INTERVIEW: Nicky Schrire

Nicky Shrire / By Jonx Pillemer

Words by Ed King / Pics by Jonx Pillemer

Nicky Schrire plays at Cherry Reds, John Bright Street, on Sunday 14th June – as presented by Best Seat Sessions. For direct gig & venue info, visit

“It’s all very new for me. It’s a different community, a different group of musicians, and also different audiences. I’m excited. I’m just rolling with it.”

Nicky Schrire is no stranger to the stage, but her two album portfolio represents a lineage of Jazz schooling, composition and performance. An Education EP however, Schrire’s latest notch on the sound desk – released on 15th June through Wild Sound Recordings (and being showcased at Cherry Reds the night before) is not Jazz. It’s Folk, with a traditional tint. And an endeavour of pure storytelling over the sound of six stings and four.

“I appreciate people recognising the lyrics,” explains Schrire, “in the Jazz world there’s a lot of emphasis staked on original music; you have a lot of original instrumental music, and the whole reality of where vocalists sit within Jazz is very… it’s sort of a contentious thing, they’re not at the centre of it. Whereas with a lot of Folk it’s about telling a story, so it’s about words and as a result the singer is important.”Nicky Schrire @ Cherry Reds (JBS), 14th June '15

Five tracks of original Folk songs, An Education EP was written whilst Nicky Schrire was back in Cape Town, her home city, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music. They are stories and they are personal, telling in part, and with tongue often in cheek, of her journey from the classroom to the wider world of creative endeavour.

And featuring her childhood friend and cellist Ariella Caira, who also plays in the prominent South African ‘instrumental Pop group’ Sterling EQ, An Education EP is Nicky Schrire’s first public step away from the international Jazz community that have, to date, been her musical peers.

“I see it (An Education EP) as an extension,” describes Nicky Schrire, “I don’t see it as a finite resting point. Jazz is a difficult genre, very niche, but I was able to find a school that offered a Jazz programme and the opportunity to study it. So that’s what I did. I was never going to become a professional classical musician, I was never going to become a concert pianist, and I love Jazz. But I have now come to the realisation, six years after I left South Africa, that I don’t know if I’m a natural fit.”

And how about her audience; after a series of well received self releases, in an arguable ascent of Jazz standards to original compositions, will they be scared of the jump? “I wrote a lot (in Jazz) but my music was becoming perceivably more and more Folkish,” tells Schrire. “People started comparing me to Folk singers instead of Jazz singers, partly because of what I was writing but also vocally I’m not aligned with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn or Carmen McRae.

But so far my experience outside of the Jazz world, and in the Folk world or in the singer/songwriter world, has just been far more positive. The whole environment and the people I’ve met (in the Folk scene) have been incredibly welcoming and generous; they’re less politically inclined, in terms of how they receive people or how they listen to music. That’s why I’m happy to delve further into it and build upon it.”

Nicky Shrire - An Education EP / By Jonx PillemerNicky Schrire’s sophomore album, Space & Time (2013) – a collection of contemporary and classic tracks, was released whilst she was still considered very much a Jazz artist. However Schrire’s cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ could be a page ripped from the Tori Amos handbook; whilst including a beautiful Jazz  piano solo, the homage is delivered with an inescapable Folk narrative.

Schrire’s subsequent To the Spring EP (2014) evolved the shift. The opening track, ‘Traveler’, is a laconic rib tickle at life, and partnerships, on the road – set to a melodic and accessible piano, but with the narrative, and vocals, as the song’s unapologetic lead. And aside from the occasional 60 second noodle, the rest of the EP seems to sit somewhere between the two genres – as if Marlene is sitting on her wall, after being dropped off by the big yellow taxi she caught in Berkley Square.

“I left New York in April 2014 and bought the guitar as I left,” explains Nicky Schrire – talking about the change from keys to string that also underpins her latest EP. “Then I went back to Cape Town and wanted to use it as a different writing tool, because I always wrote on piano.” With every previous release featuring Nicky Schrire on piano, what compelled such a baptism of fire? “I didn’t play (the guitar) and I was interested in writing with an instrument and not being as concerned about if what I was doing was technically right or wrong – as long as I didn’t hurt my hand or wrist, or develop any nasty habits.

I had one lesson with a friend and asked them to let me know if I was doing anything with my posture that would cause me problems down the line, and otherwise I didn’t want to know. And it worked as writing tool; it helped me to focus just on that fact that, you know, a song has a beginning, middle and an end. It simplified my thought process. Plus I love the mobility of the guitar. It’s much easier to find a place to play.”Cherry-Reds

And with an international tour to promote An Education EP, taking Nicky Schrire across the UK and back to Cape Town, it’s easy to see the lure of less baggage. But there’s also less to hide behind, with the first two UK dates being just ‘girl & guitar’ performances; the very first solo endeavour at Cherry Reds, John Bright Street, on Sunday 14th June.

“They’re also totally acoustic, which is really cool,” describes Schrire, “I’m feeling excited because it’s the purest form; the whole kind of kernel of the singer/songwriter Folk music. I often get stressed out over amplification, the placing of the microphone; it’s incredibly liberating to just take a guitar on a train, get off, and just play and sing out.

I like the intimacy as well; it’s definitely suited to the music and it’s a fun context in which to share (music) with people. So I’m looking forward to it, but perhaps ignorance is bliss.”

Nicky Schrire releases An Education EP through Wild Sound Recordings on Monday 15th June. For more on Nicky Schrire, including online purchase points, visit

Nicky Schrire plays at Cherry Reds, John Bright Street, on Sunday 14th June – as presented by Best Seat Sessions. For direct gig & venue info, visit

For more on Wild Sound Recordings, visit


For more from Cherry Reds, including both the York Road & John Bright Street venues, visit

For more on Best Seat Sessions, visit