Almost five years in the making, South African-Australian artist Shanae has unveiled her debut EP reset

While Shanae only debuted last year, the Eora/Sydney-based singer has been a heavyweight in Australia’s pantheon of R&B talent for some time now. Under the alias MADAM3MPRESS, Shanae featured on Rico Nasty’s ‘Magic (Remix)’ along with BARKAA – still one of the most underrated international collaborations. 

On reset, Shanae ushers in a new era no less regal than her last, all about looking inward. Incorporating her essentials of eclectic influences like Capetonian jazz, R&B, Afrobeats and more, the stacked seven-track project features previous releases including ‘leave it’ and ‘outside’. From it’s sentimental aesthetics and introduction by her Uncle T to every irresistible melody across world-class production, reset is food for the soul.

We spoke to Shanae about building connections overseas, reconnecting with the art within you, and the night she and SOLLYY made three songs from her debut project.

Frank Tremain, AUD’$: Congratulations on the debut project! I’ve been such a fan of the rebrand over the last few years, talk to me about that process. Have you found the reset process has given you a stronger sense of authenticity in your music?

Shanae: Yeah definitely. It’s so funny because I’ve done a couple of interviews and that’s the first thing – ‘Oh, you changed your name to your actual name’. But it actually wasn’t intentional for me to have a name change and then a project called reset. I changed my name a year and a half ago – or maybe two years – so that was the catapult for everything that came afterwards. It has been a very authentic process. I don’t regret anything that I did prior but I feel like I was still finding my feet. So I took some time off and then yeah, here we are.

So do you feel the hiatus came from a desire to step away and reassess what you were doing creatively?

You’re always developing and finding the art that is within you – I’m still in that process. I think it was more that I wasn’t liking my environment. I felt like I was having stagnated growth, I felt like I wasn’t being pushed and challenged. So I wanted to change my environment and then from that, it’s affected my art. It was never a case of the art’s different because the art is always gonna grow – it’s always gonna evolve as I get older and I experience things. I just felt like I needed somebody or more people who were going to push me and challenge me. 

I really like that idea of the art being inside of you. You’ve got a bunch of sonics on the debut project all threaded together by your vocals, was that something that naturally came about or was it a conscious decision to show as many sides of you?

I’ve always made music that’s sonically been on different production but if you take away all of that, the melodies always sit in the same world. I think that used to overwhelm me a lot prior to this project. I used to feel like I didn’t have a sound and I used to be a bit down on myself. The more I got into the project, [I realised] of course, sonically, it’s going to be different because my upbringing around music has been so vast compared to a lot of other people. I’m South African. Born in Australia. The music I listened to at home and the music I listened to in my environment was so different. I listened to classical Jazz at home, R&B in my spare time, and then went to EDM rave on the weekends. So like, it just makes sense.

Where were you drawing influence from for reset?

For this particular project, I allowed all my influences throughout my whole life to feed into it because I wanted it to be a reset sonically as well. You know what I mean? So if you listened to the project from top to bottom, it doesn’t seem all over the place but then when you’re at the end, you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, how did we get here?’

That’s how I felt! From the different singles, I could already hear a wide scope of influences from the singles but it all came together cohesively on the project. I have to say though, I think ‘u wanna’ is my favourite off the tape. (Now it’s ‘leave it’, again).

This is why I love the project so much because everyone has a different favourite. I went out the weekend and someone ran up to me: ‘Oh my goodness, I just love ‘cloud nine’’ Heaps of Aussies are loving ‘now u wanna’, and Afrobeats is having its moment overseas. Obviously we’re a day ahead of everyone but sometimes, musically, I feel we’re maybe a little bit ahead too because we’ve been listening like three years ago. So yeah, it’s interesting, I like that there’s something for everybody. 

Maybe all the Aussies loved ‘now u wanna’ because of the match made in heaven between you and SOLLYY. Talk to me about your relationship with him.

I love SOLLYY, we made ‘am i dumb?’, ‘essence of us’, and ‘now u wanna’ on the same day. To make those types of songs in one whole session, you can understand that we always had a vision to just go with the feeling of what we wanted to create. I got home at 7 AM, slept for half an hour and then went to work.

When you woke up, did you already feel like you were onto something?

That was such a pivotal moment in my music because I was at my wit’s end, I wasn’t liking it, I wasn’t in a good headspace. I was over it but he ended up picking me up and dragging me into the studio and yeah, we made all those three songs. I think we were there for 15 hours. Then I went to work and I was so tired but I was like “am I dumb or am I done?” There was definitely magic in that session.

Diving into the project a bit deeper, you’ve got your Uncle T speaking on the title track. Why was that important for you to have him be the first voice on reset?

I haven’t always been doing music. In 2019, before COVID, I was in South Africa for four months. I always go back but I was just there for a long time by myself – that’s like my home to me. I was really inspired and I literally got back and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do music’. He was like, ‘Shanae, you’ve done your degree, just do something that you love. Make your life extraordinary. You’ve got that inside of you, don’t be scared’. He gave me the courage to do it. It’s funny because he’s my uncle, but we look the same. Everyone thinks that I’m his daughter. He’s got the same personality as me, like super cheeky, always joking, and having fun. 

We had that conversation in 2021. I remember just going through my voice notes because I always record my conversations with my family back home. That’s just something that I’ve always done. I did that with my grandma when she was around because those are the stories that they tell, the memories that they have, and I have bad memory so I need to keep it down. I was listening to that one day and he was like ‘You’re in the right field because the music is making people happy’. I just felt like that’s what I wanted from this project. I wanted people to be inspired by the story around resetting but for everybody else, I just wanted them to listen to it and have fun with it. It was really nice how everything just aligned in that way. My auntie told me the other day they had to get him headphones because all he listens to is my project and they love me, but they’re sick of it.

I feel like it ties into the childhood aesthetic of the project too, is there a story behind picking the cover art?

This project has been forming for a really long time. I was going through a reset and when you actually reset in life, it’s very hard. So hence the amount of time it took to do this project. I found that in 2020, and I was like ‘That is a cover’. The title being reset like that’s a button on a camcorder, and looking through a lens – looking at your life differently – that photo was the foundation for the world we built around it. I didn’t want people to think ‘I need to reset and find a new version of myself’. No, you just need to go back to who you’ve been before. A lot of the imagery we used mirrors the cover because I’m the same person, it’s all inside of you like I was saying earlier. 

You mentioned wanting more people around you heading into this project and you’ve brought a lot of people in on the production, how important is that to you when trying to reach a global stage?

I want to be compared to SZA, I want to be compared to Summer Walker, I want to be compared to Billie Eilish and Brent Faiyaz. Then I also want to be compared to Ashli and some incredible artists we have here as well. I want to be pushed, and I want to be thought of as the best. That’s a vision I’ve always had. That’s why I went to New York and LA and London to create these relationships, learn and have my music be in different pockets. We haven’t even touched Asia yet and that’s something that I’m really interested in. 

Despite this being your debut project, you’ve always been a staple in establishing the incredible R&B scene we have here. Talk to me about the growth you’ve seen since first starting out.

R&B is forever in my brain and it’s something that I will always go back to. We have a really great R&B scene here – not just locally good, global good. We have to keep going like, all of us in Australia are so different. We come from such different backgrounds. Our sound, individually, is always going to be different, which is our superpower.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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