On April 29 New York punk rock/art pop songwriter Shilpa Ray will release her new album Portrait of a Lady via Northern Spy. She has dropped a new single, the leather-clad strut “Lawsuits And Suicide.” Of the song she shares, “‘Lawsuits and Suicide was written as a diss track to my abuser from a relationship I had suffered through in my mid to late 20s. A couple years ago I had read a New York Times article where a high profile abuser had allegedly threatened his victims with either a lawsuit or committing suicide and I was floored that my abuser had used the same style of threats on me. I had no idea how common this device was among abusive men. I wrote this song to express my rage and mock my abuser’s unoriginality. I wish I knew then all the things I know and am finding out about now. I wish I was strong then as I am strong now.” She continues “I wrote this song in the same vein as I did most of the album Portrait of A Lady, by using an 80s soundscape and songwriting sensibility. Ultimately I wanted this song to sound like I was winning. The 80s were all about winning.”
Shilpa teamed with director Kimberly Haven to shoot a video for the single and she notes, “It’s a crazy 80s video. I play a rock n roll judge with two lady justices as my backup dancers. You can see references to Adam Ant, ZZ top, Divorce Court. We had a blast putting this together.”
The idea for Portrait of a Lady stretches back Ray’s experience with photos from Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a personal expose of the photographer’s time in the No Wave scene of New York in the late ‘70s. “It shook me to my core and made me reflect on my own experiences with sexual assault and abuse,” Ray says. She couldn’t shake the idea of a concept album—a full-throated rock album about being a survivor—but found herself hesitating until 2019, when she began to approach the concept in earnest. “I kept asking, ‘How do you do this?’ But Goldin’s work—as well as the writings of music journalist and musician Jes Skolnik—inspired Ray to throw herself into the difficult work.
To match her personal and fearless lyrics, which range from darkly funny to harrowing, Ray and her co-producer/collaborator Jeff Berner gather a wide batch of sounds, from unhinged garage rock to soul ballads. Anger is present on the record, but it shares space with acceptance, gallows humor, and strength. “No survivor has a set way of dealing with what they had to survive. There’s no homogenized experience or interpretation of it,” Ray says. Portrait Of A Lady isn’t a political record so much as a personal one, dedicated to “showing the good, the bad, and the ugly as well as the power one can ultimately hold being a survivor.”
Photo Courtesy: Ebru Yildiz