Sally Shapiro is anything but the frizzy-haired, ball-busting Long Island attorney her name evokes. In fact, Sally Shapiro isn't really a person at all, but rather an alias for the Swedish nu-disco act consisting of bashful, blonde songbird Sally (not her real name) and nimble producer Johan Agebj'rn. Their 2007 debut, Disco Romance, was an underground dance hit -- a collection of late-night, rain-drenched love-gone-wrong songs reminiscent of the forgotten Italo-disco tracks of the early '80s.
The pair remained shrouded in mystery for several months after the album came out, but Out was dogged enough to track them down last year upon the release of their Disco Romance remix albums, Remix Romance Vol. 1 and Remix Romance Vol. 2. (They granted us their first-ever in-person interview in the U.S. to run in print.) Now Sally Shapiro is back with My Guilty Pleasure, a follow-up album boasting Agebj'rn's token chilly keyboard riffs and Sally's gossamer vocals, but also a fair share of techno, house, and '90s pop influences. A certain bubbliness now offsets the brooding, but fans can rest assured that the wistful quality of the music is still intact. In fact, SS has amplified the passion this time, even tossing in a thunderstorm backdrop for their single 'Miracle." The song's gorgeous new video (above), directed by Will Joines, features pensive train rides, torn love letters, raindrop-covered windows, ominous skies, and a pervasive sense of isolation heightened by the fact that the lovers involved both wear headphones the entire time. It's the sort of grand-scale melodrama we gays love.
We recently caught up with the singer behind Sally Shapiro -- who still won't reveal her real name or what she does for a day job -- to talk about her new album, Swedish gay clubs, and her own guilty pleasure. And though she's a pretty private girl, she also divulged her most exciting news to date: that she's one of us.
Out: I hear you've moved.
Sally: Yes, I was in Gothenburg, and now I'm in Lund. It's close to Copenhagen in Denmark. It's another city.
Why the move?
I'm a small-town girl. I wanted to live in a little city, really. I like to be able to ride my bicycle everywhere in town. I couldn't do that in Gothenburg.
Let's talk about the new album. Why the title My Guilty Pleasure? It almost seems like it's referring to the music you and Johan create.
Yeah, it is. And when people have interviewed us, they have said that listening to our music is kind of a guilty pleasure for them. I think it is that kind of music -- a bit cheesy, but fun. People probably don't think they should like it, but they still like it.
How would you say My Guilty Pleasure is different from your debut, Disco Romance?
It takes its influences from other types of music, but I think you'll just notice that if you're really into this type of dance music [Italo disco]. If you're mostly a pop listener, you may not notice. The shorter tracks are maybe a little bit more poppy. I know Johan has been taking in some '90s stuff, some house.
In the single 'Miracle' we can hear crashing thunder. It seems very grand and theatrical.
Johan and I are both very fond of musicals and films, and Johan has been thinking about writing film music. So this was an attempt to make something a little more like film that would fit in a musical -- something more bombastic.
What's your favorite musical?
Oh, all musicals really. I like the concept of musicals. I like how you have the story and then suddenly the people just start to sing and dance. It never happens in reality. It's an old one, but I really like Singing in the Rain.
It's been a little over a year since we chatted. Then you said that Sally Shapiro, the character, is becoming more and more you, the woman behind the character. What is your relationship to Sally Shapiro now?
I feel Sally Shapiro is more our approach. But when I answer interview questions now, I am answering them as myself. When I answered questions in the beginning, it was as Sally Shapiro the character.
So much of Sally Shapiro's story has centered around the mystery of Sally Shapiro. Now that mystery has dissolved a bit -- you've lifted the curtain a bit. Do you think the music has to speak more for itself now?
An interesting question. No, I feel like the music has spoken for itself all along. This mystery just came along because I didn't want to be interviewed. I didn't want to be more personal. That was how it was [with the Italo-disco singers] in the '80s.
You mean with the pseudonyms?
Yeah, exactly. That's how it started. Then I didn't want to be interviewed, and now I'm doing more interviews, so, like you said, it's not that much of a mystery anymore. It feels like the music has mystery around it. I don't want to be mysterious because I'm just doing it as myself now, but I still don't want to talk too much about my private life. I do it in a way I feel comfortable.
The video for your single 'Love in July' (at right) is very cute. How did it come about?
The directors [Paul Leeny and David Loom] contacted us with this idea and asked us if we wanted to do it. We thought it sounded good, so they did it.
Why the story of the fish and the whale?
[Laughing] I don't know, really. If I listen to the song, it's not the first thing that comes into my head. It's another story than what's in the lyrics, but it's a really nice video, so I like it anyway.
Is there any chance you'll return to America to perform?
No, I don't think so.
Because I don't want to tour. It's about two things: I've realized I feel uncomfortable standing on stage. I get nervous just thinking about singing in front of people on stage. Also, I don't want that kind of life -- traveling around, late nights, never being at home. It feels like it could be very tough.
You've kept your office job. Do you think you'll ever leave it behind and pursue music full-time?
I don't think so because I think that would include touring. Otherwise, I would.
Let's talk about 'Dying in Africa,' which is my favorite song on the album. It's a strange notion -- love being connected to dying in Africa. I know it's a Nicolas Makelberge song. Why did you choose to cover it?
Johan and I liked it very much. We thought it fit our project. It's a very naked way to express your feelings. You know that you don't have it bad living in a country where most people aren't starving. You know that you are very well and healthy and your heart breaks because you know it shouldn't be so bad for those people. But at the same time, you have this feeling of heartache from a failed romance -- this feeling that nothing can be worse than what you're feeling right now. It is a way of expressing, logically, that it shouldn't be that bad, but it feels like it is.
Do you think you'll always write bittersweet love songs?
I think so. When you are in that moment in life, you need these songs. Happy songs -- some other people can write them. I am not that kind of person.
Have you noticed a gay following of your music?
With Disco Romance I noticed it. It was from gay clubs in San Francisco that we got offers to perform and not so many other clubs.
What is the gay scene like in Gothenburg, where you were?
The gay clubs are always the merriest clubs, with the nicest music -- maybe because I like that kind of music. It is where people seem more open.
Where is your favorite spot to go dancing/
Greta is an old lady's name, but Greta's is the best gay club to go to in Gothenburg. I also like Club Skoldisco. It is very nice, with people dressing like the '80s.
Back to your bittersweet music. Have you had your heart broken recently?
That's too personal. These songs do come from my and Johan's experience. Most romantic feelings and moments on the album are told in a way that you might write them in a diary.
Are you seeing anyone now?
That is also too private.
I had heard you were interested in women. Are you interested in both men and women?
How long have you known this?
Since high school.
You never mentioned this when we talked last time.
You didn't ask.
Have you dated a woman?
That is also too personal. I can say I am more of a novice in the woman's side than in the man's side.
Do you think you'll ever write about getting into a relationship with a woman in your music?
I hope I will. And with some of the lyrics, I think you can imagine what you want. It's not out of the question.
Have you written a song yet with a woman in mind?
Well, they are not on the record.
Do you think we'll ever hear it?
No, because it is not good enough.
Is Johan still never allowed in the room when you record the vocals for the songs?
No. When I recorded the first songs, he had to really persuade me to do it, but now he doesn't really have to persuade me. Now I do it because I want to do it. He is forbidden to come in, but sometimes he does it and then I stop singing. But it doesn't feel as bad as it did in the beginning.
If you were to perform live, what do you think a Sally Shapiro show would look like? How do you envision it?
I have envisioned it in different ways. When I first thought about it, I thought it would be more of a show, with male dancers in tight pants and a lot of hair pointing every way, dancing in a very '80s way. Now I think if I do a show, it would be calmer, probably just Johan and me with a movie in the background -- not so dance-y.
Speaking of the new album, what is your guilty pleasure?
A year ago I would've said disco, but now it's musicals and movies. Hugh Grant movies -- like, I'll watch them three times in a row.
What's you're favorite Hugh Grant movie?
I like Notting Hill. It's fantastic, the best one. But then I also like Music and Lyrics.
With Drew Barrymore, right?
Yes, I could say I have a crush on Drew Barrymore.
My Guilty Pleasure is now available digitally and in stores. For more info on Sally Shapiro, check out their website.