Exclusive: Q&A with Italio-Disco Princess Sally Shapiro

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As one of the sweetest voices on the Italo-disco scene, Sally Shapiro is also one of the most enigmatic. “Sally Shapiro” began as the project of Swedish producer Johan Agebjörn, who was inspired by ethereal voice of his co-worker. Agebjörn convinced her to record with him, and in 2006, the two released a single, “I’ll Be by Your Side,” under the pseudonym. In 2007, they followed it with an album, Disco Romance

, quickly earning the introverted singer the title of “disco princess” from places like the Guardian and Pitchfork.

Since then, the mysterious — and legendarily shy — vocalist has assumed Sally Shapiro as a pseudonym, and has taken on a bigger role in writing and producing the duo’s upcoming album, My Guilty Pleasure

, (out August 25 on Paper Bag Records). Flavorpill caught up with her (via phone, of course) to talk about her revealing guilty pleasures, and keeping her identity a secret.

Flavorpill: Let’s start with your newest album, My Guilty Pleasure. What’s the concept behind it?

Sally Shapiro: The album is in the ’80s style, but Johan and I wanted to bring in some other influences as well. It’s about longing for people, and the bittersweet feeling of heartbreak. We used the concept of a diary for the lyrics so that they would feel spontaneous. When you’re keeping a diary and you have a feeling you just write it down and you don’t worry about finding exactly the right words to express it. So, we wrote the lyrics with a diary in mind and spent more time focusing on the music, rather than trying to get every word perfect.

We chose the name My Guilty Pleasure because many people, myself included, have ’80s music as a guilty pleasure. It’s the kind of music that you might not be very proud of liking; it’s not the coolest music, but you still like it wholeheartedly. This is that kind of music.

FP: You wanted the lyrics to have the free-flowing feel of the diary, so you wrote them that way as well?

SS: Yes, we have worked on them of course, but not very much. They haven’t changed too much. We decided themes, tried to capture the feelings and just write it down.

FP: Who wrote most of the lyrics?

SS: Johan has written some of them, and I have written some of them, and then we swapped and changed things, or added things. We didn’t sit together to write them, we each worked on our own. It’s easier to work separately on this type of lyrics because it can easily become an ironic thing, and we didn’t want that.

FP: Were there additional influences for this album?

SS: The ’80s influences are the same. Mylène Farmer, a French artist, is probably the main one. We also added a some ’90s stuff for this album; a little bit of house, and Euro disco sounds, but not too much. Just a touch.

FP: As time has gone on your music has started to sound a bit more like pop music. Has this been in response to the DJs who said that your former releases were too hard to remix?

SS: It was partially me becoming more involved in the music. I am the pop-y part of this project, and Johan is more of the electronic, dance music part. Johan has also collaborated with Roger Gunnarsson, an indie-pop writer, on some of the songs. He’s inspired us to write more pop-y things also.

FP: Who are you hoping to reach with this new album? Are you aiming for a new audience?

SS: When we made the first album we thought it would be only for Italio-disco nerds. We found that some of the indie-pop people were also interested in it, so we’re hoping to also reach them with this album.

FP: You’ve gotten a lot of attention by assuming a pseudonym. How has the anonymity affected what you do as a musician, and in the rest of your life? As time goes on do you feel like you are becoming more like Sally Shapiro, or is Sally becoming more like you, or have the two remained completely separate?

SS: I would say that Sally is becoming more like me. When we were making the first album Sally was like a fictional character, who reflected only the most romantic sides of me and Johan only. It’s still that in a way, but now when I answer questions I answer them more as myself. When you ask me a personal question, I answer as me, and not as Sally the character.

The anonymity has made me not really feel like a musician, since I don’t do live gigs, or interact with many people in the music business. I feel very much like I did before, and not like an artist. If I wanted to feel more like an artist, I might work on doing a live performance, or meeting more people. This is a choice.

FP: Many people dream of being famous musicians. Why have you chosen the anonymity?

SS: It’s two things. I am too shy to do live concerts. I feel nervous just thinking about it. I think it would take me a lot of energy and time to overcome that, and do a really good live show. The other thing is that I don’t really want to tour. I want to have a home, and be there most of the time, going away like normal people do for vacations, and away on the weekends and so on. I don’t want to go on tours for half of every year.

FP: Was it ever a dream of yours to make music?

SS: No, I wouldn’t say that. I’ve always liked to sing and play guitar, but I had never thought of releasing anything. It’s been really fun though.

Downloads:

Sally Shapiro: “Love In July” From the album My Guilty Pleasure (Paper Bag Records) [audio:http://www.paperbagrecords.com/mp3s/Sally_LoveInJuly.mp3%5D

Sally Shapiro: “Miracle” From the album My Guilty Pleasure (Paper Bag Records) [audio:http://www.paperbagrecords.com/mp3s/SallyShapiro_Miracle-albumversion-128.mp3%5D