Vanessa Laker Talks To Shontelle: The Interview

After putting a law career on hold, Shontelle burst onto the music scene in 2008 with her summer hit, ‘T-Shirt’. Since then, the 25-year-old Bajan beauty is proving she’s a force to be reckoned with. She had a chat with Vanessa Laker to discuss her new album, fashion, touring with Beyoncé, being Rihanna’s drill sergeant and why she loves UK high street brand Topshop, all exclusively for The Wrap Up… 

The release of her debut LP, ‘Shontelligence’, introduced the young starlet to the world, but it’s the sophomore album, ‘No Gravity’, that is really going to cement this rising star’s place. With an edgier and more experimental sound, Shontelle’s new record demonstrates her growth as an artist.

The Wrap Up: You’ve just completed your UK tour with Jason Derulo. How did it go?

Shontelle: OMG! It was so good. You know the UK is always so good to me. Every night, every show was just fantastic. We just did the last show last night at Hammersmith Apollo, it was awesome.  

TWU: I was at the Hammersmith Apollo for the gig and it was a great show…

Shontelle: You were? Amazing!

TWU: I have to say your dress looked amazing…

Shontelle: Oh, thank you. Actually, that dress, I got it very last minute. And that was specifically given to me to do the London show by a designer named, Sherri Hill.

TWU: How important is style and fashion to you?

Shontelle: VERY important. I just love fashion so much. If I wasn’t so busy being an artist, I’d probably try to design a clothing line, or something. I love clothes and I have a ridiculously unhealthy shoe obsession. Shoes and handbags!

TWU: While you’ve been here in the UK, have you had much time to check out the scenery and explore the cities?

Shontelle: Not as much as I’d like to. When you’re on tour or doing promo, you usually see the inside of the hotel and the inside of the car, so you really don’t get to see much. But we did have a day off in Manchester and I had so much fun in Topshop. I always lose my mind in there. I love their clothes. I think probably 95% of my wardrobe is Topshop now.

TWU: You’ve got a new single, ‘Perfect Nightmare’. What’s your definition of a perfect nightmare? 

Shontelle: A perfect nightmare is really just a situation that you know you shouldn’t be in, but you enjoy it. You either enjoy it, or there’s some aspect or a part of it that you love so much and you just can’t let go. So that could be anything from an abusive relationship to an inappropriate relationship. Maybe even if someone was too old or too young, or you were with someone else’s boyfriend or girlfriend.  It’s just being in a situation that you really have no right to be in, but for some reason, you find it really difficult to get out because you enjoy something about it so much. So it’s like, ‘When will I wake up and scream? I know this is wrong.’

TWU: ‘Perfect Nightmare’ is the second single from your new LP, ‘No Gravity’ – which is your second album. How do you feel you’ve grown and evolved as an artist, compared to the first record?

Shontelle: I feel like it’s definitely been an evolution. There’s definitely been some growth. ‘No Gravity’ sounds quite different from ‘Shontelligence’, because ‘Shontelligence’ sounds exactly like what I was at that point – which is a girl who literally just came from Barbados. There was a lot of reggae and Island influence; it was also a lot softer and mellow. But ‘No Gravity’ has a lot more up-tempo and edgy music and that’s a choice I purposely made, because I didn’t really want people to think, ‘She’s from Barbados, this is cliché what we should expect from her.’ Especially as a songwriter and as a music lover, I just really wanted to experiment. So ‘No Gravity’, there’s a little rock in there. It’s a lot poppier, I think. There’s more dance influence. Even my next US single, ‘Say Hello To Goodbye’, that actually sounds like a pop/rock ballad. It more represents where I’m at now. I’m ready to just experiment and have a lot more fun and not take everything so seriously.

TWU: As an artist, do you feel there’s more pressure on the second album, as you feel you have to match – or overtake – the success of the first LP?

Shontelle: Oh yes, the pressure is really on. I’ve been so lucky, because having the first single from my second album just be so successful, I mean, ‘Impossible’ is my biggest single to date! It’s been quite unbelievable for me, because every artist’s worst nightmare is to be a one-hit wonder. You know, just never being able to write another album? So I feel really blessed and lucky, it’s great.

TWU: You and Rihanna grew up together back in Barbados and during your high school years, you were her drill sergeant, right?

Shontelle: Yep! We were both in the cadets together and it was really awesome. Everyone’s like, ‘Wow! You got to give Rihanna push-ups.’ But she wasn’t ‘Rihanna’ yet. Then, she was Robyn Fenty. But yeah, that’s how we first met, through the cadet’s programme.  There was a summer camp and she was the little cadet and I was the drill sergeant.

TWU: You’ve had success here in Europe and in The States, but do you feel that Rihanna has opened doors for other artists from the Caribbean to crossover to an international market?  

Shontelle: RiRi sure did open the door wide open. She didn’t just open it, she smashed it. I’m so happy she got that opportunity, because I think she made it easier for me to come after. Now, people are much more open to the idea of foreign artists being on the mainstream.

TWU: President Obama used your song, ‘Battle Cry’, during his campaign trail. How did you feel when you heard that?

Shontelle: I couldn’t believe it, because that was during the time when I was still fresh. I’d just released ‘T-Shirt’, so I was pretty new. I just felt so honoured, I really wanted him to win so bad and just having him reach out and say, ‘I really love this ‘Battle Cry’ song, I think it really speaks to my campaign and I’d really like to use it’, I was so overwhelmed. I was like, ‘Why are you even asking? Just take it!’(Laughs) He was kind enough to send me a vinyl addition of the compilation with the song, and he signed it. That was a real blessing. I was like, ‘WOW! I’m not even American, but I get to be a part of one of the most historical events in American political history.’

TWU: What was it like touring with Beyonce?

Shontelle: Queen B! That was one of the most epic experiences of my little old career. I learned so much from her. I thought I knew how to perform until I saw her perform everyday. After being on tour with her, you have to step your game up. You literally feel like you’re at the bottom of the sewers or something when next to her. Every night she just blew me away. I’ve done a few tours, but Beyoncé’s tour was the only one that I’d stay and watch every single night. I’m a fan. During the tour, I got to speak with her in her dressing room and I was so nervous. They literally had to push me in. She’s like a living legend. She was just the sweetest, most accommodating, and most present artist to be around. And she gave me such great inspiring advice. She’s amazing.

TWU: And finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2011?

Shontelle: It’s gonna be a very busy year. Next from here, I’m going to Nigeria – which I’m really excited about, as it’s my first time going to Africa. After that, it’s Malaysia – there’s a whole lot of travelling ahead. But I get to go to Barbados in April to shoot an ad campaign, so that’s amazing, as I get to pop home for second. I’ll be focusing on the album, I’m gonna release a repackaged version of ‘No Gravity’, which will feature some new songs. I’ll also be promoting the singles around the world and performing lots. It’s a very busy, but fun year ahead. 

Shontelle: ‘Perfect Nightmare’ – is out now.

Stay up to date with Shontelle on Twitter – www.twitter.com/Shontelle_Layne

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker 

This interview was conducted on behalf of MTV UK.

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