Unfolding Austel

Unfolding Austel

Interview with Annie Rew Shaw by Ellen Desmond

Annie Rew Shaw, also known as Austel, takes some time out from promoting her debut EP to chat to The Ampersand Project’s Ellen Desmond about all things creativity, change and self-care

Q: I’m really interested to hear where the moniker Austel came from. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

A: It’s based on the Cornish market town St Austell. I grew up in Devon and spent most summers camping or surfing in Cornwall, so I felt that the moniker was a connection to my roots but also created something new.

Our current issue is exploring the idea of change. You’ve just released your debut EP (congratulations!) so I guess that’s been a big step for you! How have you been feeling about it all?

Thank you! Those songs have been so secret and personal for such a long time, so it was kind of a relief to finally be able to share them with the world. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking putting your work up for scrutiny, but the EP seems to have been really well received so far. Above anything, I’m just really happy to get the ball rolling.

What inspired Unfold and its title? Are there any recurring themes or experiences throughout it?

The songs on Unfold kind of document the past few years for me. They map a journey from feeling very lost and broken, to making some huge changes in my life (which felt incredibly empowering but simultaneously like I’d lost the ground beneath my feet), to finally finding some inner peace and solace in being alone, having rebuilt myself. It took quite a long time to find the right title for the EP. I’d been toying with extracts from the lyrics, but nothing seemed quite right. Collectively, a lot of the songs are about searching for something more; seeking answers that perhaps you can only ever find within yourself. Sometimes it’s just about digging a bit deeper. I realised I needed to break down those walls I’d built. Open up. Unfold.

You’ve told us before that your poetry, illustrations and music serve as a cathartic outlet for you. If you feel comfortable, can you tell us about how your work has helped or hindered your mental health or emotional growth?

Songwriting and performing have always been forms of therapy for me, as I think they are for so many musicians. I had quite a tough time at school and often felt quite isolated, so I turned to writing to help process a lot of that. I still do. Music and art can communicate things that we sometimes find impossible to say. It connects us. It also has the power to turn something painful or dark into something beautiful, or at least something else. I have some go-to albums or songs that can always lift me out of a dark place or restore some self-confidence. Above anything else, I strive for my work to create that same sense of relatability; to help make people feel less alone.

While I deeply love what I do, I’m definitely guilty of being a bit of a workaholic and have to actively ensure I maintain a healthy balance between work, play and switching off. I also work by myself a lot, which can be a bit draining sometimes, so I try to book in sessions with other musicians or meet up with friends as much as I can. Never underestimate how powerful a conversation can be to reboot your passion or drive.

Do you ever discuss themes of change in your work, or use your work to process new challenges?

Absolutely — I think that’s a huge theme throughout my work. I’ve gone through huge periods of change over the past few years — leaving a long-term relationship, moving house multiple times, going through different jobs and social circles. Some of those experiences have been really hard and some have been amazing… I’m really grateful for all of them and how much stronger they’ve made me now. When I’m struggling to understand something or process how I feel, I write. When I feel overwhelmed or stressed, I draw to try and focus my mind or visually express those feelings. When I just need to let stuff go, I sing. A lot!

What are some words of advice that you would give to someone considering taking the next step to releasing artwork or music?

Surround yourself with good people who have your best interests at heart. Try to build a thick skin against rejection and criticism but don’t become cynical or closed-off — your sensitivity and softness are strengths, not weaknesses. Listen. Be kind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Above anything, make sure you’re doing this for you, for what you believe in.

Finally, what’s the next step for Austel?

So much! More videos, live sessions and gigs coming up over the next few months — really looking forward to all of those. I’m constantly writing and in the studio, so there’s plenty more music on the way! I’ve got a lot of plans. Watch this space…

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