Alexandria Maniak, a.k.a, Shortly is a Detroit-based musician whose emotive sound takes on an air of pastoral shoegaze. Her songwriting is raw to the point of confessional, and her lead single “Matthew” details the weight of responsibility when those you love experience addiction.
I interviewed Maniak via email about her songwriting process and Detroit’s music scene while she was on her first tour.
Rosie Accola (RA): How did you come up with the name Shortly?
Shortly: I used to go by my actual name, but I had been doing that for so long that the sound I’d attached to it was completely separate from the way that I felt emotionally and the kind of music that I wanted to write.
I decided I wanted to be someone else, or a part of something larger than what I thought I was capable of alone, so I changed my name and moved forward with the music that I’d been wanting to write. I thought “Shortly” worked perfectly for me since a lot of my music and poetry is based on that feeling of growing in and out of emotion or the puberty in waiting for something to happen — like I’d been waiting to write and share these thoughts for years.
RA: You’re currently on your first tour with Vagabonds. How’s it going?
Shortly: It’s going so well. People seem receptive to the music and that means a lot to me. I’m really glad to be sharing my first tour with Luke [Dean]. He’s been at it for so long that I learn something new (and vitally important) about touring every day we’re on the road.
RA: Describe your writing process: What’s the toughest and most rewarding part of writing songs?
Shortly: Sometimes I get a sound in my head, and I think, yeah, that would be perfect there, but I’m not as great at the guitar as I’d like to be. So, a lot of the time, the tougher part is trying to make that thing in my head “happen,” and the learning curve that comes with it. It’s equally as rewarding, though, to see it come together melodically with what I’ve written lyrically.
RA: How did you get involved in Detroit’s music scene?
Shortly: I was in the right place at the right time. I had started writing music and going to local shows a while back, but it was always through friends I’d known who invited me to go. When I moved to Detroit to attend college, I made closer connections with friends who had also moved to study music at DIME or Wayne. It just kind of all happened like dominos from there. I met a friend at a show who needed a roommate, and they happened to be really active in Detroit music. I met other people, close friends now, through them, and really found a home and community in them all.
RA: What’s the best part of inhabiting a space like a DIY music scene?
Shortly: Absolutely the overwhelming sense of community and support. It stretches past more than just your local scene. I’m here on the road with Vagabonds and we have always had a room to play in, and bed or a floor to sleep on. We’re the same back home. We want to make music as accessible as possible.
RA: What do you think Detroit has to offer as a music scene that might not be found elsewhere?
Shortly: I can only speak on my own experiences, but I think that the community in Detroit is special because of its cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The “Detroit” scene encompasses so much more than just metro Detroit. Doors will open for you from Detroit to the southern border of the state and up into Saginaw. In Detroit proper, the city is consistently shifting and growing and changing. That is definitely reflected in the music that comes out of the scene — there’s classic rock, indie rock, rap, hip-hop, emo, metal, country — really, anything you can think of — happening in Detroit right now. It’s not genre-specific.
R.A.: Who inspires you as a writer or musician?
Shortly: I’ve been a huge fan of Jessica Abbot’s work for years. Her music isn’t overly complicated and it seems to be open to any kind of sound that will tell the song’s story. That thought has influenced me tremendously. Is this cohesive? Does that matter?
R.A.: Describe “the life of a song” for you. Do you start with a riff, lyrics, or both?
Shortly: It depends on the song. Most of the time I’ll have lyrics tucked away somewhere and I’ll be playing something and think, “This feels like it could work for that body of thoughts I wrote two years ago,” and layer them and rearrange. But a lot of the time they come hand-in-hand. Those always end up being my favorite songs to play.
RA: Tell me about your song, “Matthew.” What inspired you to write it?
Shortly: “Matthew” is, pretty broadly, inspired by and written about growing up. A lot of people I used to know very well — grew up with — have fallen victim to addiction, and I feel a lot like I haven’t known them since then. Some of them are gone completely. Things like the scenario illustrated in that song have become so much more obvious to me since I left the city I grew up in and started watching from the sidelines. In general, that song is about talking with the people I love and grew up with about the other people we loved and grew up with who are gone now, physically or mentally, and weighing our own guilt and responsibility.
RA: What are your hopes for your future as a musician? Do you have an E.P. or a full-length in the works?
Shortly: I like telling stories. Whether it’s serious or lighthearted, I want to keep talking to people about things that matter to me. I just want to get better at that and share more of that and reach my goals one at a time musically. I have a body of work I’m recording right now, and I fully intend to release more music before the year is over. How much and in what form is for time to tell.