Hailing from Southgate, artist Alexandria Maniak has always had an affinity for music, playing piano covers on YouTube from a young age before creating their own unique sound under the name “Shortly” during their sophomore year of college.
“I had played music under my own name that I felt was very commercial and didn’t really represent who I was, and I didn’t know how to rebrand myself yet, so I just became something different and that was Shortly,” they say via Zoom before playing a sold-out show in Philadelphia.
Shortly recorded their first full-length album, Dancer, in January 2020. Finally released this past September, the album is a reflection of their struggles, growth, and memories. “I felt like I was putting together a memory box, being like ‘look what I did’ these past five years,” they say.
Now, they’re on the road with fellow Michigan-native Chloe Moriondo on the Blood Bunny tour. Shortly returns to their hometown on Nov. 27, playing as both an opener and bassist for Moriondo at Detroit’s El Club. Hour Detroit spoke with Shortly ahead of the show about the new album, writing lyrics, and finding inspiration in Detroit.
Hour Detroit: How long did Dancer take to come to fruition?
Shortly: When I first started the project, I felt as though I had a whole album’s worth of material to record, and I kind of just scrapped it all down to be just an EP. I’ve had a lot of these songs ready since 2017. It’s a mixture of new and old songs, because there are songs that I wrote throughout all these years. Some of the songs are songs that have existed for so long not recorded and that I’ve just toured the country playing but have never been physically recorded. “Dancer” itself is the newest song in the album. I wrote it a couple of days before I went into the studio because I was looking for a happier thesis for my album.
Did you ever go back and think “oh, I have to re-record this” because you had so much time between recording it and when it was released?
Even when I hear little bits and pieces that I would change, it feels like it goes against the integrity of the music because we created it all right there, and in a lot of ways it feels like a little time capsule. When my bandmates and I listen to the songs, we think of the creative space we were in in the studio. I think a lot of those little ditties are what make it cohesive as an album since so many of those songs are from different time periods. Some of the songs, I would go back and change lyrics or go back and change structure, but I like them as they are. I think I spent a lot of time holding onto songs because I’m a perfectionist. I’m trying to let go and allow failure to be a part of the process a lot more.
You say Dancer is sort of like a memory box for you. Do you find it hard to be so personal with your lyrics knowing that a lot of people will be listening to your music?
Nowadays I’ve noticed myself thinking harder about them. I think when I wrote a lot of the songs that are on my earlier music, I was writing music that I needed, so it didn’t really matter. To this day, I feel like I still write music that I need, so it didn’t really matter too much if it was too personal because it was supposed to be. I wasn’t really expecting it to be a commercial thing…I’ve realized it’s harder to be as vulnerable because I’ve seen backlash, and I don’t want to play a show and have everyone cry all the time. I want to make people smile and be happy, too. How vulnerable I am with my music is just dependent on what I’m trying to communicate. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but it’s also extremely easy, and I just have to learn to cope with it and not absorb all of my fans’ trauma as well.
Online publication UPROXX said you’re one of Michigan’s best songwriters. What is your process of writing songs? Do you need a certain ambiance for it, or can you just write?
When it comes to the writing process, I’m inspired by actual things that happen around me and people around me. I’m a big people-watcher. I’m really interested in interpersonal relationships, so I feel like a little art kid where I’m just staring at people and I’m like, “What if… what if you guys were in love?” I feel like I can’t write a song without a story or at least without a feeling.
When you’re not on tour, you live and work in Detroit. Do you have any go-to hot spots?
I grew up south of Detroit, and when I’m feeling extra Tumblr-sad style, I drive downriver and get inspired by the suburban industrial wasteland. Just going to places that I used to when I was younger is an inspiring environment to me. As for hot spots in Detroit, I think most people go to Belle Isle. I would say that’s a pretty big one for me. I like writing in nature. I think that it helps me focus. Sitting alone in nature in Detroit of all places, it feels like a very big juxtaposition. Being home and on my own in various places in Detroit inspires me.
This is something I’ve been curious about — where did the name “Shortly” come from?
People ask me that all the time, and I used to have some deep answer for it, but now I think I was just young and in college, and I wanted a one-word name. I wanted it to be something that I heard all the time, and that’s what I chose. I thought it was kind of a cute, quirky name. Now I’m not so sure, sometimes I’m like, “should I change this? This is a weird name!” [laughs].
For more information about the El Club, show visit elclubdetroit.com.