Her realm? Kypseli, Athens – the one she, who goes by Sarah P., and bandmate RΠЯ (pronounced RPR) have conceived with their now three-year project, Keep Shelly in Athens. The pair have two EPs and a debut album, and the instrumentation is exquisite; their song “DIY” alone features horn calls, a piano ostinato, and a distorted male vocal sample.
A further sampling of their recorded material shows that their alternative, downtempo sound can be described many ways, but how listeners hear it aurally is only half of the experience.
Two nights ago, the four-piece outfit (Sarah, RΠЯ, and touring members) initiated the other half of the experience, the visual half, for fans at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop. Before the set, we sat down with Sarah to learn more about their background and latest album, titled At Home.
How you think an ambiguous image changes your music? How do you personally envision Keep Shelly in Athens?
Sarah: It all started like that… We were just two blurry people all covered up; we hadn’t figured out what we wanted to do. We had just met and we couldn’t appear before we got to know what we wanted to do and how we wanted to present ourselves.
You and RΠЯ met through friends and he was looking for a vocalist for this project. What about you? What were you up to before you met RΠЯ?
Sarah: I was finishing drama school.
Oh? Do you still do any acting?
Sarah: The last year of school, I got involved in Keep Shelly in Athens, and I’ve been focused on the music project ever since. But I’ve been going to castings lately and [the experience] helps onstage – definitely, because I’m an actress. Our live shows are a performance, not just a typical singing thing.
How would you describe your own sound? Do you even try to classify it?
Sarah: There are so many influences that we’ve got, so it’s hard. All those labels – does it really matter? The thing with music is, if you like it, then you listen to it. If you don’t, then you find something else. Maybe downtempo pop, but then again, it’s not just that.
Do you play any other instruments?
Sarah: In Keep Shelly in Athens, no, but I play keyboard, the piano, and a little guitar and percussion. My favorite’s percussion.
What’s your most personal song?
Sarah: “Room 14,” right off the latest record. It’s very personal.
Is there a song you wish you could go back and tweak a little?
Sarah: If we’re not 100% sure about a track, we don’t include it.
How many tracks were you working with for At Home?
Sarah: 15 or 16? We only discarded a couple. Most of it was written in three months, after a two-month tour, but sometimes we get inspired at the very last minute. We ended up including some songs we wrote two weeks before the release.
I want to know about “Time Exists;” it’s such a strong opening.
Sarah: It’s a very epic tone, I think. We came up with this title whilst touring in Europe after some personal issues that we were forced to face. Sometimes, the dog bites the hand that feeds it. Sometimes, time ends up like that. You want to do a bunch of stuff, but you end up doing nothing. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it works against you.
Do you miss home at all? What’s going on in Greece?
Sarah: Actually, this time, I wanted this album to feel like the best times. To be fun and great and to not feel attached to anything or miss anything from afar… although I’m wearing stones and rings from back home, from my mother and my best friends.
Are you guys bigger in Greece or stateside?
Sarah: We’re not that popular, but we’re becoming more well-known after this album. It’s very alternative, indie in Greece. I like it.
What have you been listening to lately?
Sarah: Everything, really – from mainstream pop, because many people are listening to it, it’s happening right now. But also difficult music. We’ve been playing a lot of Bonobo on the road, because we were playing many shows in the same town with them. We’ve been playing with Chad Valley for a long time, too.
If you can collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Sarah: One of our major influences, the Cocteau Twins. That would be lovely.
Sarah went to change outfits, and then we left for dinner, returning to Rickshaw Stop an hour later to join a growing line of Friday night party hoppers. Most people, we found, had arrived for co-headliner Chad Valley, a happy DJ from Oxford, England, but others were regulars to Rickshaw Stop, there in trust of the venue’s typically indie lineup night after night.
Local five-piece Spells opened, playing their last show in San Francisco for a little while (according to frontwoman Jennifer Marie). Then Chad Valley threw a rad birthday party for live vocalist Pamela Martinez of Brooklyn’s Teletextile.
Thirty minutes later, Keep Shelly in Athens entered inconspicuously, but the effect of their first track, an instrumental piece complete with a backdrop of floating jellyfish, was immediate. With the crowd under their spell, Keep Shelly in Athens tapered off the night appropriately – with a soothing “Oostende”, a laidback “Recollection”; in all, a quiet, reverberating celebration of Saturday morning.
Article and interview by Joanna Jiang