre that I don’t like. I have my favorite artists. Now I am exploring a lot more. When I was young my dad gave me Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston albums to listen to.” Shelley described how one her first albums, Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’, had a big impact on her. We talked a bit about how anger can be an inspiration for developing material. Beyond the sweet, playfulness of Shelley’s music is also a bit of focused, intelligent anger. Shelley is upset by the indoctrination of the young. She’s unhappy that Australia has public school chaplaincy programs. “That upsets me. I want children to be able to think for themselves.” Shelley talked about how she went to a good Jewish school but she did not learn about evolution during her time there. We discussed the differences between the U.S. and Australia in terms of church-state separation. The proposition: Australians are culturally more secular than Americans. Paradoxically, Americans are culturally more religious but have somehow managed to create a stronger wall between church and state.
Nick – “Do you think there is more hunger for your stuff here in the U.S.?”
Shelley – “Perhaps [atheists] in America feel more isolated.. [perhaps] they feel as if they are the only atheist [in their town].” On the other hand, she said that there are plenty of religious communities in Australia and plenty of atheists feel isolated in those environments as well… “and then there’s Egypt”.
We ended the interview with talk of a possible stop in Ohio. If Shelley adds a date somewhere nearby, we’ll be sure to share that info right here at freethoughtdayton.org. You can find out more about Shelley Segal, her music and her tour on her website.