Interview: Sex Jokes – we talk to Shelley Jane Newman ahead of debut gig

One of our ones to watch this year Sex Jokes is set for their debut gig at Dubrek this Saturday (12 May 2018) as part of Dirty Filis’ Public Meltdown #1. The solo project of Shelley Jane Newman, the musician chatted to Storge editor Sarah Lay ahead of the show.


There’s a lot of exciting artists blooming in Derby right now, I’d choose to listen to many of them not through local pride or a sense of obligation but because they are hitting the spot. Across a range of genres artists are emerging from our streets and playing shoulder-to-shoulder with those better known, and showing their potential, delighting as they go. There is much to be enthusiastic about but I’ve been eagerly awaiting one local artist to emerge from their early cocoon phase, to metamorphose their music to the point we can share it, since first hearing of them.

And now here they come.

“Get out there. Get your music out there. Don’t wait for permission. Do what you love and other people will recognise that and love it too.” Shelley Jane Newman is getting ready to play her first gig under her Sex Jokes moniker, a project she’s been working on over the last 12 months and which we at Storge tipped as a one to watch for this year.

But while this may be a debut of this Sex Jokes it’s far from the first time for the veteran of both the Derby and Manchester music scenes. “I picked up a guitar at 14 and had the standard boring guitar lessons that held my interest for about two minutes before a student teacher from my school began the Rock’n’Roll Club at lunch times. I didn’t have many friends and was bullied for being ugly (apparently) so having somewhere to go at lunchtime was a blessing. As soon as I learnt some chords I started writing songs. So many feelings dying to get out!

“I was in a couple of bands as a teen but mainly gigged solo in Manchester in the ’90s – I was the ‘go to’ acoustic act in our area so I supported loads of great people like Tom Hingley, Joseph Arthur and Nick Harper. Cut to now, I sing in an electro-pop band called Mighty Kids – we are releasing our first EP this summer when we play Indietracks. I’m also playing bass (which is my main instrument) in a pretty noisy band, God No!. We’re just starting out so nothing to share yet but it is with true Derby musicians of note, so I feel privileged to be a part of it.”

Sex Jokes Shelley Jane Newman

Growing up around Manchester it wasn’t the city’s music scene which got under her skin as much as the garage rock and grunge coming from across the Atlantic and orbiting one legendary label in the UK.

“My music tastes were born out of mid ’90s 4AD – Throwing Muses, Belly, The Breeders and Pixies. I think you can hear that in my sound – and it’s no coincidence that every one of those bands had an amazing bass player. This is one of the reasons I loved Cable too – they were all fantastic musicians but I’m always listening for the bass! Right now for me locally it’s all about Pet Crow and Babe Punch. I know I’m obsessed with bass guitar but those women are amazing!”

With a number of musical projects on the go Newman began pulling songs together for what became Sex Jokes, born from a growing frustration and an outlet for those emotions. “I started writing songs in this vein without it being a conscious decision. I just got more and more pissed off with stuff in the world and more and more honest about my feelings and electric guitar was the loudest way to convey messages!

“The name came from joking with my friend about what our band would be called if we had one. I didn’t think of it to try to be provocative but I can see it’s perceived that way and I guess it works for this project because of that. The funniest sex joke I know is binary gender…what a trick!”

While the idea of binary gender is a joke the diversity of Derby’s music scene is less so. Now, as always, there are fewer women and female-identifying people making music locally (or at least fewer sharing what they’re doing) but Newman is quick to celebrate the artists we do have, “My favourites are Pet Crow, Babe Punch, Haiku Salut and Umbilica but I just know that there are people out there writing songs in their bedrooms right now that I am ready to love. I think we will see a wave of younger people inspired by Babe Punch, we just have to wait until they’re ready. I don’t know who they are but I am really excited to hear them!”

For Sex Jokes writing begins on a ‘shitty/beloved classical guitar’ with lyrics following, but Newman always returns to the bass and thinks of herself first and foremost as a bass player. So far we’ve only been given demo track Talk, a track with an impressive list of musical touchstones from Rilo Kiley to Chastity Belt, Dream Nails to Dream Wife. It introduces an artist doing something different on the local scene but allied to a growing wave of punk-pop around right night. “I wrote Talk about those online battles with strangers I have sometimes, I won’t call people trolls as it’s reductive and most people aren’t trying to start arguments.

“Starting conversations with other humans is the only way to understand and navigate our differences. So it’s quite literal – ‘don’t talk [shit] about me unless you’re willing to talk to me’ because I’m always looking to get a dialogue going! That’s the purpose, if not the topics, of my other songs – opening up conversations about how I feel about the world, sexism, love and having dark thoughts.”

Making music alone is quite a different proposition to performing it live and Newman has been working on how to recreate the full garage rock band sound of Sex Jokes in a live setting, “I have only very recently welcomed technology into my life so my learning curve has ramped up lately by getting this awesome all singing, all dancing TC Helicon pedal!

“I am definitely a performer though, I’m one of those ‘look at me, don’t look at me’ people – where I’m an introvert and extrovert in equal measures. Performing can be difficult because of that but it’s almost completely involuntary. The intent of my songs is to play them live; that human connection is both terrifying and necessary to me.

“Recording to me is about documentation – not about taking ages to craft something, so I would write, record and share music on Soundcloud or on YouTube in one evening. It’s not perfect that way but it’s immediate and I like that. Recording properly for this project has been a different experience for me – forcing me to revisit songs has taught me a lot about myself as a musician.”

For those of us waiting impatiently this gig feels like it’s been a long time coming but the event seems like a perfect launch for the project. D Filis has kept the majority of the line up for the Dubrek gig under wraps as he tries to break the cycle of passive ‘interested’ clicks online and get people talking to each other about happenings again. Newman said, “I’m really excited! This has been a long time brewing so I’m happy to be getting out there again and sharing it with people. Plus it’s D.Filis art event and the rest of the line up is basically a mystery but it’s going to be special – you’ll have to trust me on that because I am in the know and I never lie.”

She is similarly positive about the wider Derby music scene, one in which she’s heavily embedded both online and off, “I know most of the people who are creating in Derby so I would say lots of cool things happen here because I hear all about it.

“Whether it’s all the gigs Danielle (Pet Crow) is putting on at Dubrek right now, music films on at QUAD or art trails run by local community groups. There are microcosms of greatness waiting to be discovered if people only look. ‘Nothing ever happens in Derby’ is the local joke – the people who say it in all seriousness are the ones not supporting the things creative people try to get going here. Ventures can only get off the ground if we lift them up!.”

Sex Jokes play Dirty Filis’ Public Meltdown #1 at Dubrek Studios on Saturday 12 May 2018. Space is limited and tickets are selling fast – get yours and all the other details on Facebook. An EP is due in summer with an album to follow later in the year.

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