Words: Hannah Parkinson (she/her)
Photo: Jessica Meade Photography – @jessmeadephoto on Instagram
Band: @shefuband on Instagram
To understand Shefu’s music is to understand the people involved, as their sound is so inextricably related to them as people. Rose, Alice, Tom, Ross and Shiv – the exceedingly talented musicians that make up the Liverpool rock outfit Shefu – are, at their core, really great friends. This camaraderie shines through into their music, and into their performance, vitally.
‘It’s all very symbiotic’, observed Ross, when I sat down with the band ahead of the opening night of their first international tour, which kicked off at the QMU, on the 21st of September of this year, in support of fellow Liverpool rock band Crawlers. This collective and mobilising energy translates not only behind the scenes, but into the way the band appears whilst performing. A complete sense of belonging – each member of the band looks as if they are entirely at home on the stage – Rose and Alice move around one another effortlessly, as if anticipating each other’s every move. But this I experienced from the front row of the gig hours later, after having sat down with the band in their dressing room before soundcheck. Their symbiosis was clear to me from the offset – their energy begins at the band’s conception, and at the moment their songs are born.
‘Rose is really the architect,’ Alice joked, followed by a groan and a laugh by all, upon being asked about the songwriting process the band engages in when approaching new material. Rose admitted that they are a lyricist, at heart, and that they favour simplicity in their approach to writing new songs. Once a new song is conceptualised in this way, the true ingenuity of what makes Shefu so different begins. The band explained to me that they each write their own parts, in effect, making every member instrumental to the process and lending to their music the expertise of their individual instruments, whilst creating the unique sound we hear in which every member’s energy shines through.
‘Rose is the kind of folky beautiful voice,’ Alice explained, ‘whilst I’m sort of here to bring the jank, to bring the weird.’ Rose agreed, citing how they originally founded the band when Rose, Ross, and Shiv were in a songwriting class together at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (informally known as LIPA), from which the three of them graduated this year. Tom was the next to join, followed by Alice as the latest addition to the band. Already a solo artist under the moniker ‘Gamma Girl’, Alice works on her own music independently from the band too, but said her Gamma Girl material presents a similar vibe, perhaps with a softer edge to the grunge-rock Shefu does so well.
Shefu’s music can by no means be boxed into a simple definition, however, when I asked about the band’s influences, in the way of other artists and sounds, they unanimously agreed at once. ‘The White Stripes,’ Rose answered instantly, ‘Even if you can’t always hear it, it’s there.’ ‘And Blur, too,’ Shiv added, met with agreement from the rest of the band.
I asked the band to recall their favourite performance together so far. Alice immediately responded, ‘the backyard gig,’ met again with agreement from the rest of the band. They described to me the gig with perfect clarity – the sun setting, people leaning over balconies to listen and watch the set, with even someone climbing up onto a roof to take photos. The gig culminated in their very first pit forming in the crowd, dispersing as people slow-danced to the slower numbers, and the crowd being so reluctant for the show to end, that the band ended up playing songs from the start of the set over again, to the joy of the crowd. ‘We were paid in excellent homemade nachos,’ they recalled. ‘The Kaz headline, too,’ Rose added to their list of best gigs – the band having played their first headline at the Kaz Stockroom in Liverpool earlier this year. They told me of this gig and how the venue accidentally sold out past capacity. The band described how, dripping in sweat up on stage, the set list they had written on their arms in black eyeliner began to smudge and run off their skin. Tom relayed to me how the black stars he wore under his eyes (as he had on whilst talking to me and for the gig in the evening) were streaming down his face by the end of the night, running down his cheeks like black tears.
The band told me how they are putting everything into Shefu. With only Alice still an enrolled student at LIPA at present, the band are, in effect, full time musicians, putting their all into their music. Alice mentioned how she has been sofa-surfing over summer, gigging with the band and living with them sometimes, too – though, Ross added, the warmth of an extra body in the house doesn’t go amiss; and the band are used to camping out in close quarters. The friendship and genuine closeness between the band prevails through all areas of their process. I asked the age-old ‘pre-show ritual’ question, met with laughter, telling me that Rose instils the band with confidence with the energetic affirmation – ‘Everyone loves us! This is going to be amazing!’ Alice responds with an affirmative, ‘Yes! Everyone loves you!’ And with that, the band run out on stage.
This is what I had the privilege of witnessing from the barrier, hours later, as Shefu opened the show. It seems an inherently daunting feat – the audience stood rapt and waiting, the first performance of the night, no time to lose. Instantly, Rose bounced onto the stage with an uncontainable energy and started off the set without skipping a beat. The set opened with unwavering vocals from Rose and the characteristic grungy distorted guitar from Alice, at once the two clearly having fun dancing about, facing one another in matching tank tops embroidered with their names, maintaining an infectiously high energy, and obviously having an incredible time up on stage.
This went for the whole band – Ross played with such ease, giving off a cool and collected energy on stage that shone through his stellar musical ability and obvious genuine passion for the music. At no point in the performance did a huge grin drop from Shiv’s face, playing with such a joy that it was impossible not to be uplifted by his love for the music, the band, and the moment. The beat was maintained with incredible energy by Tom on drums, keeping the heart of the music beating through the set with such strength. The crowd responded screaming back the lyrics to their first released single, ‘Chandler Bing’, clearly not only there waiting for the headliners to appear, but fully immersed in Shefu’s set from the opening chord. The atmosphere became even more enchanting as we stood rapt by Rose’s angelic vocals during their most recently released single, ‘Thumb’, a song where the passion and input of every individual band member certainly shines through, as they had told me earlier of their songwriting process.
A standout of the night had to be their new single ‘Butterknife’ (which was released 11th October and can be streamed on Spotify & Apple Music). I asked the band earlier how they would describe the song, and Alice responded that it was, in effect, ‘a happy silly song about depression.’ She also cited her guitar solos (and it is certainly a song where Alice’s musical ability gets shifted to the forefront) as having a strong early-Radiohead-if-Radiohead-did-Britpop sound, which, though it sounds very specific, I could certainly hear later in the evening, as Alice played with ferocity and fervent intensity, falling to her knees in true rock-and-roll fashion (and gaining subsequent bruises to prove this). The set came to a close far too soon, and I could understand the backyard gig’s crowd begging the band to play more songs, to stay on stage. The band are investing their all into the music, and intend to bring out more singles and EP’s soon – which will be met with impatient joy by fans and definitely by myself. I hope to interview the band again when they surely return to play their own headline show some time in the future.