Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The Swedish disco princess Sally Shapiro released her debut album "Disco Romance". She became well-known in disco communities earlier this year with "I'll By By Your Side", which was rated 4.5 out of 5 by Pitchfork Media and was called an "utterly perfect slice of italo synth-pop" in Vice Magazine. It was also voted number 2 of New York's "Village Voice" BEST NEW SINGLES of the last 3 months. But Sally Shapiro is as far from a pop star as you can get.
Sally (whose real name is a secret) is so shy that she refuses to record a music video, perform her songs live, let herself be photographed by someone she doesn't know, or even let her producer be in the same room when she's recorded.
- I still haven't heard her sing one single song from the album live. I was outdoors mowing the lawn when we recorded the vocals, Sally's producer and song-writer Johan Agebjörn says.
Despite Sally's shyness, she has already received splendid reviews worldwide. On blogs she is compared to Annie and Robyn as examples of Scandinavian quality pop. But the sound is above all inspired by Italian 80s disco, and it's in these circles she has received her fans. "I'll Be By Your Side" has during the summer been on the playlists of the European (italo) DJs.
It all began sometime around Christmas 2004, when I and Sally where singing Christmas songs together, just for the fun of it. I noticed that Sally had a very nice italo disco-style voice - sweet and light. But none of us came up with the idea for a musical collaboration...
...until half a year later, when I was listening to a bunch of old italo disco tracks, such as Miko Mission "The world is you", Katy Gray "Hold me tight" and Valerie Dore "Get closer". Normally, I experiment very much when I make music, trying do make stuff that hasn't been made before (or at least not a lot of times before), but now, I felt that this genre of music is just so good, that it's a shame that so few tracks like this are produced nowadays, and that I wanted to see if I could make a song like this.
Being in a very inspirational mood, I wrote "I'll be by your side" in two hours, jotted down the chords and the lyrics to a piece of paper, and decided that Sally would be the perfect person to sing it. A few weeks later I played the song to her on the piano and asked her if she wanted to record it - and she said that she liked the song and wanted to give it a try!
The track was put onto a list of future projects until around Christmas 2005, when I put together the background music for it, using mainly software synths and samples from classical analogue synths such as the Juno 60. Later, the track was mastered on a NAD tape-recorder in order to get a more analogue 80s-type of sound. During the beginning of 2006, we recorded the vocals in my living room with a good microphone I borrowed from my brother. Sally turned out to be very shy - I had to leave the room when she recorded them. Still until this day, nobody has heard her sing the song live!
When we uploaded the track onto a few italo disco forums on January 11th, I felt it was something better than my average stuff, but the response we received was overwhelming. Within 24 hours after upload, hundreds of people had downloaded the track, lots of people had given fantastic compliments (see a selection of them here), Polish and German italo disco forums I didn't even knew existed discussed Sally Shapiro, and two record labels had offered to release it on vinyl 12"! The mp3 was quickly removed and replaced by a one-minute sample, in the wait for a proper release.
Even though the original mp3 had only been available for little more than a day, the rumour continued to spread, the full-length mp3 became sought-after and the song was mentioned on several blogs on the web, such as this one:
"i present to you the best synthpop song of the decade (so far) (...) this song hasn't even been released on vinyl yet, which is a shame. i predict that this song will be a classic. this song isn't attempting to be italo disco. it is fucking italo disco. it's not for everyone, but it should be. simple melodic heaven."
We signed a contract with the enthusiastic Austrian label Diskokaine and, during the following months, a release was prepared: photos of Sally were shot, artwork was being made, remixers were contacted. In the meantime, the track was played on national Swedish radio in a program for "unsigned music and music from small labels" (along with an interview with me), and the local italo disco club Disco Maniac played the song. However, because Sally is so shy, we turned down an offer to perform the song live on the mentioned club, as well as an offer to shoot a music video for the track.
For the B-side, in addition to the remixes being made, we recorded the track "Time to let go", which is also quite true to the italo disco tradition. It doesn't have the same hit factor as "I'll be by your side" but we like it and think it's a worthy B-side. As a second B-side track, I sound-polished a track called "Overload" which I originally made in 2004. It's a cover version of an old Amiga tune with the same name, made by the legendary duo Tip & Mantronix in 1991. My version is an italo disco interpretation of it maybe best classified as "synthesizer dance" or "space synth", and the original mp3 received some good feedback when it circulated on the net.
Techno legend Patrick Pulsinger assisted in mastering the tracks, and the release date was set to May 12th, although it wasn't released properly until in the beginning of July.
On May 12th, there was a release party in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the above-mentioned club Disco Maniac. I played some of the tracks from the 12" in an italo disco DJ set, and some copies of the 12" were sold (including some exclusively signed by Sally herself...).
We thought that the italo disco fans would now buy their records and go home, and it would be over. But it was only the beginning.