Making some noise for the Noisettes

The two-piece band are back with an album full of catchy feel-good songs. They talk to Elisa Bray

It's a scorching day and Shingai Shoniwa, striking singer and bassist of pop band Noisettes, disappears into her Chelsea flat to freshen up. Named "Paramount Studio" by 30-year-old Shoniwa, it's an artistic, colourful treasure trove filled with photographs, random objects and costumes – just as you'd hope from an imaginative artist whose high energy performances are known for outfits as outlandish as Grace Jones. She emerges, elegant in a backless peach silk jumpsuit, before showing off the heart-shaped costume she wore for their pre-Olympics show.

The Noisettes have been hailed the "best live band in Britain", and costumes are as integral to the shows as the songs. "There's always something you're sketching on the tour bus", Shoniwa says. "I don't think there are enough gigs to facilitate the stuff in our imagination." The other half of Noisettes, joint songwriter and friend of 15 years, Dan Smith, nods enthusiastically.

He is a painter as well as multi-instrumentalist, and the pair have free rein over each other's ideas-filled notebooks. "We have free rein over each other's handbags", jokes Smith. "That's why our collaboration has been so good", Shoniwa adds. "There are so many things you've written and dismissed and as soon as I've heard it I've said 'that's got to stay'".

The duo had a Top 10 hit with their 2009 album Wild Young Hearts, and a No 2 single in "Don't Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go)". Their new, third, album Contact is brimming with radio-friendly songs, and is as colourfully eclectic as their costumes, bouncing from its orchestra-backed opener to the pure 1960s girl-group pop of "That Girl" and the mandolin-accompanied country ballad "Ragtop Car". "I can't imagine that the album wouldn't be like that", says Shoniwa. "This is the third one that we will have released in five years; the more we learn the more hungry we are and you can hear it in the songs."

The album is filled with instant feel-good songs. The spectrum of emotions from melancholy ("Travelling Light") to jovial and the overriding carpe diem lyrics, could be put down to the diagnosis of Shoniwa's mother with breast cancer and her recovery, all of which happened during the making of the album.

After her father died when she was 11, Shoniwa's mother brought her up. Not that Shoniwa was aware of the songwriting process being a cathartic outlet of emotions at the time. "I am such a sociable person, the reality is I spend one day every two or three months on my own, and it's not until that day that I can have a good cry", she says. "I think there were certain lyrics I was writing when I didn't know that part of the usual process was helping me deal with shock and grief. Now I can look at a few songs and say 'yeah, "Travelling Light" is about forgiveness'. It was probably my subconscious just trying to nurse me because it knows I'm not going to get time to deal with those things until a lot later on."

The single "Winner" conveniently coincides with the Olympics, and for Smith it represents forging an identity of one's own, a life-changing moment he experienced when he moved to Brighton and turned 30. "I started buying old radios and threw the TV out. That was my 'Winner' moment."

They met at the BRIT School in Croydon, when Shoniwa was a 15-year-old drama student (and contemporary of Adele) and Smith was a 19-year-old music student, and share equal roles in the band – not that you'd know from Shoniwa's dominance in today's conversation. Their musical connection stems from their first meeting. "I remember really vividly – and it's always been this way for the last 15 years", recalls Smith. "I'd borrowed a guitar and I sat in the foyer playing and Shingai sat next to me. After a while she just started singing. and we were both improvising and it was intuitive. I know what she's thinking and she knows what I'm thinking."

It helped that both come from creative, musical families. Smith's parents are artists, and his harmonica-playing father started a blues band aged 40, jamming with his old school mate Jimmy Page, the catalyst for his 14-year-old son to turn to music. "That was the point where I said 'wow, if it's that easy to get to jam with Jimmy Page, I want to be a musician.' I decided there and then: forget university."

Shoniwa recounts the many musical members of her family: her uncle played trumpet with Hugh Masekela's band in the 1980s. For her, music was a way of life. "I was always waking up at festivals backstage with all the other kids of the festival promoters. My earliest memories are nights at the Africa Centre. Someone would shove an instrument in my hands and say 'play!' It was so normal that I never considered this a dream career. I didn't take it seriously. And to be honest I still don't and I think that's why it still excites me."

Shoniwa's African roots have found their way in many a Noisettes song, and a highlight for the duo was performing at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi in 2010. They will once again be a part of Damon Albarn's Africa Express tour this September. Collaborations are integral to the band's never-ending quest for musical exploration: Contact features Ne-Yo, while they've worked with artists as varied as Peaches, 1950s baritone Andre Williams, and Patti Smith. "The goal is to enjoy the journey and meet as many amazing people and entertain as many people as possible along the way," says Shoniwa. "Anything else is a bonus."

The Noisettes' new single, "That Girl", is out Monday; the album 'Contact' follows on 27 August

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?