Described by The Dallas Morning News as ‘the breakout star of the pandemic,’ Shab joins a generation of Arab artists gaining global audiences on their own terms. Her vibrant tracks – like ‘Dolce Vita’ and ‘Spell on Me’ – are an earworm combination of pop ballad and dance banger. We chat to Shab about spiralling to pop stardom ahead of her upcoming second album, which is expected to drop later this year.
Interview With Shab Ahead Of Her New Album
Hey Shab, how’s life going at the moment?
Life is really good right now. Believe it or not, at this very moment I’m on a Sea Ray boat in Miami, going out for a cruise with a dozen of my friends who are here to celebrate my birthday!
Can you give our readers a little background on your personal story?
I was born in Tehran as the youngest child of 13 kids living in the earliest days of the fundamentalist revolution in Iran. My father, who was part of the petrochemical elite in Iran under the Shab, was so persecuted and experienced so much stress that he died of a heart attack at the age of 52, when I was only six months old. My family managed to escape from Iran, leaving really with only the possessions that we could carry and leaving our familial wealth behind.
We first lived in Ankara, Turkey for less than a year – and then moved to Germany where I was in boarding school until the age of fourteen. I then moved to the United States at the age of 14, arriving at JFK Airport in Queens with zero knowledge of the English language and carrying all of my belongings in a single suitcase. All of my brothers and sisters settled eventually in the greater D.C./Baltimore area, where most of my family live today.
I fell in love in 2015 with a man that I had known for a decade, and moved to Dallas to start a family. Although at the time I had been singing part-time in my native Farsi language, shortly after moving to Dallas, I made the decision that I wanted to start singing in English language. Shortly thereafter, I managed to connect with the wonderful David Sharpe. And, thanks to him and our close work together, we’ve been off to the races ever since!
What was it like moving from Iran to the US? Do you remember it well?
Coming to the United States during the 1980s was still fairly difficult for an Iranian refugee. There was still broad anti-Iranian sentiment within the United States: when you come down to that reality, while having to learn a third language… It was a trying time in my life. But the experiences only made me stronger as a person and more committed to being part of my new adopted homeland.
What’s it like having such a big family?
Most of the time, it’s a riot. Because of the fact that I am the only one of my stateside brothers and sisters living away from the Mid-Atlantic states, I only get to see them sporadically, visiting the East Coast or when they are visiting us in Dallas. I communicate with most of my siblings weekly, but actually talk on the phone with a few of them almost daily. Indeed, a few of them actually came down to Miami to celebrate my birthday, and are on this very boat right now!
You’re a voice for women in Iran struggling for freedom – what has your journey toward activism been like?
I was not immediately comfortable with the thought of being an outspoken voice on these issues. Frankly, my years as a child in fundamentalist Iran had warped my concepts of womanhood and its possibilities – and it hasn’t been until the last decade that I found myself understanding how to shed those formative limitations. But after seeing the changes in myself and the opportunities available to me, this newfound freedom and confidence in my femininity is something that I want for all Iranian women – and for all subverted women, wherever they may be found.
How do you think people can best help the cause?
Absent the forces of war. The reality is likely that the gangster regime in Tehran & Qum will only be overthrown when an overwhelming majority of the Iranian people decide that death or imprisonment would be better than perpetuating the regime’s existence. And I am hoping that such occurs within the next several years. Until then, the world can best help out by enhancing the isolation of the regime, while providing the Iranian people with encouragement and awareness.
Did you always want to be a singer?
I was always fascinated by music, but my decision to become a pop singer came at a relatively late stage. I actually thought that I would end up being an entrepreneur, owning a wellness centre or something to promote wellbeing. And I guess the most surprising thing in that respect is learning in real time how different the daily life of a pop singer is from what one otherwise might imagine.
When did you decide to be a singer? When did it seem like a realistic pursuit?
When I moved to Dallas almost a decade ago, at that time I had been singing in Farsi on a part-time basis with my brother Shahab, who is actually a concert singer here in North America for the expatriate Iranian community. But in late 2016, I made the decision that I wanted to start singing in English, if for no other reason than to allow my guy to understand the lyrics that I was composing!
Which musicians inspire you most?
It’s probably the musicians – in particular, the guys in my band – with whom I get to work regularly. I see the joy and artistry that they bring to their work daily, and it inspires me to try to hone my own contributions with greater flair and precision.
But there are a number of famous musicians with breathtaking abilities that I greatly admire as well. I’m guessing this list of mine would start with Stevie Wonder, Prince and Sting.
What has been a standout moment in your career so far?
I would have to say that the most impactful timeframe was married to my first European tour last year. It was extraordinary to find myself on stage in Amsterdam, Manchester and London, thinking about all the past legends who had shared the very same stages where I was making my debuts.
What is going on tour like?
Going on tour is very much like the daily life of an entertainer. It’s about 95 percent grind and five percent glam. And the reason that you will often see comic depictions of entertainers forgetting the cities they are performing in is due to the reality that it’s incredibly easy to do! It’s great when you have an off-day to explore a region that you’ve never encountered previously, but most of the daily activities on tour are about travelling to the city, checking into your hotel, getting a bit cleaned up before sound check, and finally the performance itself. The whole process is rinse, wash, repeat – with the interventions of adrenaline rushes experienced by actually performing for our fans.
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How do you psych yourself up for a show?
Aside from vocal exercises, I incorporate into my pregame routine a window of time – maybe 15 to 20 minutes – where I am free to quietly meditate and achieve a keen focus on the upcoming task. I want every performance to be my best ever and to put out nothing but positive energy to my fans.
What is your favourite song of your own?
Probably ‘Serenity’, which most people do not realise is something of a love poem to God.
Do you get to spend much time at home?
Fortunately, I do get to spend a lot of time at home. While I will only spend four of the coming 40 days in Dallas, I have been home with the kids for most of the first quarter of 2023. So it’s time to start working again!
What’s your interior design style?
Very clean lines and somewhat minimalistic. With so many kids in the house, the environment is never going to be pristine – but our interior layout was laid out with specific thoughts in mind that the kids would be riding their scooters, playing soccer and dodging around at Nerf tag in the house. No fragile or delicate breakables within kid reach!
You live at home with your husband and children – how do you balance your career with family life?
I actually get asked this question a lot, and I think it ignores the reality that I am fortunate to have twice the amount of help of most working moms. Particularly when I have to be on the tour road, the separation from our kids is hugely difficult, but we tried to keep our absences to manageable durations. Aside from that reality, the problems that I encounter in balancing my career with our family life is almost certainly not more complex than any other professionally focused working mom out there.
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What are your favourite things to do as a family?
Soccer is something of a legacy passion in our crew, so we built an artificial turf soccer field in our backyard for the kids, where they practise with their teams. But our kids are all active, with different individual interests – whether piano, chess, tennis or jumping on our trampoline – so we could find ourselves doing a lot of things that one might not normally expect.
How do you like to wind down?
I actually spend more time than people might expect in meditation, which I often do in tandem with my daily stretching routines. But ultimately, one of my favourite means of resetting my mindset is to cuddle up next to my guy and just breathe in his scent.
Anything in the pipeline that you’re excited about?
There are a bunch of things happening in the next few months! During the first week of May, my latest single dropped. The song is called ‘Indestructible’ and was part of the set that I performed throughout Europe and Britain on my recent 2022 tour. The song received a terrific reception from audiences when played live.
Then a few weeks later, we will release another new song that is going to be quite a departure from my past work. It’s a collaboration with the legendary hip hop artist Fat Joe; we took the rhythm track from his iconic club hit ‘Lean Back’ and layered both the lyrics from my first single ‘Spell On Me’ together with a new rap by Joe into this incredible mashup that we are calling ‘VooDoo’. And the video which Joe and I did to support this single was produced on a Hollywood cityscape film set with a small army of dancers, so it will be the grandest production that we’ve ever done on video.
Moreover, at some point during the summer of 2023 I will be releasing my second album – which will be called Euphoria and include five or six songs that my fans have not yet heard. And finally, I anticipate being back in the studio during early May and June with a view towards expanding upon the new musical direction that you will hear in my upcoming album.
I’m watching… I really don’t watch that much TV. My life is a bit of a soap opera to begin with, and I’m just waiting for someone to seek the story rights.
What I’m reading… Nothing in particular right now, but my go to reading these days are works or passages that help me to realign my perspective and inspire me to achieve.
The last thing I watched (and loved) was… Murder Mystery with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. I think it’s so fun to watch those two interact on screen.
What I’m most looking forward to seeing… On the evening that I return to Dallas from this current trip, my guy and I will be seeing Seal in concert that evening. What a way to wind up a trip!
Favourite film of all time… Braveheart. The love story is compelling.
Band/singer I always have on repeat… Rufus du Sol
My ultimate cultural recommendation… Have respect to the elderly, as maybe they’ll help make you wiser.
Cultural guilty pleasure… Texas barbecue.
What’s next for me is… In a couple of weeks, we will be going on tour again in Britain – my first of three tours during the summer and fall of 2023. I know for almost certain that I will be in Britain for maybe ten appearances during May and anticipate returning for at least five more outdoor festivals and club dates in England and Wales during July. As for fall dates, we hope to be announcing those fairly soon. We are also developing plans for my first North American run of shows during the latter half of 2023, which I am hoping will include a dozen club dates located all across the country. So we are hitting the road!