For Elle Shimada, the concept of home is ever-changing; it is the current which flows through her debut album, ‘Home ≠ Location’, released on Australian label The Jazz Diaries.
“Home is multiple, complex, shapeless. Home is in music, a space to share it with you,” the Tokyo-born, Melbourne-based artist sings on the album opener. Across eight dizzying tracks, ‘Home ≠ Location’ contains lean, skittish skeletal beats upon which Shimada’s shimmering falsetto climbs. Lithe and loose, marrying incisive political commentary with deep introspection, the album folds in blends of house, bass and candied keys to showcase why Shimada is one of Australia’s most exciting talents.
“After writing ‘Home ≠ Location’,” Shimada says, “I don’t feel that I need a location to call home anymore. Making this album was maybe really necessary for me.” ‘Home ≠ Location’ is cathartic, a lifetime of angst exhaled onto eight tracks. The lyrics revolve around themes of home, diaspora cultures and finding pleasure and escapism in a world intent on denying it. It is the result of several years of tinkering: spending time as a session musician on different influential Australian artists’ projects, Shimada has also been an active member of Melbourne’s thriving underground live music scene. “When lockdown came and all these thoughts entered my head, I just started recording my voice as a note on my phone to clear my mind,” she says. “Some of them became my lyrics. It was like an archive, a diary of where my mind has been.”
Shimada was born and raised in Tokyo to creative parents. Growing up in a housing commission in Shibuya, Tokyo, she experienced a “very humble community living”. When she was 10, her parents moved the family to a sustainable artistic community in an abandoned primary school to start an artist warehouse. They ran off a solar power system, had a veggie garden and threw parties in the school playground. She was afforded rare freedom: having had restless, itchy feet all her life, Shimada left Japan at 14 to live in New York City, to gain exposure to a world she had never encountered before. “I wanted to go as far as possible, because I thought that would be better,” she says. “I now realise that home is where my soul belongs.”
She was introduced to a world of live music in New York City, which influenced her decision to move to Australia at 15. She taught herself how to play the violin there. “I didn’t speak a word of English, so music became more of a communication tool,” she admits. “That hasn’t changed ever since, I still use music as a way to foster connections between concepts in my mind and the outer world, the audience on dancefloors, and hopefully, a global community.”
Having found a community of like-minded creatives in Melbourne, the city (and Australia, as a whole) has never truly felt like home, until now. “All my friends, it’s a miracle that we/they exist,” she says. “Our stories are all different, but we all have stories about fleeing our country, or how their ancestors fought. I tried to have a space where my music can be a vessel for them to share stories that aren’t false.”
She funnelled the anger she felt and subverted it by creating ‘Home ≠ Location’. “It’s a waste to not embrace joy and celebrate pleasure in this life, because it’s a miracle that we are all here,” she says. Shimada closes the album with her shimmering voice whispering, “Our protest is to build a home in our body / a warm and safe space for us to just be. おかえり (okaeri). You are home.”
Buy/stream ‘Home ≠ Location’ here.