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10 Questions with | Austel

Austel - aka Annie Rew Shaw - is a Devon-born London-based artist, songwriter and producer, crafting introspective, brooding music led by ethereal vocals and intimate lyricism. Influenced by a wide range of artists spanning from Bon Iver to Thom Yorke, Cocteau Twins to Jon Hopkins, Nick Cave to Elliott Smith, Austel fuses her background in classical music and songwriting with ambient textures, cinematic soundscapes and contemplative electronica. Austel’s 2018 self-released debut EP ‘Unfold’ received plaudits from the likes of BBC 6 Music, Killing Moon and The Line of Best Fit, while 2020’s ‘Cold Love’ drew further support from O2 Music, BBC Introducing and Fresh On The Net. 2022 sees Austel somewhat reborn with the release ‘Feathers’ - a reimagining of her discography to date, in which the songs of ‘Unfold’ and ‘Cold Love’ are transformed into intimate, ghostly piano versions - and brand new dream-pop single ‘Cut Me Down’; a collaboration with artist and producer Ruby Smith, aka post-dusk. Indie Boulevard spoke to Austel about new single, music video and future plans.

IB: Hi Austel! Finally, we have a moment to chat with you. You recently released a new single 'Cut Me Down' and also the music video. But first tell me how you started your musical path, when you realized that this is the main thing in your life?

AUSTEL: Hello! I was lucky to grow up in a very musical home environment and started learning piano from a young age. When I was about 10, I found my dad’s sheet music for Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers and realised I could actually start using these chords to write my own songs. I had a difficult time at school, so songwriting became a big source of escapism. I’d always loved performing in musical theatre shows, and writing stories and poems, so all of these things kind of came together in the form of being an artist. More recently, I’ve become a lot more focused on music production. I’d been demoing my own songs for years but it was only during the pandemic when I had a bit of time to reflect on what I was actually enjoying within music that I realised I wanted to do a lot more of that. It’s incredibly empowering. I think music is so vast that you can constantly find new paths within it that feel totally new and exciting. Composing for film and visuals is my next mission.

IB: Your new single 'Cut Me Down' is already out. How did the song come about? Can you remember the moment when the melody popped into your head?

AUSTEL: In all honesty, I can’t remember much about writing it, but that happens with quite a lot of my songs! It sounds a bit wafty, but I definitely go into some kind of transcendental headspace when I write alone. I was living in a flat in North London that had nice big windows out onto the street. The sky was all pink and dusky, the blossom on the trees was starting to fall… so I had this mix of feeling calm and reflective, but also a bit sad and lonely… perfect writing conditions. I sent the demo to my friend Ruby Smith who had reached out asking if I wanted to collaborate on something. I’d just recorded the keys and guide vocal - Ruby started adding all these beautiful Casio synth lines that really started to place it in a dream/synth pop arena. We then took it into Noatune Studios in Hackney to record drums, piano and vocals. I ended up recording my dad playing bass in Devon during the first UK lockdown, and then Ruby and I edited and mixed it remotely between London and Berlin! It’s had quite a journey. 

IB: Your music video for 'Cut Me Down' is absolutely cinematic. Every frame is aesthetic, beautiful and delicate. You and your team managed to find angles where even part of your dress and the water look spectacular. How long did the shooting take? Was the film crew large?

AUSTEL: Thank you so much. It was filmed by my friend Katie Cooper and was literally just the two of us (with our partners helping carry the bags and take some BTS photos!). We filmed it over two days… the first was actually just a couple hours in a gorgeous Victorian house in East London. For the second day, we took the train to Oxford, hired a bike, and filmed along an ancient meadow by the Thames.

IB: After viewing the video, I was overwhelmed by different feelings. It was like I was watching a movie. I was worried about the character and felt that the ending would be sad. Especially when roses, water and you appeared in the picture. Oh Ophelia! But in the end I realized that it was about liberation, victory over powerlessness, and freedom after sorrow and loneliness. Austel, how close am I to the solution? What idea did you put into this video?

AUSTEL: Ah, that means so much to me - you’ve totally got it. There have been countless tragic female figures throughout literature and art… and while the song deals with these themes of loss and loneliness, it’s trying to recognise that it’s not healthy to romanticise those feelings too much. So while it’s okay to feel like you need some time locked up in your tower dwelling on all that could have been, sometimes you just need to get out, get on your bike, wade into the water, and cast it off downstream. I’m all in for self-liberation.

IB: I can not help but ask this question. Was the water cold? How long did you have to stand in the water before the director said "cut"?

AUSTEL: Ha, yes it was freezing and I was in there for quite a while. Luckily, the melodramatic streak in me doesn’t mind a little suffering for art ;)

IB: After watching the video, you can think for a very long time and come to new conclusions every time. A great job was done. How and when did the idea to make such a light and esthetic video come up? Is there a movie that inspired you?

AUSTEL: Thank you! I’ll give that credit to Katie who had an amazing vision for the aesthetic and how to frame the shots. We wanted to focus on muted tones, natural textures and sunlight.

IB: Austel, I know that your team consisted entirely of female producers and engineers. How did you meet and decide to work together?

AUSTEL: Ruby and I met because of this song! I can’t remember how she’d come across my music, maybe through a mutual friend, but she messaged me asking if I’d be interested in collaborating. I really love her artist project ‘post-dusk’ and knew we would come up with something cool together. Katie Tavini is a brilliant mastering engineer who Ruby works with a lot, I’ve worked with on my band project Dust In The Sunlight, and who also co-founded 2% Rising, which is an amazing online community for women, trans+ and non-binary people working in audio. A total legend. Honoured to work with such a super team!

IB: A bouquet of roses in the video and roses on the single cover 'Cut Me Down'... The same bouquet?) The cover of the single is awesome too! What was the process of creating the artwork like? Who was involved in it? And... Salt? For real? What was that like?

AUSTEL: Thanks! Not the same bouquet, but it was important to me to have consistent visuals so I bought a load of the same roses and waited until they’d wilted like the photo to then use in the video. The single artwork is a photo by my friend John Williams which I then sent to Colombian artist Natalia Giraldo Giraldo. I met Natalia on Instagram after coming across her artwork using salt, which I totally fell in love with. Salt is a huge metaphor in a lot of the new music I’m currently working on… which Cut Me Down is also connected to. So it felt important to start tying these works together visually. Natalia processed John’s photo using salt crystallisation, which creates this kind of embedded, textured effect that looks like preservation and decay simultaneously. There’s a lot of layered meaning to it.

IB: Are you working on your next song? Are you preparing a new album or EP?

AUSTEL: I haven’t really told anyone yet, but an album is on the way. It’s been in the works for what feels like forever, so I’m super excited to start sharing it.

IB: And the last question. What is your favorite Christmas Movie to watch around the fireplace? I already got my decorations out of storage and decked my halls with tinsel. But I think the best part of the season is watching all of my favorite Christmas movies, ahahaha/ 

AUSTEL: The Nightmare Before Christmas, of course!

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