Being comfortable in your own skin is often easier said than done. And everyone's journey to get to that point is different. For Shireen Amini, a Bend-based singer/songwriter, their journey toward that feeling has started to hit its stride—you can tell that much from Amini's new album, appropriately titled, "Break Myself Free."
Recorded at Plaid Dog Recording in Boston, Massachusetts, (save two songs that were laid down at the Firing Room in Bend), "Break Myself Free" was recorded throughout the pandemic and made possible by the studio's crowdfunding model in place for artists. Through its seven tracks you hear Amini open up and share pieces of hope, self love and connection. The album is meant to be celebratory and inspiring—and Amini tells the Source that "Break Myself Free" is meant to let people know that "It's joyful to be who you are!"
Sound-wise, the album is a fun mix of styles. If you've seen Amini perform around Central Oregon over the years then you'd expect nothing less— there are touches of folk, R&B, soul and pop all over the record. One moment Amini will be running through verses almost spoken-word style, and at others be lifting the song with warm vocals.
In our interview below we chat with Amini about making the album, connecting with the music and nature, and plans for an interactive-concert tour.
Source Weekly: How special was it for you to be able to crowdfund for the album during the pandemic? I imagine the community support was extra touching given the circumstances.
Shireen Amini: It was incredibly special. It was a risk that I was nervous to take. Especially when so many people were experiencing so much loss, including economic loss. I was a little torn about asking for financial support. But I found that the people who have been a part of my world from all phases of my life—from my youth to the most recent community I've made, they really stepped up and were generous and excited for me. I can imagine that came from awareness that musicians were going to suffer a blow. It certainly felt like love—like, "We believe in you!"
SW: What was it like recording out in Boston and did the pandemic affect that experience in any way?
SA: I had an absolute blast! Even though the city was largely shut down, because Mass was hit harder and quicker than other places. I found their protocols a lot more serious than even what we experienced in Oregon. I didn't experience it [Boston] in its full aliveness, but I loved the city. I got to adventure around and still got the feel of it.
The actual recording process was hindered by COVID precautions. The producers and engineers at the studio had these very strict ways of placing us in the studio. The first day was drums and bass—and I had to be in a separate room from everybody else and had to watch the engineer and everyone on Zoom. The engineer, drummer and bassist were all able to make eye contact but I had to be in a separate room. So I was very disheartened at first but then I got used to it. The producer I was supposed to work with, he was expecting a child and he handed off the project to his other producer to do all the tracking [during in-person sessions]. So I never met my producer once— not in person. I only met him over Zoom and email.
SW: So the substance of the album is a celebration of yourself and your identity. What sparked the fire in you to do such a personal record?
SA: I think part of it is that it's a little out of my control what inspires me to write. Usually what inspires me to write is a deeply personal process. It's the place I find my most authentic self—it comes through in this safe sanctuary of songwriting. It really is a bold step to expose that to the world. There is a part of me that has a lot of passion around me about changing the culture that we live in. That's what music has done for me. It has given me empowerment. I wanted to be able to share songs that were part of my own transformation.
SW: The title track is especially vulnerable. You talk about shedding an old costume and letting people see all sides of you. How does it feel now to know you're not letting yourself be confined by these old constraints anymore?
SA: God, it feels amazing. It's kind of like, say you've lived with a certain amount of blurred vision. You thought that it was normal and you just lived that way. Then your doctor says, "No, you need glasses." It's not a perfect analogy but I had lived my life in this slightly dull, holding some shame, just not happy and thriving. I didn't live in the dumps, but I was just not. Now being largely free of that and being who I want to be, it's like, "oh my god, I didn't know I could be this happy!" It's changed me. It's a huge part of why I'm willing to be that vulnerable.
SW: Do you have advice for others who may be looking to make similar changes in their lives and live more to the way they want to?
SA: The first thought that comes to mind is to find those safe people. Not the ones that just see that truth wanting to come out, but the ones that encourage it. For me, little things that worked as a gender non-binary person is like buying the shirt I wanted to wear—not the feminine one. Cutting my hair the way I like. When your outsides match your insides as a gender-queer person you feel more at peace. At alignment.
SW: I really enjoy what you did on "Homesick." Can you elaborate a little on the meaning of "home" to you and why that is something that can change?
SA: What I was getting at is that home is finding that love and peace within yourself and finding the right environment and people that support your striving. I was talking about a home that no longer fits me, but not having quite arrived at that home on the other side yet. Home is really where I find acceptance and belonging—within myself and the people and culture I choose to belong to.
SW: How have you grown closer to nature?
SA: In the course of making the album in particular, which can span back as far as four years, I would find more and more in my creative process that I would get deep inspiration when I was out in nature. A song like "Hippie Deep" for example, I was walking by First Street Rapids and taking that time to let the lyrics flow. That song was about rekindling that sacred connection to nature—it's a real powerful connection. We don't have to look like a hippie to have that.
The year of the pandemic was really special, despite the challenges, but it got me paying more attention to my local, natural environment and feeling kinship with the tree in the backyard. It made me pay attention more. It ignited a new level of interest, of like "What is going on in this ecosystem?!"
SW: You mentioned that you have a tour planned that's sort of an interactive house concert series. Can you share a bit more?
SA: There's this whole community I got plugged into of community song leaders. Just people getting together to sing songs in the moment. This community has folded me in in a beautiful way. A lot of these folks are amazing activists, too. Even before I got in that I was really passionate about participatory music. I come from Puerto Rico and I have so many experiences growing up of everyone singing and playing instruments together. I have this longing desire for more interactive music and interactive concerts. I have this vision of teaching the crowd. Almost every song has a piece built into it that people can sing with.
The concept would be for me to plug into these communities who are eager to sing more. It's a really healing and empowering thing we've lost touch with. Here it's [singing in groups] only like in church, and there's all this shame about not having a good voice. But you are entitled to sing and sing in a group. I think it really deepens the connection.
Celebrate the release of "Break Myself Free" with Amini at the Volcanic Theatre Pub on Friday, July 30. CDs and some bonus-material flash drives are available for purchase.
Shireen Amini Album Release
Fri., July 30. 9pm
Volcanic Theatre Pub
70 SW Century Dr., Bend