21 year old singer/songwriter Shamir Bailey has had whirlwind couple of years since the release of his first material under the ‘Shamir‘ moniker. Having broken away from the bright lights of Las Vegas (at least for a moment), Shamir has been crafting intelligent, fun-loving pop music that transcends race, gender classification and social class. 2015’s LP Ratchet (released via XL Recordings) was an absolute standout for us, and we’re thrilled to have brought Marcus Whale from Collarbones together with Shamir for an in-depth discussion about the project and everything surrounding it as their performance in Sydney this February approaches.
Collarbones: You’re touring Australia for the first time in February, for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, as well as playing your own sideshows. What’s your conception of Australia and what the shows might be like?
Shamir: I think my Australian fans have been very vocal from the beginning of time, of my career, even before the album. I’m just super excited because it’s something that’s super new for me and actually have personal friends from Vegas who I haven’t seen since graduation three years ago. I have a lot to look forward to, on top of just being excited because it’s my first time.
Collarbones: That’s great – I had no idea you’d have had any sort of roots here.
Shamir: Not to say roots, but like, know someone.
Collarbones: It’s good to have someone in a place you’ve never been before to show you around, let you know the cool things to do. You’re playing these shows in Australia – really nice club shows in 500 capacity rooms but you’ve also been playing massive arenas, or big rooms, with Years & Years and Marina & The Diamonds. I wanted to ask about what it’s like to perform to those bigger audiences and what it’s like to hype a room when there’s thousands of people.
Shamir: I don’t know, that’s definitely been my first exposure – playing to rooms that size. I’m not sure if I really approach it differently. I just feel that I have to almost get bored of myself, I’m not sure the actual performance is too different from a 500 capacity to a 5000 capacity because what I think I try to do — I’m a very intimate performer regardless. When it comes to bigger venues, I just try to make that bigger venue so intimate. I think that’s my kind of approach, to make everyone feel like they’re having that intimacy with me. It’s kind of like everyone’s just partying with me as opposed to just coming there to watch me.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp9GgdCgMXk[/youtube]
Collarbones: That’s one thing – and I mean I’ve only seen videos – one thing I really love about your performances is the amount of feedback in it and that kind of intimacy that comes with sharing yourself with people. I wanted to ask about Anorexia, the band that you are in or were in, which I listened to for the first time last night and which I loved for its kind of romantic teen energy. On this tack of intimacy, I wanted to ask about how having written and recorded music in a DIY way influences the way you make music now.
Shamir: Yes, definitely. Honestly, my music – my solo music was recorded very DIY, recorded in a practice space, like I was literally recording under a rug. I pretty much went from practice space to the basement for Ratchet. So, I think the sense that the sound quality and everything is better is because I worked with a professional, knowing actually what he was doing whereas Anorexia was just me and Christina, who was also in the band, recording in the bedroom with a 4-track or whatever. I think when it comes to music I always take a DIY approach because that’s what I know and that’s usually where I feel comfortable. When I’m in a studio it feels kind of hard to get into it.
Collarbones: Yeah, I think I’ve read about you working – when you were younger, maybe – working with country producers and not gelling with their vibe and is that something to do with having a naturally more DIY way of working where you’re across all of the different things that are happening?
Shamir: Yeah, exactly. That’s what kind of pushed me more towards the DIY side because beforehand I was just writing in my bedroom and then when I decided to start recording – naturally you think “I don’t have anything to record it with,” you know? And then, “will it come out how I want it to, does it feel right?” The people that were around me weren’t so much collaborators, just people that thought right in their heads, instead of actually quite outside of the box. So, I just realised that I’m like a person that — I just try one thing with other people or someone else, I then just take matters into my own hands. So I started looking into home recording, using a 4 track, DIY stuff or whatever and that’s kind of what started it for me. I always have to have some kind of, I guess, cosiness. [DIY recording] is just very cosy to me and I kind of need that to be creative and record.
Collarbones: Yeah, I think it sounds like it’s maybe indicative of your personality – I’ve read you like to knit and be comfortable at home. So, it’s nice – it feels like we’re hearing you in your element, where you want to be. So on that point, the Shamir that we hear on Northtown and Ratchet makes vocal, electronic music and it’s amazing to dance to, it’s dance music. But you’re also a guitarist. And I was wondering as someone who writes on the guitar and made music that’s guitar based in the past, what appeals to you about dance music as a form of expression in particular?
Shamir: Shamir as a project or as solo music to me was always pop music. When Anorexia released our last EP, Bedroom Songs, we decided to take the summer to ourselves and kind of get our lives together because we’d just graduated high school or whatever – working, just trying to get our schedules together. Seems weird to take a break over the summer but me and Christine are both very creative people and were pretty much getting bored of not being able to write or record. So we decided to just run with side projects we could do at home whenever we’d get off work. And she decided to rap and I chose pop music. Literally, if she chose pop music first I’d probably be a rapper right now. I had this drum machine that I wasn’t using to its full capacity anyway. So I was like, “I’ll do some more dance or pop styles on here, let me just see what I can experiment with”. That’s pretty much what it came out of. I just made some demos in my bedroom and then took them to my now producer and manager Nick Sylvester, who took me out to New York and we worked on a few songs over a weekend.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMstlKC403c[/youtube]
Collarbones: It’s nice to hear how natural it sounded [for you] to come to that sort of sound. So, you use tools to serve the songs you’re writing instead of going for a style or a genre?
Shamir: First of all, just as I always say, I used my own name because I didn’t think anyone would hear it! Because when I was growing up, especially back in Vegas, I always had a lot of pop music and solo pop music and everything, but everyone would see me as the grungy, guitar, you know, rock kid. And it wasn’t until I started experimenting with that stuff that a few people said “oh, that’s cool, blah blah”, but still nobody really saw me for more dance or pop stuff.
Collarbones: I also wanted to ask about your Twitter, and you’re actually the author of my favourite tweet ever, which I think might have come in a moment of frustration. It’s “To those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality and no fucks to give,” which I love because it’s amazing to see people repping non-binary identities and I wish there was more of that. In “Make A Scene” it feels like you’re literally living out this tweet. It’s like the party, having a good time, seems like an escape from the ideas of what “guys” and “girls” should do and be. I wanted to ask about how you like to play with those ideas about identity in the songs you write.
Shamir: I mean, I really necessarily don’t. You can take it any way – I think my songs can be taken any way. Because my songs are just about life in general, I just feel my songs are no more about my gender identity as it is about my skin colour, as it is about where I come from, about anything really. And I’m sure that I’ll shine through the music but there’s no focal point. It’s just about me and the things that I go though, the things that I think other people go through. I feel like “Make A Scene” is making fun of the things that girls should be doing, what guys should be doing, i.e. “guys like girls should have big butts” and stuff like that. But that song in general is just about being underage in America, like being under 21, between 18 and 21 when you’re put in all these boxes, where it’s like – what an adult is supposed to do but you can’t drink or anything, or what are boys supposed to do, what are women supposed to do, what should you do as far as education – everything’s all in that one song, you know, for everyone to relate to, it’s not just about gender identity.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10Kc7RK2rOs[/youtube]
Collarbones: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of nice because at the end of the day, if you’re having a party, none of that matters.
Shamir: Exactly, exactly.
Collarbones: Before I go, I just wanted to also ask about your automatic Scorpio horoscopes that you post
Collarbones: How much do you let them dictate the next steps in your life?
Shamir: Not too much. It’s automatic post that’s been posting for maybe the last four years on my Twitter —
Collarbones: Oh my god.
Shamir: — And I just never stopped it. I really only have them there so I can read them on the days when I feel like I need to read them. I feel like the universe will make a purpose for me or a way for me to read them. But for the most part I really don’t. But it’s good for other Scorpios out there who want read it or whatever, and I like it.
Collarbones: It’s maybe to help other people out there, Shamir’s contribution to the Twitter world. Thanks for talking to me – I’m really, really looking forward to the shows and have a lovely day!
Shamir: No no, thank you.
In addition to performing on the RBMA Presents Future Classic stage at the 2016 St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival tour (tickets/info HERE), Shamir will also be appearing at the following, very special sideshows:
Thu 4 Feb @ Howler w/ GL & Total Giovanni (DJ Set). Tickets HERE.
Thu 11 Feb @ Oxford Art Factory w/ Jess Kent & Collarbones (DJ Set). Tickets HERE.