VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today we’re featuring a double EP comprised of Fruit and Love and Ownership, London-based Sharky’s debut and sophomore EPs.
Sharky’s spent a good chunk of her time recently on a bike, biking 18-miles round trip to the school where she works on the other side of London; when she’s not making music as Sharky, she works with 5-year-old boys at one school and teaches vocals and performance to teenagers at another. “I get to listen. I listen to so much more music now, I make playlists before...I've got a little speaker, I'm one of those annoying cyclists. I listen to loads more podcasts, I'm learning more. It's been great. I'm thinking, in all my years in London, why did I never do this?”
She enters our video chat from London against the backdrop of a charming, sun-filled apartment and greets me with a warm and genuine, “How are you? Are you all right, are you good?” While the type of authentic concern once largely reserved for close friends has now become commonplace between near strangers in the wake of the pandemic and global unrest, I get the sense that thoughtfulness seemed to Sharky’s MO regardless.
Much of her catalogue, after all, was born out of a certain degree of intentional thought — out of the habit observing more. “During the time of the writing all of the songs combined, I was beginning to explore a more outward view on the world around me, and following a tricky time that I had finding my feet in my early adult years through issues with my family. I'd become really, really distracted from my education and my personal well being, and when I started to write Sharky I realized I was really turning a corner on that and using those experiences for positive and using my writing as a way of healing. I guess that's what I loved so much about Sharky is it's celebrating the fact that I felt pain, but I'm moving forward positively and trying my best to send out a really positive message,” she tells VMP.
The ten tracks across both EPs are alive with Sharky’s rhythmic vocals, her soulful brand of dance pop, and an arsenal of unexpected earworm melodies that could pacify even the most neophiliac tendencies of the human spirit. Working alongside her longtime collaborators, brothers and production duo Speakman Sound who she says “have become [her] family,” Sharky made both EPs in quick succession, partially inspired by a connection to her plants and the natural world. The result is the sound of vital, contemplative vibrance — the feeling one gets when observing a bustling cityscape from their quiet balcony. Each EP a part of a playful, complex whole that frequently verges on spiritual.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Then I read in a previous interview you did that you've been singing and making music since you were a kid. When did this become Sharky?
I was 26, and I had worked for years with Speakman Sound, who are a production duo, and I went to the studio with them. They were recording with a different band...another kind of stem of one of their projects. It was such an amazing session; I'd been writing at home on my autoharp at the time and making small demos, and I went to the studio with them to do some top line melody stuff and I had the best time. I felt like I was so encouraged, it was so exciting. Then I took them all for a beer and was like, "Can we make music? Can you make my songs sound really cool?" ...That was when I took my writing and everything and went, "Yeah, I actually want to put this out, I want to give it a name and go for it."
Why did you choose Sharky?
When I was a little girl, I was hooked to Shark Week on Discovery Channel. I just loved sharks so much. My dad used to take me in the pub, stand me on the table and say to everyone, I'd be like three, he'd say, "Come on then, George, tell everyone about the sharks." I'd spiel off all my information that I had, tiny fountain of shark knowledge. When it came round to thinking of a name for the project it was a bit of a no-brainer for me, they're my fave.
Do you feel like you emulate that at all on stage?
I don't think about sharks, but without even really meaning to, I'd definitely created Sharky as a bit of a character through the songwriting and through the music and everything. Not an alter ego, but Sharky is a bit more sassy and cheeky and playful. It's definitely something that then I can click into when I'm in the studio or on stage. It really actually does help, and I never really thought about those things, it just kind of naturally happened.
What kind of music did you grow up performing and listening to, and do you think it shows up in your music now?
My mum and dad used to make me enter every karaoke competition on every holiday and sing either I Will Always Love You or a Janet Jackson song. When I was little, I would drive around in the car with my mum, she had a Ford Capri convertible thing and we would drive around and listen to Janet Jackson. I feel really, really inspired by that music now, it's still today it's my favorite album and I draw a lot of inspiration from her, her vocals. She's got such a gorgeous little percussive, sassy voice. She's great, I loved her as soon as I heard her. That was a real big point of my early listening.
To be performing “I Will Always Love You” and Janet Jackson songs as a child at karaoke, that has to be so formative. Most people wouldn't take on those songs now. I guess when you're a child you're more confident.
Anyone's going to do Whitney, it's at five years old.
You play autoharp. I'm just curious how it shows up in your process and in your work?
Autoharp is a really simple instrument to play, you basically, it's what it says on the tin. You press a button and it mutes the strings that you don't need to make each chord, so I can sit down and write a song really quickly because it's such a quick process and an easy process.
A lot of my song ideas either come from my autoharp or keyboard, I play a little bit of keys. I'll [write on] those two instruments, take my demos to Speakman Sound and Studio, and we'll build it up from there. Normally, it will come out of the production. Maybe my song will start with autoharp, but I don't think there's one song yet that has it in, I think...It's a beautiful instrument, it sounds so magical. It's just not made it to a track yet. I'll make sure it does though.
If you were able to choose the listener's environment, where would you say? Like most ideally, if I'm dropping the needle on a Sharky record, where would you like me to be?
Well, my answer is really appropriate to our current times. At home, sun setting, a really nice drink in hand. Doesn't have to be alcohol, like I really love orange and soda water, that's great. On vinyl, of course.
When I hear your music, it's so danceable, and of course there is nothing like dancing at home, but I am curious why you chose that?
Well, I mean, I guess really, if I'm being really honest with you, it's because currently we can't go to a bar. If we were in normal world, I would definitely say: in the bar with your mates. I'd say some cool bar, with some great speakers and some really good cocktails.
The two EP's that we're featuring, they were released maybe [eight] months apart from each other. Did you intend to release Love and Ownership so quickly after Fruit? What was the timeline of making the songs on these EPs?
It's really funny, it's really funny that this question has made me really laugh at myself and maybe learn something about myself because I felt like it was such a long time. I was like, "Oh god, I need to get some music out," and it's made me realize that I'm quite antsy, I think. I wrote and recorded Fruit in 2018. Then during that time I was starting to write Love and Ownership, the song “Morning Glory,” which is another song on the EP. Then yeah, 2019, I wrote Shade and Storytelling, they came really quite last minute for the whole EP. I think I thought it was a long time, but actually I was just very keen.
The track “Storytelling”— I think it hits pretty hard right now. I was listening to the lyrics: “could this be the most serious / the window of urgency.” What was your original concept behind that song, and if that song's meaning, or even any of the meanings of your songs, have shifted or how you view them has shifted in light of recent events?
So “Storytelling” is inspired by a chapter called Storytelling in a book by David Wallace Wells called “The Uninhabitable Earth.” There's a certain line in it, which I've written down here, I'll read it to you, that resonated with me so deeply. He said, "We have responded to scientists channeling the planet's cries for mercy as though they were simply crying wolf." It really struck me, that line, and I wanted to write something that was inspired by his words. That's how the song came about, but I think even in this time, the meaning still rings more true than ever. Lockdown on a global scale has given us the opportunity for introspection due to the world having to completely slow down. There's so much positivity to be taken from that.
It sounds like both your work and your process is really melody lead and driven. Would you say that's correct, and could you talk about your relationship with melody?
Yeah, 100% I agree with you. All of my songs are made from a melody initially, so I usually have a little idea and then I sing it into my phone. Then work on it later on in the week, harmonize it and build a song around that melody. It's super important, I love to sing and I love to be playful and try new things with my voice. Sometimes try notes that I'm like, is that even going to work? It's fun, it's great, and it's really, really important to the song writing.
There's a lot of playful experimentation in your work, but it's also this very accessible and infectious — it does have that pop quality to it. Do you prioritize one or the other when you're making it, or are you striving for a balance?
The melodies always come through quite quickly and I build the song around the melodies. I guess I naturally go for a balance between, I really like a structured melody that makes you go, “This is home, this is the melody that's home.” Then a bit of a wander off, which I think probably reflects the way I meander off a lot of the time in my own brain, then bringing it back to that home melody.
How is your life both in general as a person and as an artist, a creative, look differently nowadays compared to your pre COVID life, and how has it impacted your relationship with your music or your ability to create? I was really lucky in lockdown in the sense of my creativity. I've really just went in on lots of ideas, finished lots of ideas, would send the songs to different musicians that I play with and kind of said, "What do you think? Do you want to put some bass on this? Do you want to put some keys on this?" That was really cool, it was a really different way of doing things, because we would normally be in the room together.
I had loads of time to really spend with my music. I made the most of the indoors time, and I guess the biggest change for me personally has been buying a bicycle, because I only ever used to ride my bike on my street when I was a kid, and I wasn't allowed out of the street.
Is this your first vinyl release ever, and if so, how does it feel to be pressed to vinyl? And what's your relationship to vinyl, do you collect it?
I have a few albums of favorite artists, but I don't actually own my own vinyl player. My best friend who I live with, Imogen, has it here, so we put that on. I've got some Stevie Nicks, some PJ Harvey. In 2018, I released two songs, my first two Sharky ever releases on a seven inch vinyl. That was really, really special. This is like, big deal, real big deal for me, I'm so excited.
I've always designed all of my own artwork, so I like to collage and make that piece relevant to the piece of music or the EP. It was really, really fun. The team at Vinyl Me Please are amazing. I felt like they had the whole best interest of making the best vinyl at heart, and it was amazing. It's so creative, really inspiring. I really enjoyed the whole process. We used my artwork for each EP, each side, and the inside is lyrics and different images that I've taken over the last year or so, couple of years. It's really, really special putting that together, a really special experience. I'm very grateful.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.