|Let Me Down Easy
|All Looks The Same To Me
Temple, Bassey, MacLaine and now, Hurt; in a world of Shirleys, the name Sophia Ruby Katz has chosen for her music is perhaps prophetic as it captures her stunningly emotive vocal approach. And whilst Shirley Hurt might be the perfect nom de plume for the creative Toronto-based artist, it’s her self-titled debut album which positions her as protagonist of her own universe.
Traversing sonic landscapes, Shirley Hurt’s vocals ebb and flow like lyrical Ley lines tracking the contours of her own well-travelled map. By the age of 18, Hurt had travelled extensively, having lived in upwards of 20 different apartments and houses, as a result never really feeling “at home” anywhere. At this age was when Hurt found herself in New York, dipping her toes into various scenes and musical realms. The first and only place she ever felt at home, and a partial home-base for her, she travelled between Toronto and New York until the age of 26.When the project she was working on in New York reached a dead-end she returned West, moving in with musicians Harrison Forman (Hieronymus Harry, Zones) and Patrick Lefler (Roy, Possum). Being surrounded by their improvising at all hours, a new approach emerged. “Harrison is a virtuosic guitar player, and I hadn't picked up a guitar in any serious way since I was 16,” she says, “by osmosis I started playing again for fun.” Without agenda, the process grew organically from there.
Hurt and Forman decided to travel across the US and Canada in a trailer for half a year, with the entire album written in the final months of their trip. Hurt had been writing loose ideas here and there but felt blocked creatively. When the pair reached Berkley, they wound up house-sitting for a tuned-in friend who recommended she pray, in a very direct way, to remove the block. “I took her advice and to my surprise it worked. The album was conceptualized and finished within a couple of months.” Shapeshifting in tone and phrasing, Hurt’s music alchemizes the furthest corners of experimental indie folk, pop, and country into a singular sound with elegant unpredictability.
Whilst Shirley Hurt’s lyrical and structural ideas may have emerged on the road, the album was self-produced and recorded at Joseph Shabason (The War on Drugs)’s Aytche studio in Toronto’s West End. It was engineered by Nathan Vanderwielen and Chris Shannon (Bart), and Hurt enlisted collaborators Jason Bhattacharya, Nick Dourado, Patrick Lefler, and Harrison Forman to hone her vision. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the songs until we returned to Toronto,” she recalls. “Joseph and I had been talking about working together after sending across some demos and Jason happened to recommend his studio at the exact same time, so everything came together naturally at that point.”
Whilst her most recent adventures may have seen Shirley Hurt bound for Texas as an official SXSW artist (hand-picked by Gorilla Vs Bear to perform at their own showcase), she currently resides in her native Canada, more specifically rural Ontario, close to friends and family, and is already working on her second album. The ties to lineage are interwoven in the fabric of the music. Hurt’s mother, artist Leala Hewak, instilled a lust for life and innate value of creativity in her from a young age as she explored the role of gallery owner, vintage jewellery show host, mid-century modern furniture expert, real estate agent, painter. Hurt’s father, a civil litigation lawyer and new-wave obsessed music lover with an extensive vinyl collection, introduced Hurt to a wide-range of artists at a young age such as Nina Hagen, Laurie Anderson, Tom Tom Club, and endless others.
In her video for ‘Problem Child’ Hurt’s grandmother walks her through a generationally revered pie-making process. One would be tempted to hear this, and other songs, as autobiographical. Yet, Hurt’s lyrics are rarely pulled from her relationships or personal history––at least not consciously. Rather, they arise from somewhere less tangible or defined. “Lyrics tend to come to me when I am doing non-musical things - washing dishes, brushing my dogs, walking to the grocery store. I have a lot of voice memos on my phone and half-filled notebooks and when I hear something, I have to stop what I'm doing to get the idea down. Usually it’s bits and pieces. It's rare a full song comes to me in one go, but it's great when they do, and those are often my favourites.”
Carving out a space of her own in an all-encompassing universe, Shirley Hurt is the introduction to a long artistic story, and if the journey so far is anything to go by, it will be stippled with evermore unpredictable chapters.