Soulful and honest, STAV. (Stav Shaul) writes thoughtful, uplifting songs in English, Hebrew and French with soaring melodies and bursts of rhythmic fire. She has Iraqi-Polish roots, was born in Israel and raised in a small town in NSW, Australia. An expressive voice and a natural affinity for guitar, her live performance brings this songwriter’s introspection, playfulness and raw passion to life. STAV answers some questions for Hi Fi Way.
What’s the latest for STAV. at the minute?
The past six months, we have been gigging non-stop, from the Poison Remedy single launch, to Woodford Folk Festival, then the Canada tour and back to Port Fairy and the National Folk Festival. Now I’m back in Melbourne, teaching, performing, starting and finishing new songs and planning to record again. Now that I’m not constantly on tour, I’ve got time for other things, for example I’ve started a mixed futsal team and have been spending more time gardening.
How much of a challenge is it singing in English, Hebrew and French?
Singing in three different languages might seem challenging because even though Australia has always had an incredibly rich linguistic tapestry, it’s not common to speak multiple languages in mainstream Australia. For me, I think the real challenge comes from expressing who I am across cultures and languages in a way that is true to me as an evolving ‘third-culture kid’ while not claiming to represent entire nations.
Like other bilinguals, I grew up switching between the two languages – even mid-sentence – so English and Hebrew come most naturally to me. With French, I still check any lyrics I write with a native speaker. The challenge is keeping it in my daily life now that I’ve ‘finished’ studying, and keeping my confidence up especially since people usually come up to me after shows speaking to me in any of those languages, so I need to be ready at any time.
How does that work live, do you have to practice a lot?
Both language and music are infinite; I know that the more I practice, the more I discover. Sometimes I stream radio stations from around the world to stay up-to-date and I’m currently reading my second novel in Hebrew which is super satisfying. I grew up speaking it as my other first language but did my schooling in Australia so ended up teaching myself to read Hebrew with the help of family and friends.
How would you describe your music style?
Musical paintings? Provocatively direct and introspective? I don’t have a set way of writing songs but since I was a kid, songwriting has been a way for me to process my life or the world. Someone once joked that it was ‘gently obnoxious’, others have said that it’s like ‘getting into a warm bath’ or ‘the river melting in spring’, while in Canada, a Toronto-based radio host reviewed our festival show there, labelling me as a ‘captivating folk fugitive’. It’s probably better if you listen to it or come to a show and decide for yourself…
Who would you consider to be your biggest influences?
Ugh too many to list! My family, my choir teacher from primary school and my biggest musical influences are probably Suzanne Vega, Lena Chamamyan, Idan Raichel, Lianne La Havas, Tété and the vibrant Melbourne music and spoken word community. Since moving there from a small-town in NSW where I grew up, it’s been a huge growing experience. I also did my exchange semester in Barcelona. I’ve been lucky to have grown up between many different cultures and perspectives.
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given so far?
‘The symptoms for nervousness and excitement are the same; the only difference is that the first one comes from a negative mindset, and the second one comes from a positive one. It makes sense to feel emotions if you’re sharing something you care about’.
How much of an honour was it receiving the Folk Alliance Young Artist of the Year?
I am proud of how much we have achieved throughout the year as a result of receiving the award, including recording and releasing a new single, Poison Remedy, performing at Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass, Woodford Folk Festival, Cygnet Folk Festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival, Blue Mountains Music Festival, the National Folk Festival and an international tour to Canada over the month of February. It was like being given destinations and having to figure out the logistics of how to get there. I met so many people and doing so many shows to audiences of all shapes and sizes really gave me the opportunity to develop my performance skills.
Usually, I’m not a very competitive person so it felt strange being compared to the other five artists who were nominated. I’m grateful for the opportunities but also for all the people I’ve had the chance to meet as a result of it, including Jo Davie who was runner-up for the award. In was inspiring performing alongside her project at some of the festivals.
With your album The Horizon Line what were the key messages about migration you really want to push?
The album artwork is an image of me painting a thick, blue line on a wall and I love the idea that you can find the horizon line anywhere, just by going outside, painting it yourself, or visualising it in your mind. Have you ever noticed how sometimes it’s not a distinct line and the water or landscape blurs into the sky? For me, that kind of feels like a representation of the relationship between life and death.
My story of migration is intricately woven into everything that I am but I think the main themes of the album are knowledge and communication and the limitations and possibilities of both. It’s a coming-of-age album that explores how we can find comfort in solitude and in the company of others.
No matter where in the world I am, when I’m looking out at the horizon line, I’m reminded that even though there is always more, it’s all connected. In some ways it’s unsettling and calming at the same time. I was born in Israel, grew up in a small town in NSW, Australia and have Iraqi-Polish roots of Jewish heritage so I’ve always experienced these layers of belonging and otherness.
I’ve only retained parts of those cultures, I guess due to various forms of assimilation and persecution in my family’s history. I don’t think you have to lose one culture in order to gain another, but to some degree, this is often what happens. I think it’s important to preserve culture especially when it’s not recognised in the mainstream of the particular society, or societies, you engage with. I’m still figuring out what I identify with and sometimes there are conflicting values and ideas but ultimately I believe that people can connect no matter where they are from. Realistically, it had better be sooner rather than later because of the global climate emergency and, with reference to the ‘best piece of advice’ mentioned above, I am excited about the new developments in more economic forms of communication, transport and energy.
How was the process of making the album?
It was incredibly rewarding having the final physical copy in hand for the first time after recording and mixing at Pughouse Studios with Niko Schauble, mastering with Adam Dempsey and dreaming up the album artwork with Oscar Davies, Tom Riley and Maggie May all in just two weeks. It was ready just in time for our tour from Melbourne to the Bello Winter Music festival in the middle of my undergraduate degree in languages.
We had been performing regularly as a four-piece band for two years (Isaac Gunnoo on double bass, Hannes Lackmann on drums, Esther Henderson on violin and backing vocals and me on nylon-string guitar and voice) and wanted to capture that. We recorded it all ‘live’ and ended up including our friend Jared Becker on saxophone for two tracks and overdubbed some harmonies too. There have been quite a few times in my life where I’ve pushed myself beyond my supposed limits and that was definitely one of them but it was totally worth it and the responses to the album and our shows have been overwhelmingly positive.
What’s in store at your live shows?
Every show is different and we love that because it keeps the music alive. Soulful harmonies, intricate rhythmic fire and musical paintings with the dynamic energy of the full band, as well as conversations about culture and language…
Interview By Rob Lyon
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