Shhe’s winter’s tale - Su Shaw on swapping the Scottish east coast for Iceland
For many Scots, winter is a reason to wrap up warm ahead of potential snowstorms and dream of next year’s summer holidays.
For Su Shaw, a Scottish winter must seem like a tropical paradise, the singer choosing instead to head further north for Iceland, largely isolated, on a sound and music project entitled DYRA, named after one of the largest fjords in the Westfjords and supported by Creative Scotland.
“The project explores the connections between sleep and sound and landscapes,” she explains.
And the isolation if nothing else focuses the mind. “I’ve been spending my winter here, when the weather is at its most extreme and travel is almost impossible,” she says.
However, for now Shaw’s main concern is with matters closer to home – a new album, released under her pseudonym Shhe. Fans will be familiar with her as solo songwriter Panda Su, but her new guise offers the chance to break from that more traditional songwriting process.
“I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to create for this project,” she explains, “and I also wanted things to be more experimental.”
Shaw’ distinctive writing style is to the fore on the self-titled seven-track album, as she melds delicate vocals with carefully constructed soundscapes. But as well as the record’s intimate, but at-times austere feel, it seems that her time in Iceland may also have affected her working patterns.
“A lot of the album was recorded late at night or early in the morning. I like working at those times. It’s not as easy to be flexible when you have studio time booked in so I decided to set up my own studio at home instead and produce the tracks there myself.
“That’s probably the biggest departure from past music projects, being in much more control of that process.”
That and signing to one of the UK’s longest-standing indie labels, One Little Indian, at one time or another behind records by The Shamen and the Alabama 3, and still home to Björk.
But despite this independence, Shaw has in fact been more open to collaboration on the new recordings, including using producer Robin Sutherland, also known for work with The Hazey Janes and Randolph’s Leap.
“It was great to work with Robin again,” Shaw enthuses. ”We have collaborated on projects in the past – I recorded some early Panda Su tracks at his studio in Dundee. He’s now based out in Finland, where he has a studio.”
Indeed, although Shaw did the recording and production at home, finishing the album was much more collaborative. “Robin was in Finland, Heba Kadry mastered the album in New York and I was back in Dundee.
"So we were all working across different time zones which felt kind of fitting for the record.”
Shhe’s other-worldly qualities mean that although Shaw’s accent is distinctly Scots, the international flavour of the collection shines through.
“I was born in Scotland and I’ve lived here my whole life but I’ve never felt that my music had a distinctively Scottish sound. My mother was born in Portugal so I’ve spent a lot of time there since I was a kid. That’s definitely had an influence.
“My heritage is something I’m proud of and it’s been great to work on some projects over in Lisbon this year.”
And you can hear the care taken over her album – a compact 35 or so minutes in length, it fits nicely onto 12” vinyl.
“When I listen to an album, I like to listen to it in its entirety. I made this album with that in mind.”
Shaw puts her new collaborative spirit down to her move to Dundee – having lived in relative isolation in Fife for some time, a relationship breakup saw her move to the big city up the coast around eight years ago.
“ I’ve met really great people since moving to Dundee and I’ve enjoyed collaborating much more.
“I lived in the countryside for eight years. It was beautiful and it was peaceful. But it was also a solitary existence.
But for now as winter approaches, it’s back to Iceland again. However, Shaw is looking forward to her self-imposed isolation.
“I get snowed in a lot,” she smiles. “I like it.”