(photo: Mathew Parri Thomas)
From now until the start of Noise Pop, we’ll be profiling some of our favorite artists playing the festival this year.
Allow us to introduce you to Shamir, the unexpected, but now indispensable, pop star turning the established order of indie stardom on its head.
“I don’t have much to offer you…but my soul, my heart, and everything I’ve been through,” Shamir confesses on “Games,” the opening track from his latest LP Revelations. As the 23-year-old genderqueer musician continues to battle his demons and move past the accidental success of his 2015 hit “On The Regular,” Shamir’s resilience inspires young creatives to break the mold and stay true to their outsider roots.
Influenced by a eclectic breadth of musical genres, the North Las Vegas native began writing music at the age of nine after receiving a guitar from his parents. At 16, Shamir performed his first and only show with his punk band Anorexia, which quickly disbanded due to his bandmate’s stage fright. Shamir continued to write songs on his own, and signed with Godmode Music after label founder Nick Sylvester heard his demo tape.
Godmode released the 19-year-old’s debut EP Northtown in June 2014, garnering quiet critical acclaim for the left-field R&B jam “If It Wasn’t True.” Shamir subsequently signed with XL Recordings and released his first hit single “On The Regular” the following October. Although Shamir did not identify as a rapper and had recorded the danceable hip-hop track as sort of a joke, the catchy single reached mainstream audiences and quickly propelled Shamir’s status as a rising pop artist. When the video for the equally catchy breakup anthem “Call It Off” debuted at the 2015 YouTube Music Awards, it was clear to many that Shamir was on his way to becoming the next big thing.
Shamir being touring as a solo artist, hitting the festival circuit and performing across the US. Shamir made his San Francisco debut at Rickshaw Stop on April 9, 2015, a month before the release of Ratchet, but a lot has changed since then. Coming from a folk and country background, Shamir wasn’t necessarily prepared for the success and expectations that followed the release of Ratchet, an electronic pop album with enough style and sheen to attract the attention of fans and major labels alike.
Following the unexpected success that came with the dance-ready disco-revival sounds of singles like “On The Regular” and “Call It Off,” reaching a much wider audience than the young musician was prepared for, Shamir struggled to meet the expectations of a big-label follow-up to Ratchet. Although his management team had sent him to record album sessions in Los Angeles with big-name producers, Shamir ultimately decided that the glossy pop-star sound wasn’t true to his identity, scrapping the studio sessions in favor of self-releasing more lo-fi, guitar oriented material.
This lead to additional recording sessions with a friend in Philadelphia, recording an album’s worth of songs only to have them quelled once again due to conflicts with his unnamed collaborator. Since it seemed that a proper follow-up to Ratchet wasn’t meant to be, Shamir considered the idea of quitting music altogether. Success took a toll on the young artist’s mental health, leaving him disillusioned with his passion for music. But rather than giving up altogether, Shamir shifted focus and began recording songs with a four-track in his bedroom.
Shamir finally resurfaced in April 2017 with Hope, a self-recorded rock album that Shamir self-released on SoundCloud. The album sounds gritty and unpolished compared to Ratchet, but also showcases Shamir’s raw talent for writing deeply personal music with a rebellious, experimental pop sense, free from any genre restrictions. San Francisco’s own Father/Daughter Records reached out to Shamir shortly after the release of Hope, ultimately releasing his third full-length.
Although the surprise release of Hope and its unexpected tonal shift ushered in positive critical reviews a new wave of fan support, despite having no publicity or label support at the time, Shamir’s mental health continued to waver. Shortly after Hope was released, Shamir officially severed ties with his management team and suffered a psychotic episode that was more intense than anything he had previously experienced. After spending time in a psychiatric hospital, Shamir was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Upon receiving treatment, Shamir returned home to Las Vegas where he began writing and recording his third LP, Revelations. Expanding on the more guitar-oriented sounds that he experimented with on Hope, Revelations finds the countertenor baring his soul with vulnerable sincerity. Shamir explained his minimalistic, yet surprisingly effective approach to singing in a recent tweet:
I'm not a good singer, i just learned how to sound REALLY good while almost never keeping pitch. I also smoke and drink before every show I've ever played and don't do vocals warm ups. I do the absolute minimal as a vocalist. I always feel like a fraud when ppl gas up my voice
— Shamir (@ShamirBailey) February 4, 2018
Shamir recently told Interview in a conversation with Porches’ Aaron Maine, “I think pop music also is very affected by our capitalist society. I’ve seen first hand how it can be detrimental to the art, when I started to see copycats of ‘On the Regular’ for commercials and shit. It’s wild to me that music is really seen as a commodity and not a piece of someone’s being, a piece of someone’s soul, a piece of someone’s heart. And I think that’s why I stopped caring about production quality. I was like, how about I make good songs that no one wants to repeat.”
Shamir’s matured perspective on the music industry reminds us that art can be still successful in spite of the capitalistic expectations of churning out marketable earworms. With new material on the way, Shamir’s local label stride shows no signs of slowing. So if you still only know Shamir for “On The Regular” it’s time to catch up, because you’re missing out on some of his most personal and interesting work.
Shamir, Pardoner, Soar, DJ DYL
February 24, 2018