An ultrasound image of shazza in fetus form plastered over a much more recent photograph of her — that's what greets you visually when you listen to the rising singer-songwriter's debut album.
Created by shazza together with her brother, Shafeeq Shariff, the curious cover art for chapter one takes us back to where it all began for the Singaporean artist in the most literal sense of the phrase.
"It was meant to be an homage to my beginnings and how this dream has always been something very present in my life. We made a video using old clips of me as a toddler to announce the album launch too, and I love that video to bits because I think it really captures the essence of how longstanding this dream — and my love for music — has been," explained the 22-year-old, who is also known as Shareefa Aminah.
The record's cover art can also be interpreted as a reference to shazza's second birth, this time as a professional music artist. Having caught glimpses of who shazza through singles since 2020's 'August', listeners now have a full and proper introduction to the 'BUTTONS' act in the form of chapter one.
Released on 28 July, the project is the culmination of that special relationship with music that she has had for as long as she can remember. In it, we see her fascination with the works of Norah Jones, Black Eyed Peas, ABBA, Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, and Harry Styles manifested as a selection of diverse pop tunes, each stamped with shazza's melodious vocals and sincere storytelling.
In an interview with Hear65, shazza talked about what it was like penning songs for her debut album, recalled the experience of preparing for her first headlining show, and revealed how this first chapter of her music career sets up future ones.
Hi, shazza! You’ve mentioned that you wrote your first song back when you were just 11. Could you tell us a bit more about that experience and how it changed your life?
Hello, Hear65. Thank you for having me! Yes, I wrote my first song at 11 — it was this breakup ballad titled 'Please', and I genuinely don’t know what inspired me to write it… I had no experience with romance at the time whatsoever, so it’s pretty funny to look back on it and see how dramatic the lyrics to that song were. That being said, the feeling that came with putting a song together for the first time was downright addictive. I just fell head over heels in love with it. After writing that song, I wrote another one, and then another one — I couldn’t stop, and now it’s been 11 years! Time flies; but really, I’m just super grateful to have discovered this passion at a young age because it’s given me a huge sense of direction in my life. I’ve always known what I wanted to do, and I’m just extremely grateful that I’ve been given the chance to pursue it now.
Credit: Shafeeq Shariff
"I’m just super grateful to have discovered this passion [for music] at a young age because it’s given me a huge sense of direction in my life."
Pursuing music professionally has been a lifelong dream of yours. How does it feel to finally be able to share your debut album with the world?
Unreal. It’s unreal, and I genuinely did not expect to have an album out this soon! When I started releasing my songs professionally last year, starting with 'Pity Party', I started on that journey with very much of an “okay, let’s just give this a shot and see where it goes” kind of mindset. I knew it could be a hit-or-miss thing, and I just really wanted to give it a try at the very least and see where it might take me. So I didn’t really plan to have an album out a year later, but here we are! I’m very, very thankful that things have panned out the way they have. It’s been an incredible journey so far and it’s taught me loads, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share this album with the world.
"I think these songs all show that my music creation is driven by emotion, the idea of storytelling, and being able to capture human experiences within the span of three or four minutes in a song."
Tell us what the process of writing songs for the album was like. How did you decide what creations would be good fits for chapter one?
For starters, I wanted to compile all the singles I had released so far, from 'Pity Party' to 'None Of My Business'. My team and I felt that it would be ideal to have these songs exist within a proper body of work, especially since we were working towards me having my first proper headline showcase. So we felt that it would be best to have a compilation album to back the show up and give people something solid to reference for the show! With that said, it was a given to have all those singles included, then on top of that I wanted to include a few unreleased tracks just to spice up the album and give listeners something new to enjoy! We went with 'BUTTONS' as the focus track because I felt that it embodied the sound that I have been developing over time — it’s pretty catchy, it’s got a big emphasis on lyricism, and it tells a story that I think many people would be able to relate to. These are things I’ve tried to maintain across all my releases so far, and this song feels like one of the most dynamic ones we’ve put together, hence it felt really fitting to have it as the new focus track for the album!
On top of that, I threw in a few other releases, like 'Lost In Adoration', 'whatdoiknow' and 'Build A Home (Live)' because these songs are really meaningful to me and add very nicely to the story of my journey so far as a creator. I think these songs all show that my music creation is driven by emotion, the idea of storytelling, and being able to capture human experiences within the span of three or four minutes in a song. That’s the message I wanted to convey with the album, which is the basis I went off on when choosing these songs.
chapter one is described as a body of work that “embraces the spectrum of human emotion”. Was there a particular emotion that was more challenging to write and sing about than others?
Oof. Hmm. Okay so, some of these songs are about my personal experiences, while some of them are not. I take inspiration from a lot of things, and many a time, this inspiration can come from outside of my own life and my own emotions. The ones that are about me, though, are the ones that hit hardest of course. I wouldn’t say these songs were more challenging to write, but they are far more emotionally charged. So it comes as a different experience when I perform those songs. I’m a hopeless romantic, and love plays a huge role in what drives me as a human being! So songs like 'Right Person, Wrong Time' and 'Lost In Adoration', for instance, both written about my first experience with love, are the kinds of songs that hold extra special meaning to me, and that always makes it very interesting to perform those songs.
Credit: Shafeeq Shariff
"This [first headlining] show was obviously very important to me; it was a huge opportunity that I'd been granted and I just really wanted to make it count, for me and my band."
Let’s talk about your headlining show at the Esplanade. How different was preparing for it as compared to getting ready for the live performances that you had done before?
Oh, it was very different. The stakes felt higher, the preparation was more intense… there was also a lot more creative freedom in a way! This show was obviously very important to me; it was a huge opportunity that I'd been granted and I just really wanted to make it count, for me and my band. So every aspect of it felt a bit more full-blown than I'd experienced in my preparation for my previous live performances. It was equal parts scary and exciting, and I learnt a lot as I went.
I think we were rather ambitious in planning this show, rightly so, I would say, considering it was a really cool stage and a very special opportunity. So I was really excited to see how it all panned out, I was anxious, as I usually am, but I had an insanely skilled band on stage with me; I got to share the stage with my producer and go-to music director/keyboardist, Dominic Yuan, plus Genesis Keefer who’s produced for me on bass as well. We had Timothy Liew, who also plays for the amazing Shye, on drums, and powerhouse Hasyir Ibrahim on electric guitar. Ashlyn Yeo joined us on both the electric and acoustic guitar too — we had performed together to open for the Peach Tree Rascals back in July. For the first time ever, we also had a three-piece string set up, with my friends Boey Yong En on violin, Elizabeth Ip on viola, and Chloe Chen on cello! I also got to sing with my special guests and insanely talented friends, Umar Sirhan and Jeyes, both of whom I had written unreleased songs with that we performed exclusively at the show. Okay, I know I’m gushing massively, but long story short is that I had the utmost faith in our ability to put on a good show, and I was so tremendously stoked to share a stage with these people.
Credit: Shafeeq Shariff
"I think one of the things that matters most to me is that the audience gets to experience the emotions of the songs very viscerally."
What’s most important to you when you are presenting your songs to a live audience?
I think one of the things that matters most to me is that the audience gets to experience the emotions of the songs very viscerally. I think live music has a way of conveying emotion in a way that can’t exactly be captured in a studio version of a song, so what I want to do with my live performances is ensure that they really feel the music and that they can connect with it on a different level than if they were listening to it on a streaming platform at home.
Another thing that means a lot to me is that these live performances allow me to place my music in the hands of my band, and in turn, I get to see how these songs that I’ve written in my bedroom at home transform into incredible versions of themselves that I never could have dreamt of, thanks to this group of incredible musicians. So giving them the creative freedom to experiment with my songs and do something special with the music is very important to me. I work with musicians that I trust and admire very much, so it’s vital to me that they get to bring their own personality into these live arrangements as well.
This year, you were selected as one of Spotify’s RADAR artists for Singapore and Malaysia. How has being a part of this programme helped you as a budding artist?
It’s definitely given me more exposure! I’ve seen my music reach new audiences as a result of this programme and I think it’s a really special initiative that Spotify has put in place to uplift creators and help them reach new heights. It makes a big difference to us as budding creators and artists, who might not necessarily reach the same audiences as effectively without the assistance of programmes such as these! Spotify has done a lot to uplift my music over the course of this journey and I’m really grateful to the platform for believing in me and my art. They recently featured me as their SG&MY EQUAL ambassador for the month of August as well, which saw my face appearing on a freaking Times Square billboard in New York City. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for opportunities like this. I’m really counting my blessings and trying to make the most of all this, and I really hope to make the people around me proud.
Credit: Shafeeq Shariff
"I intend to bring my listeners a more intentional, fleshed-out body of work with my next album."
The existence of a chapter one suggests that there might be a chapter two sometime down the road. Having introduced listeners to yourself and your music, where do you hope to take them next?
Yep, I definitely intend for there to be a chapter two, God willing! I think this showcase marked the end of chapter one — I hope I can say that I’ve managed to establish what I aim to do with my music and effectively introduce my audience to who I am as an artist. So going forward, I intend to bring my listeners a more intentional, fleshed-out body of work with my next album, and I also hope it’ll lead to more regional exposure and collaborations, allowing me to reach new audiences and tell new stories with my music! I’m really excited to see where this next chapter might take me, and as always, I’m just gonna try to keep doing what I love and keeping the faith, and see where this goes. I’m really excited for the future, but I’m also just deeply grateful for everything I've experienced so far.
Stream chapter one here: