Sitting in her practice space in Brooklyn, Shilpa Ray says her New Jersey roots led to her in-your-face-attitude and take-no-bullshit approach to life.
“When someone’s tough talking towards you, you tough talk straight back,” Shilpa says about being able to “talk Jersey.” Having worked as a door girl for almost a decade in the Lower East Side of NYC, talking Jersey has come in handy in many situations. “That’s the way to do it here— [people] wanna talk to you like you’re nothing and all you have to do is talk to them straight back and look them in the eye and just give them the same thing back and they become stunned and then you get respect.”
Working as a door girl gave Shilpa an outlet for her Jersey attitude—and endless inspiration. Her album, Door Girl, which came out last year, is based off the characters she encountered and the situations she observed working the door.
“The way I’m sitting it’s like watching TV every night,” Shilpa says. “I found it really fascinating [and] it does draw some pretty dismal pictures of humanity, but it also draws very awesome pictures of humanity too and I was hoping to kind of capture that in that record.”
Shilpa Ray, “Morning Terrors Nights of Dread”
Though Shilpa’s voice growls and bites, combining classical vocal training with punk rock, blues and doo-wop, Door Girl is actually lyrically lighthearted. Opening up with “New York Minute Prayer,” a track lead by piano and violin, the album kicks off almost like a dreamy love scene from a ‘50s teenage romance film. But there’s nothing innocent about the album—it quickly leads to tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic thrashers about trying to survive NYC nightlife with tracks like “Manhattanoid Creepazoids” and “You’re Fucking No One.”
“’You’re Fucking No One’ is definitely my favorite,” Shilpa says. “It was like almost everything I ever wanted to spit back to New York, I got to say it.” Though she has her qualms about New York, like the endless wave of whiney aging white dudes trying to bring her down, she’s also flourished.
In 2009, the writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman approached her after she played a Sly & The Family Stone tribute. When Sloman said he liked her music, she gave him her album A Fish Hook An Open Eye. “I handed it to him and he was like, ‘I’m going to share this with my friends Bob, Lou and Nick’ [and] I was thinking, ‘Bob, Lou and Nick? Those are probably his poker buddies or something,’” she says. “So I was just like, ‘yeah, ok, that’s cool,’ and then all of a sudden Nick Cave is coming into the shop I was working at the time in SoHo with his kids and I was just stunned.” (Editor’s note: Sloman collaborated on an album with The Velvet Underground’s John Cale and wrote a tour diary about Bob Dylan, so rock fans can feel comfortable making a reasonable inference about who he was name-dropping here.)
Shortly after meeting Cave, Shilpa opened for his band, Grinderman. She and the Australian rocker god cut several tracks together and she toured as his backing vocalist for the Push The Sky Away tour. “I didn’t think I would see that within my lifetime and I’m not dead yet,” she says about meeting and working with Cave. “That was a very wild moment in my life—he’s a cool guy, a really really rad person.”
Shilpa Ray, “EMT Police & the Fire Department”
Five years after working with Cave, Shilpa says they are still in touch, but she’s back at her own songwriting. She’s working on a new album that she says handles subjects darker than ever before. “I don’t know how it’s going to get received, I’m a little nervous about it to be honest,” Shilpa says about her music in the works. “But you gotta write about things you’re nervous about, you just have got do it.”
Listen to the interview with Shilpa Ray and Door Girl in its entirety on this week’s The Music Meetup.