Shoeb Ahmad reveals the stories behind every song on her new album, “quiver”


Words by Shoeb Ahmad

Shoeb Ahmad’s "quiver" is a moving, intricate rock record, made singular by its tender, sometimes gut-wrenching, vulnerability. Ahmad has been prolific in the Canberra underground music scene for more than a decade, playing in bands like Tangents and Spartak, while continually releasing music under her own name. But "quiver", her fourteenth solo release, is the first time Ahmad has so freely explored identity, parenthood, romance and familial bonds. Writing for Gusher, Ahmad leads us song-by-song through the emotions, memories and experiences that shaped her latest record.

"quiver" first took shape in 2014. A lot of the music was written with the thought of abandoning the electronic arrangements I had become used to, with a focus instead on more analogous recording process. But the words didn’t flow straight away, so it sat on the backburner as I focused on other music with my bands Agency and Tangents.

Between tours in August 2016, my hotel room was robbed in Melbourne, during a time where I was presenting femme secretly. This incident left me feeling violated. I was unable to process my emotions, and struggled to get on with things, even though I needed to.

And yet, it was something of a watershed moment for me. To help cope with what happened, I found myself writing lyrics that expressed how I felt about myself, which made me realise that I needed to come clean with who I was so I could move towards a more positive future.

This process gave me the tools to say what I needed to. I found myself addressing how I felt about identity as a concept, while also reflecting on my own familial truths that had shaped who I had become.

"quiver" is not really a coming out record, more of a document to my personal journey up until this point in time. It’s also an album written with empathy for those like myself - I hope it helps to assure them that they are not alone in this world, even if they feel like they are on the outer.

The song is about youthful innocence at the start of a relationship, and takes inspirations from moments in the Wong Kar-Wai film Days Of Being Wild.

The song actually began life as a demo for my band Spartak, so it’s fitting that instrumentalists involved on the track were Evan Dorrian and Matthew Lustri, who were there with me in the studio when Spartak played it for the first time.

The backing vocal on the song are provided by Gwenno Saunders, who I met along with her partner Rhys Edwards - who mixed this track - when I gave my first performance presenting as my true self during her 2016 Australian tour.


This was the first song written specifically for “quiver”. It’s a jangly guitar jam, and I wrote it with the intention to write an unashamedly, straight-up love song for my wife. At first I thought there wasn’t much to the song, but when it was completed, I realised that what was supposed to be a no-frills love song to my wife was actually a song about letting her know that I needed her to be there for me, and was a reassurance to her that I’m still the same person who made the promise to look after her. And if I have changed, that it has made me a better person to be there for her.

Keep an ear out for the Luke Keanan-Brown drum solo during the bridge!

"washed air"

I am the second-born sibling in my family, born a year after the death of my brother who I never knew.

He had a mythical presence for me: His photos were in frames and photo albums, his name was mentioned in memories of old books, toys of his became mine as I grew up. One of the toys I had been given was a red battleship that he went to retrieve in the pool when he drowned.

He was lost in his innocence, and the sadness of his passing is something that I now realise had always loomed over my own existence - be it through unfulfilled promises, or in the weight of expectation on me.

There’s actually an embryonic version of this which is all shambolic drum’n’bass rhythms, but I feel more comfortable with this version now.

All relationships go through peaks and troughs. I’m a firm believer that a good relationship is built upon working through issues and making sure you both lay-it-all-out on the line. There came a point in time where I lost track of this, and left someone far behind. But when I finally started to tackle questions around my identity, I realised I needed to apologise for my actions. I’m really proud of how the song’s arrangement came together on this one, especially how Emma McManus and Luciana Harrison - my band mates in Oranges – bring the song to life with their voices, alongside Matthew Lustri’s soft pop guitar leads.


I sat in my studio after the robbery and started to think about how to express my vulnerable state, so I started playing some music I had already written and decided to sing along by just using sounds and random words to get a feel for the potential melodies. Through this process, I was able to own all the intricacies and complexities of my identity, and be proud of that. Anchored by dramatic drones from the harmonium and double bass, this song was written as a poetic response to the words that became “mask-ed”.


This song reflects on the secrecy I maintained around my exploration of gender, counterpointed by the idea of acceptance. While “silhouette” is more dramatic, on “mask-ed” I wanted to play around with a soulful bassline and slo-mo tempos. The music is still very melancholy, but I think the soft, contemplative sound allows the sprawling breakdown at the end to really take off.

"status anxiety"

As a parent of two children (#femmefather), I find myself being quite different to the other parents in the schoolyard. Not only because of my identity, but also because of my life as an artist. This one’s about representing ‘the other’ for a lot of people, and hoping that my way of thinking may weave its way into the lives of others.

I wanted to write something with a ‘ye-ye’ pop sound a la Francoise Hardy, but this one turned out to have a lot of more swagger in it. It really takes charge live. The track wouldn't have turned out so lush if it wasn’t for the constant workshopping of the string elements thanks to the amazing Hannah de Feyter.

"low contrast"

It’s funny how hard is it to let things go – the music in this song is made up of two repeating guitar cycles, one of which began life as one half of the repeating guitar cycle in “villagers son”. This song is a confession to my loved ones, asking them not to worry for me as I take the next steps in my journey.

Sound-wise, the song is very knotty, in the same way that this record is emotionally complicated.


The worst thing about the current political climate is that those in power choose to use people’s sense of identity against them, and as an object to create hate and fear with. I’m lucky that I have been able to continue my life with acceptance and without that many issues, but what about the people who don’t have that luxury? There are so many others out there looking to restart their lives without fear of being discriminated against, but are left in limbo because people want to leverage their identity for political gain.


Hand in hand with identity is the promise of a future without divisions based on gender, race and religion – wishful thinking, I know. I had to accept who I am properly to become a better person for my children. My hopes for them when they’re older is a better world that accepts them for being the individuals that they are.

"villagers son"

A mid-tempo samba that slowly dances its way into a feverish noise-rock rumination on the complicated relationships we have with distant parents, the longing for bonds that were once there, and the hurtful memories of moments shared. The title is a reference to my heritage and touches on the idea of never escaping your past. ■

“Shiver” album launch dates

Friday 6 July – 107 Projects, Sydney w/ Medicine Voice vs Marcus Whale, Angela Garrick + Megan Alice Clune [TICKETS]

Saturday 7 July – The Bearded Lady, Brisbane w/ Strangely Enough, Spirit Bunny + McKisko [TICKETS]

Sunday 8 July – Sonic Sherpa, Brisbane w/ Kellie Lloyd + Julia R. Anderson *solo afternoon instore* [TICKETS]

Wednesday 11 July – The Bird, Perth w/ Erasers + Original Past Life [TICKETS]

Thursday 12 July – Revelation Music Days @ The Rosemount, Perth w/ CALMLY, Telete + Ryan Beno [TICKETS]