Culted Sounds: Elle Shimada talks about her new music video & being unapologetic 

Culted Sounds: Elle Shimada talks about her new music video & being unapologetic 

by Juliette Eleuterio
8 min
ELLE SHIMADA ©

There are some artists whose sound can be described as experimental, and then there are some artists whose sound you’ve never heard anything like it before. That’s exactly how Ella Shimada’s music can be described. Born in Tokyo and having moved to Australia, Elle Shimada gets inspired from just about everything and anything, which transpires into her music which blends in sounds of her playing the violin, drum & bass, jazz, and other barely recognizable yet enjoyable sounds. 

Her latest single ABOUT BLANK ______, for which the music video just dropped, is exactly that – a medley of bizarre yet satisfying sounds accompanied by the powerful vocals of Rara Zulu. Today, we caught up with the multi-instrumental artist to talk about her latest single, her experimental approach and the feeling of home.

Hey Elle ! How’s it going? Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m just a weird kid from Tokyo block that doesn’t know how to adult. I love travelling, good food and I love to make stuff. I spend large chunks of time daydreaming about things I’d love to hear or see, and I end up making it myself if I can’t find it elsewhere. I seem to find most comfort and interest in music. My childlike curiosity has led me to lots of different paths in the creative sphere, composing, electronic music production, playing violin and synths, vocals, and event curation. Aside from music, I directed, produced and edited my music video recently. That was epic.

Talk to me about your latest release ABOUT BLANK ____. What’s the story behind the song? How did you go about making it? At what point did you meet up with Rara Zulu to get her strident vocals on track?

ABOUT BLANK ______ is my latest single featuring my queen Rara Zulu. It came about from a journal entry about how I find it hard to embrace my feminine side and feel powerful at the same time in professional settings, especially in a western patriarchal music industry. I think a lot of women can relate. Rara Zulu is one of my closest friends, so in a way she was involved even before the song was written. We’d call each other or talk for hours. Speaking to her always made me feel so seen and understood. And I wanted to feel the same way in a wider world, so I created a song about it. Usually making a song forces me to process and organise my thoughts. Rara slayed all that harmony and recorded the epic chorus in just over an hour. She’s a genius. 

The song felt like a movie, with such an emotional theme and a cinematic feel to the production. So we made a film to go with it. Obviously ‘the lack of funding’ was the hardle, so I ended up directing, producing and editing the video myself. I am blessed with an incredible community, including movement director and dancer Bella Waru and my father Tsutomu Shimada and my man Jitwam who have shot the footages on iPhone, alongside 20 + people team who all poured so much love, skills and time into another one of my ‘crazy idea’. Without a community of creatives trusting in me and YouTube tutorials it couldn’t be done, so I’m so excited that we’ve made it all work! It’s a film with a vintage look in a castle, and got this “queen’s joint slay” vibe to it.

ELLE SHIMADA ©

Violinists and DJs aren’t usually two sides of music that get mixed together, except in your case. Where did you get the idea to blend the two?

My grandmother left me a violin, so I picked it up as a memoir for the strongest woman I know. It gave me a voice when I didn’t know how to communicate in English after I migrated. No one knows me like my grandma’s violin (in the melody of Sampha’s beautiful song). DJ-ing was a happy accident, I got offered a DJ / event curation residency at this iconic Melbourne bar Section 8. I’d never DJ’d before but I said yes, because why the f**k would I turn down such a blessing? I was shaking so scared, but I’m glad I said yes cuz it has taken me around the world. 

Throughout your projects, blending opposite sounds seems to be an on running practice, notably in Omnipotent 全能, which contains elements of Drum n Bass and hints of jazz. Do you have an ear for what would sound good together or does this come about through heaps of experimentation?

I often get inspired by things outside of music, like a story, memory, visual art, thoughts I don’t know how to execute with words… I then try to articulate that in my composition and production as best as I can, the result is often a weird mix of things together. For Omnipotent 全能 which is a break up song to a patriarchy, I think jazzy element represented my inner intricate feelings. Then Drum n Bass helped it give the staunchness I wanted to embody in the song. 

Genre-blurring music has been on the rise in the past few years but your music is truly unlike something I’ve ever heard before. How would you describe your own style or genre of music?

No idea. I think I’m too young as an artist to be defined in genre or stick to style yet. The goal is to constantly grow and evolve. Maybe when I’m older and when I look back to the albums of music, there’ll be a common theme and that could help define the genre of my music. 

ELLE SHIMADA ©

You were born in Tokyo and moved to Australia when you were a teen. Do you find that these two places inform your musical style? Are there other places that inspire your art?

Tokyo is an organised chaos just like me. In the Tokyo underground music scene, people get really deep in their craft and perfect their art, no matter how weird it is. Melbourne is more chill, and the sou-jazz scene is very tied in with the community. Both cities shaped me to be who I am now. Other cities that inspired me have to be Detroit, New York, South Africa, New Orleans… I love Brazilian music… List goes on. Also I spent some time in Indonesia recently, and their music scene is inspiring! 

Music isn’t just music to you though. Instead, you use your sound to spread deeper, often political messaging, especially in Home is __, where we can hear you say “Home is in my body where my ancestors rest”. Having left your home country and moved a lot during your youth, did it take a long time for you to come to the realisation that home is not a location but as you say “a feeling”?

My debut album was very introspective. At the time of writing I was thinking alot about how I can feel grounded in a sense of ‘Home’ beyond geographical. It took me a long time to write, because the theme is kind of epic, and it forced me to reflect on a lot of my hang-ups before I could proudly share that with the world. Looking back, I needed all that time to build the home inside of those 8 songs. I feel like that process was integral for me to live through home in my body now. The album wasn’t a commercial success or anything like that, but I feel really grateful when some people tell me that the album has made them feel at home too. That’s like… so epic. Music can be so powerful like that. 

This is something that is carried over onto your Instagram, where you are unafraid to showcase your identity and sexuality. Have you always had an unapologetic approach to self-expression or is that something you have built over time with confidence?

Being unapologetic may come naturally to me. I don’t really know how else to be. If you don’t like me, that’s all okay, I’m not for everybody but I have a small circle of people who love me, and a small fan base that always supports my music. If we weren’t authentic how would we ever know we are loved for who we are? 

ELLE SHIMADA ©

Collaborating has become second nature to you, working with a plethora of artists on various tracks. How would you define a good collaboration?

Eat food with them first. The true collaboration is when multiple ideas come together to make one art. If one party tells another what to do, or one party is just there to serve the other, that’s session playing, not a collaboration. 

With already one single out this year, what else do you have planned for us this year?

This year is going to be the year of breaking out of my comfort zone. On June 9th, I’ll release another single called Mononoke ft. Jamahl Yami and another music video which is super exciting! I’ll be on an Australian tour supporting some dreamy artists who’ve inspired me a lot Flying Lotus, Obongjayar, Liv.e, Alfa Mist in June, before I head off to UK/Europe to perform at We Out Here Festival and tour with my partner Jitwam. After that, hopefully some more creative time and finish off the next album. 

More on CULTED

See: CULTED SOUNDS: ERICK THE ARCHITECT TALKS FAVOURITE BEATS, COLLABORATIONS AND HIS RECENT UK PERFORMANCES

See: CULTED SOUNDS: PEARLY DROPS INVITES US INTO THEIR WHIMSICAL WORLD

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