“Shilpa Ray is a wailing, fire breathing Cyclops. She tornadoes everything in her path: small towns, big cities, and children’s dreams,” according to her bio by Northern Records – which just released her latest album. And that pretty much sums up this Indian American performer’s personality and the kind of music she creates.
Ray’s latest album, “Door Girl,” which showcases the myriad sounds of New York City, is winning a lot of love from music aficionados.
For this album, Ray, who is a New Jersey native but who has been living in New York City for close to two decades, drew on her experiences living in the Big Apple. The title references to the time she spent working the door at the Lower East Side bar and venue Pianos. And Ray pours all those experiences in several tracks on “Door Girl.”
Some of the song titles on this album are “Shilpa Ray’s Got a Heart Full of Dirt,” “New York Minute Prayer,” “After Hours,” and “Manhattanoid Creepazoids.”
Take for example the song, “Shilpa Ray’s Got a Heart Full of Dirt.” Ray told brooklynvegan.com, “I wrote this song after getting rejected by a record label for not having strong enough hooks. It took me about an hour to write. Then I started making fun of myself by singing the Anthony and the Imperials song ‘Tears On My Pillow’ over the chord changes. It felt so good, I ran with it and wrote it into the song. I guess this is one of those making stuff with lemons stories.”
Or another track on the album, “Morning Terrors Nights Of Dread.” “I wrote that in conjunction to my job, because I still get nervous going into work every day. I don’t know exactly how people are going to speak to me or respond to me, because my job is pretty confrontational. I work as a door girl at Pianos,” she told npr.org. “The song is about city living and the fact that you have very little control over what’s going to happen to you during the day. Most people I know that live here have lived many different lives within the day itself, ‘cause everybody’s hustling and working various jobs... You have that push to work with lots of people at different times, and you just never know what kind of curveball is going to get thrown at you.”
She also makes her directorial debut helming the video for the album’s first single, “EMT Police and the Fire Department.”
Even as a child Ray had an astounding ear for Western music. But when she expressed her interest in learning to play an instrument, her parents suggested she play the harmonium.
When she discovered The Velvet Underground’s first album in a New Jersey library while in middle school, however, there was no turning back.
She told The Daily Times that she started learning those songs on the harmonium, teaching herself to play “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and setting her sights on leaving central New Jersey for the bright lights of New York. And while establishing herself there, she took a number of retail and customer service jobs while she pursued music on the side,
“I’ve worked the service industry forever, starting when I was first living in New York, only then I happened to be working retail instead of a bar,” she told the news site. “Somebody told me once that my life must be interesting, if I was touring with Nick Cave one moment and getting yelled at by a 22-year-old at the door the next. It’s interesting how people treat you and look at you when you’re on stage as opposed to working a door.”
Ray released her album, “Teenage and Torture,” in 2011 on Knitting Factory Records and found her biggest fan in Australian post-punk legend Nick Cave, who started telling music journalists she was his favorite current band, according to Northern Records. Cave took her on tour as support for his alternative rock band Grinderman, recorded the Wiel/Brecht song, “Pirate Jenny,” with her for Hal Wilner’s “Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys II,” and then hired her to sing backup on his Spring 2013 Bad Seeds tour as well as main support for their Fall 2013 U.K. and Europe tour to promote her new four-song EP, “It’s All Self Fellatio,” on his record label Bad Seed LTD. She has also served as main support for Man Man and Acid Mother’s Temple as well as the opening act for Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, and A Place to Bury Strangers.
Watch Ray’s “EMT Police and the Fire Department” music video here: