Shamir's New Album Is Dream Pop We Can All Wallow in Together

Expect poppy earworms, revealing lyrics, and a swig of “jungle pussy” from the nonbinary Black singer-songwriter.

Tegan and Sara can dream of crafting a danceable, guitar-spiked bop like “On My Own,” but Las Vegas-born, Philly-based queer alt-rocker Shamir beat the Canadian twins to it.

Describing their new self-titled album as a literal dream come true, Shamir Bailey (who, for the record, regards Tegan and Sara as heroes and covered “Like O, Like H” for their 2017 album, Con X: Covers) first blipped on our radar with 2015’s Ratchet. Their full-length debut featured sassy, contagious electro pop hits like “Call It Off” and “On The Regular.”

Shamir then pivoted to a guitar-driven, low-fi, shoegaze-influenced indie rock sound—baring all lyrically to boot—on 2017’s Hope and Revelations, 2018’s Resolution, and 2019’s nod to country music, Be the Yee, Here Comes The Haw. Just six months after the surprise release of another low-fi bedroom rock affair, Cataclysm, Shamir brings us their most accessible album since Ratchet. With production sheen, danceable ditties, and overt nods to ‘90s dream pop, it’s a dream we can all wallow in together.

NewNowNext called up Shamir—who also runs a record label and is comfortable being addressed by any pronouns—to discuss the album and its influences, the perks of quarantining, and Troye Sivan.

What a year it’s been, Shamir. In your opinion, what’s the most quintessentially 2020 thing that’s happened so far?

I think gender-reveal parties starting a massive wildfire that’s obliterating the whole West Coast. That’s some shit. There’s something so profound about it. It’s saying something, and I hope people listen.

This album bears your own name as its title. Does that mean it’s a first of sorts despite your already prolific discography?

It’s the first time people are hearing me make guitar-based pop music. When people think pop these days, they think electronic, and I did that at first, by accident kind of! This was the first time I came in knowing I wanted it to sound a specific way sonically and was able to really get the music to sound how I imagined it in my head to a T. That was major for me. I never felt that with any record I made, even Ratchet. I had my mission seen through to the end.

There’s a 15-second snippet titled “Jungle Pussy” of you and some friends having a laugh about making “coochie” jungle juice. Where did that come from?

The record is divided by little skits, and there are two reasons for that. I wanted this record to almost feel visual, like how the song “Diet” opens with the sound of a film reel starting up. And those clips are my friends and I being ridiculous, and they’re older, from the sweet spot of my life right after I signed with [label] XL Recordings and before “On the Regular” came out. The future and possibilities were ripe, but also not really knowing where it was going and would take me. So I was like 19, and it was me and my old roommates, one is my bass player now, making jungle juice in my house trying to get fucked up and watching Best Man. We were making jokes about the jungle juice because as she shook it, it was close to her vagina and that’s why I scream, “You’re getting coochie juice in the jungle juice!”

Jungle Juice is also a brand of poppers.

I didn’t know that! I love that! When I think of Jungle Juice, I think of the rapper foremost and then sugary juices with a bottle of liquor. You can’t taste it, and you and your teenage friends drink it until you puke!

You’ve touched on deeply personal, raw issues in your lyrics, including mental health, gender dysphoria, and police brutality against POC. Can you discuss a couple of other issues explored on the new album?

“I Wonder” alludes to climate change, and “In This Hole” is a kind of internalization of my feelings of everything. I think I was feeling at the time this hopelessness that a lot of people are feeling now on a grand scale. There’s a line in the song, “youth is wasted on the ones who feel immortal,” and I think that encapsulates the feeling of 2020. Everyone has had to change their way of living. Whether it be the pandemic, police brutality, or mortality. As a Black, queer, nonbinary person who lives in America I’m constantly faced with that awareness of mortality. Every day, I think about it all the time.

Who were you listening to and inspired by musically while making the album?

A lot of 1990s and early 2000s stuff. Courtney Love and Hole. Live Through This is a perfect record that I always return to for inspiration. Early solo Gwen Stefani. One of the biggest influences was a shoegaze band I’m obsessed with, Kitchens of Distinction. They’re insanely amazing and queer! I really love their guitar and drumming, and that really inspired the chorus drums in “Running.”

Was Cataclysm’s title too on-point to not do a surprise release in March when the lockdowns hit?

Yeah. It wasn’t even going to come out. Nobody wanted to release it. I felt, maybe it’s bad. But also I felt people didn’t get it because I meant it to sound like the end of the world. The way I was pitching the record was, “This is the cassette aliens find under gravel after half the planet has been obliterated.” Also, it was good to have something out because there were a lot of anxieties and a lot of people were pushing their music back.

Although you live alone and categorize yourself as an introvert, did you have a quarantine snuggle buddy?

My three teddy bears: Cinnamon, Neon, and Blackjack. That’s about it! I love alone time. I love being alone. I’m not afraid of my own thoughts. I’m still human, I guess. I do feel loneliness sometimes, but I love to get down to this core of why I feel a certain way or why I do certain things. And 1,000% percent I would not have been able to do this album roll-out, self-release it, and self-manage if I had been on the road without all the extra time from the pandemic.

You opened for Troye Sivan during his tour in 2016. I love him, but he’s so cis gay white male, and it would be awesome to see him collaborate with a more diverse roster of artists. I’d love to see you two do something together!

He did do that song [“DKLA”] with Tkay Maidza on his first album Blue Neighborhood. I think he has a very specific lane that unfortunately happens to be very white right now. But honestly, if an opportunity came up I definitely would not mind. Me and him doing a collaboration doesn’t necessarily make sense. … The only other Black pop artist that I think would make sense sonically is maybe MNEK, but other than that it’s a problem outside of his hands, it’s a systemic problem. Why aren’t there more Black pop artists? It’s something I’d like to change.

Your label Accidental Popstar Records just released an LP by Grant Pavol. What else is coming up?

We did an EP by Poolblood called Yummy. They’re amazing, from Toronto, also Black, also nonbinary. We automatically got each other. We’re working on their full-length debut. The next thing that should be out soon is by Southwick.

Since live tours are off for now, or should be, how do you plan to promote the album once it hits?

I’ve been doing charitable [virtual concerts] like Fair Fight Contest, which is an event to combat voter suppression and ensure fair and safe voting. The idea of charging people for a livestream I don’t like unless it benefits a charity. I do have a little surprise for when the record comes out. It’ll be like a package deal with a piece of merch to go with the album.

I’ve got to admit, one of the few silver linings to this pandemic has been seeing the inside of so many people’s homes via Zoom concerts, performances, and reunions. Do you also get into that sort of living space porn?

For like rich people, sure. I get that for people who have money, but I’m a normal working artist, my home looks like anybody else’s. I live in a South Philly rowhouse! I just did The Wild Honey Pie buzzsession, and it was like a tour of my home as well. It shows me around my home drinking cold brew. You get to see my Keke Palmer shrine over my kitchen table.

Finally, the most pandemic question of all. Masks, hot or not?

I kind of love them. I have a really cute butterfly mask, obviously. There’s something so powerful about the mask and sunglasses combo.

Shamir (self-released) drops October 2.

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