Emerging Headliner

SHY Martin: Starting From Scratch

Sara Hjellströ, aka, SHY Martin, has undergone something of an artistic rebirth during the pandemic. She has severed ties with her previous record company and management to start her own label, SHY Recordings, from which she has just released her latest single Break With Me. Here, the acclaimed artist and composer discusses her new direction and how she came to write hits for the likes of Chainsmokers, Ellie Goulding and Bebe Rexha.

CR: How have you been coping with the pandemic?

SM: I was in New Zealand on a writing camp when the first case happened in Sweden. When I got home there was no food in the grocery stores, it was crazy. I was supposed to be touring the whole of last year and doing a lot of writing trips, so I’m very used to travelling. Within a week everything was cancelled. When I got home my schedule was empty and I’m not used to that. So in the beginning it was hard for me to adjust and feel motivated. I felt super uninspired.

CR: It sounds like lately you have been more productive. Was Break With Me written during lockdown?

SM: I had the song from before lockdown, actually. I wrote it a couple of years ago with my boyfriend, my big brother and my best friend. That song has been a voice memo for the past two years. During the past year I stopped working with my previous label and quit working with my management and publisher. For a while I felt completely lost and burned out.

CR: Is that what made you go fully independent?

SM: Yes. I know the process and have been very involved in all of my releases and the business side of things. I was listening to some old songs and I found Break With Me and thought maybe I could release it myself.

CR: What first inspired you to become a songwriter in the first place?

SM: My parents always played music. I grew up listening to whatever they listened to – ABBA, Jimi Hendrix, Linkin Park, Roxette, U2. It was various genres. My dad mostly listened to Swedish punk and rock, and my mum listened to more emotional, soulful music. When I started to grow up, I listened to a lot of emo, rock and punk.

CR: Tell us about your approach to songwriting?

SM: I usually start with a guitar or piano; if you are able to play a song on a guitar or piano and it sounds good, then it’s a good song. I always start with the melody. I think that’s because English is my second language, so when I grew up listening to English music I listened to the melody first as I didn’t understand the language. That’s how I’ve always written, but I love lyrics. I love playing with words and finding new ways to say something.

CR: You’ve written songs for some big artists – Chainsmokers, Bebe Rexha, Ellie Goulding – how did those jobs come up?

SM: It’s only now I’m realising what I’ve been doing, because I haven’t thought about it much. I wrote the Chainsmokers song (All We Know) with my boyfriend at music school. We didn’t have a publisher or management or anything, and we were just very naïve. We were just googling Chainsmokers’ email address! Back then it felt like everything was possible, so we googled their email, sent them the song and said we thought they would sound awesome on it.