Eliza Shaddad doesn’t make decisions lightly. She methodically mulls over her options, frets about the consequences and questions herself incessantly. Don’t be deceived by the softly-spoken singer’s sweet exterior. In her brain there’s a battle taking place.
The life-changing decision that drove Future, Eliza’s extraordinary debut album, was to call time on a long-term relationship. But these are not sad songs about lost love and loneliness. They are big, bold statements of self-discovery, full of torment and turmoil, upheaval and hope. Future is, as its title implies, less about endings than a fresh start.
Written and recorded over two years, Future documents a rollercoaster ride of post break-up emotions that took even Eliza by surprise.
“I thought I was just writing stories,” says the former folkie who broke through with her 2014 EP Waters and its critically-lauded follow-up, 2016’s Run. “It’s only in retrospect that I realised that I’m searching for myself in the songs. I’m trying to work out who I am now.
“In a relationship, you sacrifice so much of yourself because you’re constantly considering somebody else. I was with a great guy who I’d known since college. I knew I had it good, but it wasn’t enough. As selfish as it sounds, the person I’d become wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
Deciphering who she is has always been difficult for the daughter of a Sudanese astrophysicist father and a Scottish mother, who moved her kids from a Suffolk farm to seven countries – Nigeria, Spain and Russia among them – while working for the British Council. Eliza describes her identity as ’borderless’ and her upbringing as a clash between academia and the arts, thanks in part to a family history of artists dating back to the painters the Glasgow Boys.
A multi-linguist with a philosophy degree, Eliza studied jazz at London’s Guildhall before self-releasing her first EP, recorded at the studio of Clean Bandit’s Jack Patterson. For 18 months, she wrote and gigged with Clean Bandit before finding her feet as a solo artist with Waters and Run, which saw her playing shows with everyone from James Bay and Oh Wonder to Kate Tempest and Turin Brakes.
Lyrically, Future follows Run, on which Eliza felt frustrated for failing to make a definitive decision about her relationship. White Lines, Future’s rocky, hypnotic opener, finds her on the open road – it’s a driving song, in both senses – finally embracing the unknown.
“I spent a month in Australia, partly for a family wedding, but also because I wanted to travel by myself, to give me space to think,” she says. “I borrowed a station wagon from a DJ friend, who sent me off with some cereal and a duvet, and drove from Sydney up the east coast.
“I slept in the car by beaches, woke up and surfed. There’s nothing more exciting than arriving somewhere new with nothing to do. As soon as I was alone it was obvious that what I craved was a future I couldn’t foresee.”
Sonically, Future is a leap on from the rocky Run. There are grungy guitars, some squally solos and fiercer drums. But it’s also considerably more pop, with brighter vocals, breezier basslines, stranger synths and gorgeous funk grooves.
“These are by far the most forceful songs I’ve ever written,” says Eliza. “The album is full-on from the off. The reason it ends on a reflective, throwback track is because even I felt the need to chill out a bit.
“I didn’t set out with one sound in mind, as always, I went with what felt right. I added weird synths to songs as an experiment, only to keep them. I wrote solos, which I’d never done before. It wasn’t a conscious decision to make the vocals sound different. It’s just me, at a different time.”
Future was recorded in two spells, 12 months apart, at an isolated, coastal studio in Devon with producer Chris Bond (Ben Howard, Tom Speight, Matthew & Me). It was where Eliza’s EPs were made, but this time she demoed all of the songs alone at home first, adding drums and string parts. Half of the album features her studio guide vocals after attempts to rerecord them couldn’t better capture her emotions.
Each of the ten songs tells its own tale, but all are bound by a single decision and its rippling repercussions. The sultry My Body finds Eliza alone in her bed at night, craving physical contact, dreaming she’s back with her ex. On the sensual Slow Down she’s hugging her younger self, asking her to learn from her past mistakes. The broody, bluesy Are You There? has her asking for forgiveness. The spectral The Conclusion is an apology.
At the album’s core is the majestic This Is My Cue, a minefield of emotions set to shimmering guitars and synths that captures not only Eliza’s dilemma, but the confusion she felt accepting the situation herself. “I’ve been turning in to someone new,” she sings, after a fruitless search for a simpler explanation.
In contrast are Future’s moving-on songs, the almost Blondie-eque Daydreaming and glorious new single Just Goes To Show, the most upbeat Eliza has ever been.
“Just Goes To Show is a bit of a wild card for me,” she admits. “It’s very, er, happy, isn’t it? A crazy happy sounding break-up song. Is that bizarre? I’m not sure anymore. I should probably let someone else decide.”