The gift of the gab’s not a trait you’d readily associate with an Ailuropoda melanoleuca, otherwise known as the Great Panda. Lumbering and lonely, the animal’s monochromatic fur and moribund features cry out like a downtrodden mime who’s discovered surround sound.
This notion of the panda’s lip-closed solitude filters into UtR’s train of thought as we prepare to wax lyrical with Su Isabel Ferreira Shaw. After all, this is a girl who decorates her cranial canvas like an endangered Chinese mammal; a girl whose mew spills out like a gush of painstaking isolation; a girl who prefers to go by the alias Panda Su
But despite our preconceptions, Shaw is not at all quarantined from conversation. In fact, we’re finding it rather difficult to get her to pause for breath.
“The biggest perk of the job, so to speak, is that I get to share a stage with bands that I really admire and that have had a big musical influence on me,” she exhales. “Three years ago I was writing fan mail to King Creosote and chasing around KT Tunstall asking her to sign her name on a piece of paper which I would then take home and frame. This year I played on the same bill as both of them at Homegame.
“That's an amazing achievement for me to be in a position where I get to play my music to people who are equally as excited about it as I am. And I get to do so whilst sharing the stage with bands and artists that I really like.”Play: Eric is Dead
She may be dishing out doe-eyed homages, but the part Scot, part Portuguese songstress’s own star is quickly expanding into a sparkling constellation. Shaw’s craft of esoteric acoustica bedded under a charm-soaked intone has begun to lubricate the gullet of Scotland’s musical underbelly.
“I have a fairly unconventional approach to writing songs,” explains Shaw of her creative process. “I don't have an idea about what I want to write about, I sit down and words fall out my mouth onto the piece of paper in front of me. I don't choose them and it's not until after that I start to pull comparisons and find the relationship between what I'm singing about and how it actually relates to me.”
So what is it that makes Panda Su so special?
“Well, I spend about an hour before every gig locked in the venue toilet applying black and white paint to my face,” Shaw japes. “In terms of songs, I write about the same things as everyone else but I write about them in a less obvious way. You can take one of my songs, pull it apart and make it relate to you in any way you want, and the way it relates to you is probably completely different to the way in which it relates to me.”
She continues: “I don't write about concrete things in an obvious way because personally I find that really dull. When I listen to a piece of music I don't want to know what the singer is singing about because that strips out all the fun for me and makes it boring. “
Boring is one slight you could never fling at Shaw. Her sound veers from folksy canticle to chart-bopping ditty with schizophrenic regularity, marking Panda Su out as a cut above the vacuum-packed hoards of humdrum sonic tailchasers.
Yet for Shaw the future holds no thought of fame. “It's a real shame that people these days grow up wanting to be famous. Not successful or inspiring or influential, just famous - like it's a physical job that they can apply or attend an interview for,” she sighs. “I don't think people realise that doing music and trying to make a living out of it is quite challenging and requires some real hard work.
“From quite early on I decided that I wanted to do as much as I could myself. For my first release I did all the artwork myself, set up my own record label and put it out under that. I think it's more fun that way. It's a lot harder work, but ultimately, much more rewarding and definitely worth it.”Play: Moviegoer
Those rewards are now being reaped. Shaw recently shared stages with Fence Collective luminary Kenny Anderson and the pristinely tuned Frightened Rabbit. For a girl who spent her formative years in a school band with members of The Seventeenth Century
, this rise in fortune has been a long time coming.
“Back in those days getting through to the second round of our school's shitty little rock band competition felt like we'd just been asked to headline Glastonbury,” she regales. “Suddenly, it's not all about getting signed up to some major record label that's going to put you in a dress and stick you in front of a camera. There's been a real emphasis on DIY and I think that's a really positive thing.”Words: Billy HamiltonSee Panda Su for yourself at the following shows:
29 Nov @ Westport, Dundee
4 Dec @ The Roxy Art House, Edinburgh
5 Dec @ Duke's Corner, Dundee
17 Dec @ 13th Note, Glasgow
Labels: on the radar, Panda Su