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Nicky Schrire: On Songs, Spaces And Places

Dan Bilawsky By

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You learn so much from recording, and they’re things that you wouldn’t learn doing anything else. You won’t learn them in school; you won’t learn them gigging; and you won’t learn them just playing random sessions with people.
What defines power? That's a tough question to answer in general, and an even harder one to figure out when it comes to the world of music. For in music, a whisper may carry greater weight than a roar, an honest gesture can outdo a demonstration of brute strength and technique, and a direct message to the heart can mean more than a shot of adrenaline aimed at the same place. It's the sonorous David-topples-Goliath scenario, where vocalists with strong artistic inclinations and pure intentions—like Nicky Schrire—come out on top.

Schrire, who was born in London and raised in South Africa, came to the United States to study at the Manhattan School of Music. After completing her studies in 2011, she quickly made a name for herself with the release of three albums in short order. Each one proved different and distinct, yet they all highlight her skills as an artist, interpreter and, increasingly of late, a songwriter. She also proves to be as candid in conversation as she is in song.

All About Jazz: As we speak you're celebrating the release of your new EP—To The Spring (Self Produced, 2014). Can you speak a little bit about how this recording came about?

Nicky Schrire: Yes, I can. It came about after recording Space And Time (Magenta Label Group, 2013), which was a full LP with a bigger budget because of the nature of the project and the people involved.

Two Australians who you've written about—[vocalist] Gian Slater and [bassist] Chris Hale—came to town. They're both so loved within the community of musicians that I like to hang out with, and they did a couple of gigs while they were here. Gian is really a prolific writer, but she doesn't just write. I know a lot of people who write all the time, but she'll actually go and document and record the stuff that she's written. So it's a two-part process where she's writing, and then that material becomes an EP or an LP. She's accumulated quite a remarkable number of albums for somebody of her age and stage. So it was really being inspired by their concerts, and talking with her and Chris, who had just released Sylvan Coda (Which Way Music, 2012), which is beautiful.

They helped to take the mystery out of making an album. Before that, I started to get a little disillusioned by the process. You want to pay attention to details, but I just feel that perfectionism shouldn't kill you, so all of this made me take a step back and say, "what is the purpose of recording anything and why do we write music?" One facet of being a musician is, obviously, live performance. That's the golden egg, but it's something that's so difficult to just do [exclusive of everything else], especially in a place like New York which is so saturated with musicians. Recording is something that you can control and do on your own timeline. You're not at the mercy of someone saying, "yes, you can use my studio" or "no, I don't like your style of music, so I'm not going to let you come in here and record anything."

So after seeing them when they visited, I thought, "you know what, I'm just going to go and really enjoy the process of writing, creating, and then documenting it." You learn so much from recording, and they're things that you wouldn't learn doing anything else. You won't learn them in school; you won't learn them gigging; and you won't learn them just playing random sessions with people. That's why it's such a pity that it's generally such an expensive undertaking. It's unfortunate because I think that a lot of us—a lot of musicians—would benefit from recording.

So coming off of making a full length album, which was the second one; and coming off of seeing Gian and Chris here; and talking with them and being inspired by the music that Gian is creating and Chris is creating helped [me]. I decided I was going to sit down on my bum and write music over a period of time, which was about seven weeks. I'm not usually very good at forced writing. I read an interview with a musician who was speaking about writing every day, and I wish I could do that, but it tends to come at certain moments. For some reason, and I don't know why, I was able to create these songs over seven weeks.

It was very obvious to me that the people I wanted to play them were [pianist] Fabian [Almazan] and [bassist] Desmond [White]. Fabian and I had talked about Indie singer-songwriters and shared notes on people we like and found to be interesting, so I knew that he was interested in that kind of music. And then Des had just put out a singer-songwriter jazz album [called Short Stories (Biophilia Records, 2013)] that he pretty much recorded himself in his own home studio, so I knew that he was interested in that kind of music and I knew he'd be supportive of me putting a toe in that pond.

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