Shanthony Exum, better known as viral music sensation Miss Eaves, is a force to be reckoned with. A multi-media artist whose work spans music, video, paper mache and fine art, her fierce femcee electro-pop-rap-dance-explosions celebrate confident women who aren’t afraid to love themselves and have landed her on lists of feminist anthems alongside legends like Beyonce.
When Powerbitches picked up the phone with Shanthony this week, she was plotting a new EP and accompanying music video. By the end of our conversation, she had gotten an email from a TV show that wanted to license one of her songs.
You can catch Shanthony in person at our next Powerbitches Salon on February 19 (tickets here).
Powerbitches: When did you start making music?
Shanthony Exum: About 10 years ago, when I was 26. I was living in this artsy town [Winston-Salem, NC] where everyone was in a band - all my friends were in a band, my boyfriend at the time was in a band... so I thought hey, I want to do that too.
My boyfriend and I started a band together, even though I didn’t have any real credentials at the time. It was a noisy electro party band, and I was writing songs about eating snacks, Smurfs, and wearing spandex pants.
The band was pretty bad, because I was still learning how to rap. But as an artist, I’ve never stopped myself from doing something because I don’t know how to do it. I just try to figure it out and get better along the way.
PB: And when did you realize it was something you wanted to pursue more seriously?
SE: I was 28 when I started Miss Eaves. My ex and I broke up, and I still wanted to make music, so I started making my own beats and putting out these little demos. Very quickly I found that people were more interested in my solo work than the stuff I was doing with the band.
In 2012, I put out a song called Diva Pop and made my first music video as Miss Eaves for it. This DJ in Belgium saw it, and invited me to collaborate with him and go there on tour.
I coincidentally was leaving for tour right after I got laid off from my job in North Carolina. I wasn’t super happy at that point, and wanted to start taking my music more seriously, and live in a bigger city. So instead of going home when the tour was over I got off my connection in Newark NJ and moved to a tiny apartment in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. I started freelancing, spending more money on making music videos, and really pushing things.
PB: What drives your work?
SE: I think my art is driven by my experiences. I’ll start with something that frustrates me and I think is probably universally annoying. I’ll try to write something that is true to myself, taking out all the stuff that is super super specific to me.
“Chub rub” is the feeling I have when I wear a sundress as someone with thick thighs, and Paper Mache is about the fact that the first thing people want to talk to me about is whether I’ve seeing someone, even though I’m making all this cool art. I take things that no one else is really talking about in music, ask how do I feel about this, and how do I capture that vibe?
“A viral hit is a big crack in the wall, but the wall is still there.”
- Shanthony Exum
PB: You had what most people would consider to be your “big break” in 2017, when your song Thunder Thighs became a viral summer hit. What was that experience like?
SE: Thunder Thighs was definitely my biggest song so far. I kind of see it as a fluke. My song before that, Hump Day, had done well and my fan base was growing steadily. I’ve always loved this quote by the artist Molly Crabapple that there’s no such thing as a big break, there’s just tiny cracks in a wall of indifference. A viral hit is a big crack in the wall, but the wall is still there.
At first it was really hard, like “I’m never going to be able to live up to this.” When you have a viral hit, everyone’s like, “Can you write another Thunder Thighs?” That’s not how it works. What I do isn’t marketing. It’s art. Thunder Thighs was a fluke. I wrote that song because I felt it. I can’t replicate it. I’m not a musical robot.
It was a little crippling. I thought I wasn’t going to write anything again. Then Rich Matthew gave me this beat, and I wrote the song Paper Mache, and a lot of people were into it. I wrote my EP Me AF. I learned that I have to just write art for art’s sake and not try to write Thunder Thighs over and over again, even if people are pressuring me to do that.
“If you’re making art to please other people, it’s not going to work.” - Shanthony Exum
PB: I love how you spoke before about how when you first started, you didn’t care that you weren’t all that good, you just wanted to work at getting better. How does this ethos of constant improvement play out in your art now?
SE: For me, it’s about learning from other people. If I like an artist, I’ll deconstruct everything they’re doing and try to figure out how I can apply those concepts to my work. I really value critiques from friends, asking, do these lyrics make sense? I learned from talking to other rappers that I used to overuse metaphors and similes - it gets boring after a while. Also, practicing a lot. Before I go to the studio I’ve already gone through the song 20 or 30 times to make sure it sounds right.
If you’re doing stuff to please other people, it’s not going to work. Every time you make a piece of art, work to make it better than the last piece you made.
PB: What are the biggest challenges facing musicians today? How do you navigate them?
SE: It’s really hard to be heard. There are so many people who are making music and it’s hard to stand out, especially when you’re competing against these giant artists. When everyone is only talking about Cardi B - Cardi B is cool, but it’s hard for indie artists to be seen and heard over these huge music machines.
I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still pushing, making music, investing in myself. I put a lot of money into my own work.
PB: What advice would you offer to other women wanting to launch a career in music in the current climate?
SE: Be prepared to put in the work. A lot of times, people get really caught up in the glamor of it all. They want to play these big shows, go on tour, and they haven’t even written a song yet. If you want to have a lasting career, it has to be a slower build.
[Shanthony receives an email saying that a popular TV show wants to license one of her songs.]
See, I always feel discouraged and then stuff like that comes though. So that’s another bit of advice I give - not to get discouraged. You have to believe in the work and do it for the work’s sake, rather than doing it for other people’s approval.
And invest in yourself. People will go out to eat, go to bars… why are we not putting that money back into our projects? For this new video I’m working on, I’ll be paying for it out of pocket. But now I might be paying for it out of this TV money!
Shanthony Exum will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our February Salon event. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.