Nadine Shah Went Through Hell and Wrote Her Way Out on ‘Filthy Underneath’

Within three years since releasing her fourth album Kitchen Sink, Nadine Shah’s world turned upside down. She helped care for her terminally ill mother, who lost her battle with cancer in 2020. Faced with severe grief and PTSD, Shah got married then divorced, and at one point tried to take her own life in 2022 before entering rehabilitation.

Since her 2013 debut, Love Your Dum and Mad, a tribute to two friends who were in the “throes of addiction” and took their lives through the Islamophobia she has faced living in the UK and female grievances around sexism, motherhood, and more on Kitchen Sink, Shah has always tapped into her life experiences, while also playing the observer before Filthy Underneath became her deepest excavation. The 11 tracks document an unprecedented period of turmoil for the South Tyneside-born singer and songwriter.

“There I was 10 years later in a rehabilitation facility, and I was the people that I had written about, and that scared me,” Shah tells American Songwriter. “It was a strange and chilling feeling, knowing that I had been the observer, and now I was the subject.”

Videos by American Songwriter

Filthy Underneath chronicles the heaviness of Shah’s life experiences within a short span from the severing “Even Light”—Are your feelings hurt / Is your ego bruised / Am I touching on a nerve? Shah drips through the sardonic slant of “Topless Mother,” inspired by a series of tense meetings with a therapist who would burst into tears during their sessions, while “Twenty Things” is a song for the people she befriended in rehab, who lost their lives.

[RELATED: Nadine Shah Confronts Female Expectations, Frustrations on ‘Kitchen Sink’]

For Filthy Underneath, Shah returned to work with producer Ben Hillier, who has worked with Shaa since her debut and also produced her recent tourmates Depeche Mode’s Playing the Angel, Sounds of the Universe, and Delta Machine, along with Blur’s 2003 album Think Tank and Elbow’s Cast of Thousands.“I cannot get rid of him,” she jokes. “I’m so comfortable with Ben. As much as I’m growing as a lyricist and a songwriter so is he, musically, and that’s exciting. He grows with me on each album. He’s got a brilliant mind, and we’re great friends.”

She adds, “I don’t want to rock the boat, because if it’s not broken why fix it? I don’t know if I would have been comfortable with anybody else in the room with such a personal album. It’s possible I’ll make something with somebody else at some point, but I doubt I will ever stop working with Ben entirely.”

Melting around penetrating, electro charges are the Tubeway Army-fused “See My Girl,” and more simmering revelations around “Keeping Score”—The world is on fire … you are a lifeline—and “Greatest Dancer,” which was inspired by the BBC competition show Strictly Come Dancing she’d watch with her late mother. “

Filthy Underneath discards the dead skin of a tumultuous time. “I want to recognize that time but also celebrate this work I’m proud of,” says Shah. “It was all born out of this destructive and scary time with my mental health. All the songs were born out of that time, and it’s quite rare for me to write as many songs in as big of a batch as I have this time. I’d say this is the most coherent body of work I’ve ever made, and I’m damn proud of it.”

Nadine Shah (Photo: Photo: Tim Topple)

“French Exit” closes Filthy Underneath and is one of the most “brutally painful” tracks on the album, says Shah, since it discloses her suicide attempt. She later found a touch of levity with the track after the instrumental for “French Exit” was used in the September 2022 stage production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the UK, which starred Shah as Titania, queen of the fairies. The song plays as she has a sexual dance with a donkey.

“The meaning of that song changed ever-so-slightly,” laughs Shah of its second life. “I’ve been worried about having to play that song live, but I know that I’ll have a little giggle in the back of my head whilst I’m singing, knowing that I can do a sexy dance with a donkey to it.”

Perhaps the next collection of her work won’t be as personal, says Shah, who has been gravitating to more mystical and mythical elements. “There’s so much more I want to explore, lyrically,” she says, now that’s she on the other side of Filthy Underneath

“I’m getting quite a lot of joy from the songs that came from quite a harrowing time,” says Shah of the album. “ If I wasn’t in a good place, I wouldn’t be on a stage performing. As long as you are out of that particular dark time then you’re safe singing those songs.”

Photos: Tim Topple / Courtesy of Erika Tooker PR

Aerosmith Announce North American Farewell Tour 2024 With The Black Crowes