Imagine you're in a band. Let’s say, you’re from Greece. And you filed all the necessary paperwork to get your visa to come to the US for a big tour. But the US shutdown means the processing of that visa may be delayed, and now you're stuck at home in Athens, waiting.
"Keep Shelly in Athens."
No, that's not the battle cry of the US consular services in the Greek capital, but it probably feels that way to the musical duo who go by that name.
Keep Shelly in Athens has been lighting up clubs across Europe and North America with their own brand of dream-pop. The group's vocalist, Sarah Psalti, grew up in Athens, playing keyboards, singing and taking acting classes.
Then, a few years back, she met a producer who goes only by the Greek initials RΠЯ.
“I was looking for a band. He was looking for a singer,” says Psalti.
RΠЯ, Psalti says, had it all worked out. He already knew the name of the group would be Keep Shelly in Athens, and that it would be a boy/girl duo.
Psalti says she really only had one question for her would-be partner.
“Who is Shelly?” she says with a laugh.
Is it RΠЯ's special friend? Nah.
Is it a poetic nod to English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley? Nope.
Turns out it was a glancing reference to RΠЯ's Athens neighbourhood: Kypseli.
Get it? Kypseli (pron. keep-sell-ee), in Athens.
Yeah, it's OK. Sarah Psalti says most Greeks don't get it either at first. And don't even get her started about what happens when the band goes on tour.
“We did a mini-tour of the UK back in 2011, and we were called Keep Kelly from Athens,” Psalti says.
No matter what they're called, the band knows how to strike a chord. And Psalti's voice is even more haunting and ethereal than usual on the group's latest release.
She says Keep Shelly in Athens is channelling the mood in Greece: the economic devastation, the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, mass migration by the nation’s unemployed.
Psalti says she used to stroll the streets of Athens, unworried and unafraid, but not anymore.
“Athens is my town, and I'm really sensitive about it,” she says. “Everything is not fine. And to be honest, the city has turned into a kind of creepy landscape.”
“You're walking around thinking, ‘when did that shop close? And look, another one is closed now.’ There is that strange vibe all around.”
Psalti calls the mood melancholic.
Athens, she says, is now a "dark paradise full of paradoxes." And that, she says, can be both frustrating and inspirational at the same time.
There's no space for messing around, Psalti says. As an artist, you have to get creative to find ways to get a record made. And she'd be lying, she notes, if she said she hasn't thought about leaving, just like many of her friends have done.
But for now, she's "At Home," which also happens to be the name of Keep Shelly in Athens' new album, out now on the Cascine record label.
Psalti says she hopes that she and producer RΠЯ will get their visas soon.
They're hoping to be in the US within a couple of weeks.
After all, you can't keep Keep Shelly in Athens forever, right?