We sat down with singer-songwriter Sherika Sherard to discuss her music, her inspirations and life after university…
At 24, Sherika Sherard is a singer-songwriter wise beyond her years. She sat down with Black Ballad on a sunny early Summer afternoon to discuss her music, her philosophy on work and education and share some of her reflections about being involved in the music industry.
How did you first get into music?
My brother got a guitar for his birthday and he just never played it. So one day when I was about 14, I thought I’d just pick up the guitar and taught myself to play a few chords on it. Then I started singing along. I wasn’t actually any good at it but I enjoyed it and when you enjoy something you carry on doing it and eventually get better at it. At 15 I joined my school choir, wrote my first song and had my first gig.
Did you always think you’d pursue a career in music?
I think that by the time I was 18 and had been performing for quite a bit, I knew that music was what I wanted to do. Nothing made me feel the same and I know that everyone says that, but it’s true. That’s also the time when management companies started taking notice and I realised that I had an audience that was willing to listen to my sound.
Your music has a very distinctive sound (which is amazing!). For our readers who have never heard your music, could you explain your sound?
It’s funny because I once read this description of my music and now I’ve pretty much stuck with it. My genre was described as lyrical and I think that’s a pretty good word for my music. My manager once noticed that I had so many words in my songs. I’m not a rapper and I’m not a singer with a big voice, but as an artist what I’m trying to sell are my lyrics. I consider my music to be lyrical soul, a cross between Paolo Nutini and Marvin Gaye.
I first heard about you when the video of you singing ‘Give Me A Job’ while busking, what pushed you to write it?
So it all started with me leaving uni one year into my course. For me university was more of an escape from home so that I could grow and mould myself. It was a great experience but after a year I pretty much knew that it wasn’t worth the debt so I left.
At that point I thought to myself I would just get any job. I didn’t delude myself that I would be getting some big job, so I applied for a variety of positions but I soon realised that I wasn’t getting anything and it got to the point where I was getting quite bitter. I applied for a job as a sandwich deliverer and I couldn’t even get that.
Sometimes I would attend these group interviews and it was literally survival of the fittest. During those times I truly felt like I was just an NI number – the whole process was impersonal and it felt like my struggle didn’t matter. So that song came about as a result of that. I had the chords already and then I started humming to it. The chorus came very easily and the rest followed. At first I was really embarrassed to sing it because it’s really personal; even though youth unemployment in London is quite a big issue and being in that situation is quite lonely.
In the opening of the video that went up on Youtube you mention leaving your degree and being unemployed after. What prompted you to do this?
The opening line of ‘Give Me a Job’ is: ‘the education blanket has been pulled from my feet,’ and at the time of writing that is very much how I felt. When I was younger I always used to wonder why people would take gap years before going to uni because I felt it was a waste of time, but now I’m all for it. University is a serious thing; you’re putting all this money into a degree and you need to pay it off one day. I think a lot of these colleges and sixth forms don’t really encourage any other path than going straight to uni.
What did you think of the response to the song?
I knew loads of people would relate to the song, but I was surprised when people looked beyond the song and started following me as an artist. The one reaction I wasn’t expecting was when I started performing the song and I would tell the audience it was called ‘Give Me A Job’ and they would just laugh. I can tell you that it wasn’t funny when I wrote it. Even the guy who ended posting my performance of the song on Youtube that went viral ended up calling it ‘funny song goes viral,’ but overall it was really the respect I got as an artist that really got me.
What are some of the most memorable comments people have made about it?
I’ve had such a mixture of messages from actors to other people in the creative industries and just normal everyday people. One person in America sent me a message saying he was a veteran and had been looking for a job for some time but couldn’t find one. He said he listened to my song occasionally and it made him feel better about the job search prospects so that was really nice.
There have also been some weird ones – especially in comments sections. I remember one writing something about here’s another young black girl singing about her problems to a white man in a suit. Others were commenting asking why was I begging. I just shrugged it off as people projecting their insecurities on the issues discussed in the song.
At the end of the day, I was just happy that most comments were positive and that the song made people feel good. As a musician that is what you want to achieve. The positive response is also quite comforting because I was in a low place when I wrote that song and was embarrassed to sing it for a long time, so having so many people relate to it is amazing and now I feel good when I sing it.
It’s often a spin-off of my emotions, but it can come from anywhere. Sometimes I can look at situations happening to other people and that will inspire me to write a song. I do also think of those who will be listening to the songs. For example, the name of my album will be ‘Just Saying’ and it comes from the hashtag #justsaying because I feel that we live in such a lonely world, but we still just want people to understand what we’re talking about or see where we’re coming from and I just wanted to get that feeling across.
I want people to be listening to my songs and think: ‘yeah I know exactly what you’re saying.’ Sometimes when I’m busking there’ll be someone watching and listening to me and they’ll be crying – even with happy songs. So I’m like ‘why are you crying?’ but often times it’s because something about the song has tapped into something they’ve not felt in a long time or it speaks to them in some way. A guy messaged me telling me he and his girlfriend (now fiancee) saw me busking on Valentine’s day and they now always listen to my song and that’s amazing. I don’t know anything about their relationship, but whatever I’ve written in that song there’s something that they’re understanding. To me that’s why I got into music.
If you could tour with any artist who would it be?
It’s a hard question – but it would probably be John Lennon. I’d love to do something with Paolo Nutini because he’s the reason I got into music. Stevie Wonder is definitely on the list, because I’ve never seen anyone enjoy music as much as he does when he’s performing.
What advice would you have for young musicians who are torn between following their dreams of making music and following a more conventional career/education path?
Well actually I saw this video yesterday where the person said they never think about plan B because it takes their focus away from plan A. I liked that message because sometimes you do have to really go for something and if it goes wrong you can get up from it and regroup. However, I’m gonna look at it as if I was giving this advice to my child because that’s the only way I can be really honest and one thing I’ve always said to my friends is that I wouldn’t want my child to be into music. If they were, I’d want them to have a job on the side.
I had a gig with Ed Sheeran once and when I see him perform I truly believe that guy deserves all the success he’s getting. He talked about how before he became famous he was couchsurfing all the time and all he wanted to do was music – I’m not gonna promote that life to anyone and I’m glad I’ve never had to do that, though in this profession you do have to take risks.
I think the biggest thing is you have to be realistic – you have record companies approaching you and selling you all these ideas which get into your head and it’s heartbreaking when things don’t happen. I say you need to build a foundation of people who will tell you ‘no’ and always have people who are honest with you. Here’s one of my metaphors: when you’re playing Tetris and you’re not very good, all the blocks keep piling to the top but there are loads of gaps. Well you’re getting to the top really quickly but you haven’t built yourself properly and have nothing to fall back on.
You released That Busker’s CD last year, what are your plans for this year music-wise?
I’m currently working on my album full time and it will be properly produced, so all the money I’m making is going back into my album. I recently quit my job at Waitrose (which I got soon after writing Give Me A Job). John Lewis was a great company to work for and were very supportive of my music – I even got to sing Give Me A Job to the Chairman and he really liked the song.
The reason I quit however was because I was at that stage where I was making enough money from my music but I was scared to make that transition and say: ‘I’m going to support myself now because I have enough money to live off my music.’ Obviously it was scary because there are risks when you’re working for yourself like I can’t just take sick days. My manager at Waitrose was very good to me when I left and told me I could always come back if I wanted to but my plan is to focus on my music full time. I’m in a good position as a musician and that’s
exactly what I wanted. I would have been making more money had I kept my job at Waitrose but I’m rich in more ways because I’m a lot happier doing what I’m doing now. It was time for me to take that risk and I feel good about it.
Source : Blackballad