WHERE IN THE WORLD IS… Sally Shapiro?

The Swedish chanteuse was one of the last decade’s most promising
singers. Then – nothing.

 

BY LAVINIA JONES
WRIGHT

 

Editor’s note: Way back in 2009 we
suggested that Sally Shapiro, once and for all, is not a real person. But we
were kidding, honest! Deeply smitten by her then-current second album, we
simply touched upon certain, er, music industry rumors while singing her praises.
And then she promptly dropped off the radar, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Coincidence? We’ll leave it to your own determination. Meanwhile, here’s a
story from the BLURT archives, originally published in issue 8 (Avett Brothers
cover) but never archived online, for your edification. Or sleuthing, take your
pick. Anyhow – phone home, Sally, and let us know you are okay.

 

 

 

 

 

“Someone had to
record the voice, and everyone knows Sally Shapiro is a pseudonym. I didn’t
really understand how they were thinking.”

 

Sally Shapiro’s giggling
voice lilts out of the phone delicately, and in her stop-start, broken English,
she makes an excellent point. Last year when I spoke to Shapiro for a Blurt feature on her debut album with producer and DJ Johan Agebjörn, Disco Romance, it was
via email. The Swedish chanteuse had basically refused to be interviewed in
person or on the phone by anyone during the press push for the album, even as
the music’s popularity grew and the offers got bigger and bigger. That, coupled
with the fact that she also staunchly snubbed live performances, led me and
other meddlesome music reporters to speculate in print that Sally Shapiro did
not exist.

 

“Then Johan would have had to record the voices
himself, and I don’t think he could have done it that way.” Shapiro finishes
decisively. That, for a time, puts me in my place.

 

As Shapiro and Johan present the world with their
second saccharine disco opus, My Guilty
Pleasure
(Paper Bag Records), the fact still remains: Sally Shapiro is an
elusive girl. It seems more and more that keeping the real person behind that
reedy, beautiful voice hidden makes the music more mysterious, and therefore
more interesting. A fact that Shapiro doesn’t necessarily deny, saying,
vaguely, “That has become a good thing for the project. It has really become
more like a myth.” But in an effort to avoid an eight hundred-word retraction
on our previous pieces, we members of the press are forced to push the envelope
to find out who Sally Shapiro really is. If she insists on insisting, that she
is.

 

Shapiro is plain spoken and employs the uncanny
ability to be both resolute and non-committal simultaneously. Follow-up
questions tend to yield no new information, and even when it seems like she is
telling me something of import, looking back, she gives nothing away. For
instance, why has she decided this time around to speak on the phone? “When we
recorded Disco Romance it was so
unexpected that people wanted to do interviews,” Shapiro explains. “Now I get
used to the idea that people are calling me and I’m talking to them in English
about this song, so it’s just that.”

 

 

 

 

 

But does that
really explain anything? You could glean from that response that Shapiro’s English
has improved, but she amends, that is not necessarily the case. “I haven’t
learned so many words to use,” she deadpans.

 

When talking
about the styles of the songs on My
Guilty Pleasure
-which are, as the album title suggests, fun throwbacks to
dance sounds of the ‘90s and pop disco of the ‘80s-Shapiro treads carefully. The
DJ remixes of the tracks which are a disco music tradition and a huge part of
what pushed Disco Romance out to a
larger audience, Shapiro claims not to have heard. And she is wary of my
prodding for her to describe the songs. “I’m not so good at styles. It’s a bit
more varied, but otherwise I think it’s quite the same sound really,” she tells
me of My Guilty Pleasure. Pushing
further, she hints around at more specific ideas, saying, “I feel a ‘90s vibe
in some of the productions, but not so much. A little bit with the rhythms.”

 

She does,
however commit to explaining how her refusal to tour affected the exposure of
the first album and her relationship with Agebjörn. Shapiro
does not like to travel, and maintains that she is too shy and not sexy enough
to be a disco diva. Agebjörn has called her “difficult to work with” in
interviews because she will not let him in the room with her while she records
her vocals, but it is the lack of live performance that is the real struggle
within the duo.  “I think he was really disappointed,” she says,
of Agebjörn
finally realizing she wouldn’t ever tour as Sally Shapiro when she refused to
complete a set of U.S. DJ dates. “People really wanted us to do live sessions,
but I won’t do it again. It means that neither Johan nor I can live on music.” But
with his DJ career growing, Agebjörn is keeping
busy and shaking off the dashed hope of the aborted Sally Shapiro tour.

 

As the interview
wears on, we become more familiar, and Shapiro begins to explain herself
better. I joke that she should have someone else pretend to be Sally Shapiro
while she sings behind a curtain. “It was how it was in some bands in the ‘80s!”
She laughs. “But no, it would still be traveling around.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will they make
another record? Shapiro won’t say. She still holds her job as a lab worker and
says repeatedly that she wants a simple life. For her, music is a hobby very
low on the priority list. The myth that we all wanted to believe so much is
definitely more exciting than the reality.

 

Admittedly, the
elaborateness of the hoax would be, by now, ridiculous if the voice on the
other end of the line right now wasn’t the same from the record and didn’t have
the face from the promotional pictures and wasn’t the woman who did show up for a few DJ sets during Agebjörn’s American tour.
But with the girl known as “Sally Shapiro” tucked tightly into her quiet little
life in Sweden, and with no plans to tour or any promises to even record again,
we may never know for sure. Someone has orchestrated a disco swindle, either Agebjörn or we members of the press.
One of us has made something out of nothing, and Sally has taught me that it
doesn’t matter whodunit, because Sally Shapiro, once and for all, is not a real
person. There is a real woman singing and writing the songs on “My Guilty
Pleasure,” but she doesn’t consider herself Sally Shapiro, so the name really
is dust. What is important is that the music is real.

 

“Of course, this
kind of music is easy to joke about,” Shapiro concludes, “but the music and the
feelings in, they are authentic.”

 

 

 

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