In Conversation with Keep Shelly In Athens
Written by Maya-Rose Torrão
Meet Keep Shelly In Athens, the chillwave duo consisting of vocalist Jessica Bell and the producer/musician only known as RΠЯ. Formed in 2010, this exceptional pair have many feathers in their proverbial cap, including having released three full length albums, three EP’s, three 7″ single and having headlined four North American and three European tours. On top of this, Keep Shelly In Athens have played a slew of acclaimed festivals including Coachella Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Parklife Festival and BottleRock Napa Valley Festival, not to mention many club shows in esteemed venues around the globe.
Although the two musicians have been kept busy with their respective solo projects this year, we can expect new releases from Keep Shelly In Athens soon, following on from their latest EP, that was released on June 15 this year, ‘Introvert’. The latest EP is a chilled-out synth-filled journey of wave and includes topical track ‘Don’t Need ‘Em’, which speaks out against gun violence.
Listen to one of the tracks from Keep Shelly In Athens’ most recent EP, ‘No Looking Back’, below.
We caught up with Keep Shelly In Athens and chatted about sparkly silver outfits, PJ Harvey and living many lives through music.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
RΠЯ: Vangelis and Steve Harris taught me a few years ago the basics about music. After a while I loved listening to dream pop and Chillwave. Now I live my dream.
Jessica: I was brought up in Melbourne, Australia, in the 80s and 90s by my parents, Erika Bach and Demetri Vlass, who founded Ape the Cry and Hard Candy, two of Melbourne’s iconic indie bands. This meant I grew up surrounded by music. The key moment in my childhood which catapulted me into a passion for songwriting was when my mother was about to sell her 12-string guitar to pay for a parking fine. But I thought the instrument looked too beautiful to get rid of, so I made a deal with my mother to keep it. She wouldn’t sell it if I learnt how to play. I ended up teaching myself. Music is in my blood and it always will be.
I’m really interested in your name ‘Keep Shelly In Athens’ – tell me a bit more about that and how it came about. Have you always performed under this moniker?
RΠЯ: Actually the name is a pun to our hometown in Athens from an area I born and raised (RΠЯ) called Kypseli. I played a bit with words and here we are!
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
RΠЯ: I make the basic tunes and then…we add some magic with Jessica…
Jessica: I think it’s fair to say that the sound builds the idea, and visa versa. It’s a very organic process that changes with each song. Sometimes songs turn out to be something we didn’t expect. It’s always surprising and inspiring, right to the very end, for both of us.
What’s on your current playlist?
RΠЯ: Well currently, from A Beacon School and Sleep Radio to Tycho and The Midnight.
Jessica: I’ve recently become hooked on Bryde, London Electronic Orchestra, and Echo Collective. Will always be listening to Le Tigre and PJ Harvey.
You’re no strangers to performing live! Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
Jessica: I love interacting with our fans when we’re performing. I think one of the things audiences most crave is to feel like they are a PART of the experience, not just watching it as an outsider. If they just wanted to watch or listen, they could do that on a screen or through streaming. So I feel we need to offer fans much more during a live performance than just playing the music. It’s different at every live depending on the energy and vibe of the audience, but I always try to find something to talk to them about.
Strangest/weirdest/most memorable fan experience?
Jessica: During our latest European Tour, at Control Club in Bucharest, I spotted a woman in the audience wearing a fabulous sparkly silver jacket. It so happened that I was wearing a sparkly silver dress and they matched. Before we played the last song of our set, I told how awesome I thought her jacket was, that she had great taste, and that she was very beautiful … and before I knew it, I was asking her if I could wear it for the last song. And she was very eager to do so!
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
RΠЯ: Well not something specific. I try to mix all my current and old influences together and… boom!
Take us through a day in the recording studio with Keep Shelly In Athens.
RΠЯ: It’s just us rehearsing or recording the songs. Nothing really exciting unless you are us or a fan…
Was there a specific moment in your lives where you thought, “this is what we want to do”?
RΠЯ: Nope I always knew that music is my whole life.
Jessica: I’ve always known that this is what I want to do. Even during a short period of my life where I tried to pretend I didn’t. But as fate would have it, my dream has ended up chasing me, instead of me chasing it. Now there is no denying it.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
RΠЯ: My… laptop…
Jessica: Haha … I make myself sick on warm water with honey and lemon when playing live. But it looks like I’m carrying a bottle of piss around with me, so I find I have to sometimes explain! It’s the only thing that keeps my throat moist and my voice smooth. No alcohol until I’m off the stage!
Any emerging/unknown/upcoming artists on your radar?
RΠЯ: Actually a lot. Sleep Radio, Bat and Ball, Cellars, Ocean Hope, Kylo, Ash, Fog Lake to name a few.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or not, who would it be and why?
RΠЯ: Liz Fraser, Beth Gibbons, Bruce Dickinson, Thom Yorke, Stevie Nicks , Tracey Thorn, Belinda Carlisle. I really love them as an artists, as personalities and they all have such a great voice!
Jessica: PJ Harvey in a heartbeat. She was a huge inspiration to me growing up. She still is. She is one of those artists that grows with the times, yet at the same time, stays true to herself and maintains a recognizable sound. I would not be the musician I am today without her music in my life.
What gets your creative juices flowing? What gets you in the mood to create music? Whether it be the work of other musicians, art, film, nature etc…
RΠЯ: Through music I’m living many lives and it makes my own better.
Jessica: Sadness. Even if it’s just a memory of sadness. Other people’s music. A beautifully written novel. Sadness. Did I mention sadness?
Any side projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
RΠЯ: I currently make some Ambient tunes via my RΠЯ project and I’m thinking starting something new but… we’ll see…
Jessica: I have a project called BRUNO. I think it’s safe to say that BRUNO is my alter ego, the darker more off-beat side of my personality. You can read more about her here.
You two have been releasing music for some time now – How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
RΠЯ: Nope. The process remains the same for all these years. Some midi keyboards, a PC and lot of Cola’s.
Jessica: When I started out it was all just real instruments. I wrote songs on guitar, banged it out with my band members (my first band was called ‘spAnk‘ back in the late 90s in Melbourne, Australia), recorded the instruments in a studio with all the band. Now I mainly compose electronically using a keyboard and samples, and then build on it from there. I’m still not stranger to the guitar though.
Break down the news for us: what can we expect from Keep Shelly In Athens this year?
RΠЯ: We are extremely excited as we are returning back to our favorite label. We are back at home…!
New music is coming this fall!! Stay tuned!!
Watch Keep Shelly In Athens in action in this live studio session of them playing ‘Game Over (Daniel’s Scene)’ at the beginning of this year, below.