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Shamir Keeps "Heterosexuality" Queer on '90s-Inspired New Album

The Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter gives us a track-by-track breakdown of his latest project.

Shamir, the queer Las Vegas-raised, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter, is back with his most expansive and ambitious album yet, Heterosexuality. Influenced by '90s pop and rock, Heterosexuality is a 10-track collection that finds inspiration in everything from Björk to Metal and Karen Carpenter. "Abomination," the third track on the album, is a harsh, industrial political song that sounds like it was found on Trent Reznor's hard drive, while songs like "Cold Brew" sound like they could be part of a Wallflowers or Third Eye Blind set list — and we mean that as the highest compliment.

Shamir spoke with Logo for a track-by-track breakdown of the album, including the process behind each song and how he and his producing partner, Hollow Comet, kept Heterosexuality queer with tracks like "Gay Agenda" and "Cold Brew."

"Gay Agenda"

Other than "Caught Up," which is a very old song, "Gay Agenda" was the first one that we locked down. And it was also the first song that started musically from something that [producer] Hollow Comet did because it started around that drum loop. He had sent me that and I was really inspired by it. So then, I ended up looping another loop that he had sent me and arranging the song around that myself, and then I just did a whole stack of vocals to create the chords because I didn't really play anything. I sent him just all of those vocal stems around the drum loop. I vividly remember Halloween night 2020 is when I got the first demo of it. That's when I realized that like, oh, this is going to work. This is the person that I need to be working with right now for this record.

"Cisgender"

Basically, we ignored the hell out of "Cisgender" for the longest time. It ended up being one of the last ones that we finished [for the album], because we had all the other songs done and pretty much ready to go to be tracked. But we still weren't vibing on originally what "Cisgender" was supposed to sound like. The original vibe was a little more drum and bass-y, and a little bit more like dancey-ish — a little house-y, very throwback '90s, dance-y vibe. And it was like, cool and I liked it, but yeah, Isaac, [Hollow Comet] just could not get it right. I didn't mind it originally, but I definitely felt that something was off and he was just like, "Yeah, these chords are just a little too weird." So we scrapped it. Later I was like, what's a vibe that's missing from this record? And I was like, oh my God, wait. We've been listening to a lot of metal, and we're very much missing the straightforward metal moment.

"Abomination"

I definitely did not plan to rap. There's a bit of trauma around rapping for me. But yeah, Isaac had sent me the beat and I loved it. I think "Abomination" was the second and last situation where I wrote around his production. I was like, I can't sing over this. I feel the urge to rap. The second I felt the urge to rap, I messaged Isaac and I was like, "Listen, there is a world of trauma connected to me rapping, but I feel like I should rap on this. But also if it's too much, we might have to just scrap it altogether, and I need you to be patient with me." But he's very chill, very sweet about it, which I think in turn eased me as well. I was inspired by this Greta Thunberg documentary. And I don't know, I just felt this activism spirit over me. Because I kind of worked from the nameless tracks back, so I knew the title was going to be called "Abomination" because I had this well of track titles. In my head when I thought "Abomination," the word abolition came up as well. So then, that's where the chorus comes from. Once I had that chorus, it kind of spiraled into this whole political thing, and it touches on anti-capitalism and prison abolition. It's probably my most political song.

"Stability" and "Caught Up"

"Stability," other than "Caught Up" — it's funny that they're back to back — was the only other song that was also an older song that I had written. Not nearly as old as "Caught Up." I wrote "Caught Up" in like, 2016, but I wrote "Stability," I want to say, probably in 2019. I felt like the title definitely fits in the overall themes. It's something about my last little situation-ship, it's like one of those situations where I, unfortunately, cannot kind of just float in a relationship. I need hard lines and titles, or I'm not putting my energy into this. And in turn, the person was offended by that, which is very annoying to me. I'm like, it has nothing to do with you. If there's no stability, I can't do it. And I know that makes me kind of seem like a bitch, and I know it hurts your feelings because you might like me, but it's a weird thing too because also, you should be able to also experience people without feeling tied down as well.

"Father"

I don't remember much about the day that I wrote that song. I know it was definitely in the midst of writing the record, and I knew that I wanted an acoustic, folkier, kind of country-er vibe because I always need that for every single one of my records. That song is about the hard realization that we still lean on our parents in a very specific way, maybe even almost more than when we were children. Because early adult years are so hard and we're looking at the only two other adults that we know, basically. And the song is about the realization of, oh God, I cannot put any more trust into these people because they're messy adults themselves. And that's why at the end I say, "I think I'm ready to go at it alone because I really can only trust myself right now." Love, love my parents, always have a love for them, and I know they will always try their best to look out for me, comfort me, and everything. But at this point in my life, for me to continue to grow and become the adult that I need to become, they can't do a damn thing for me.

"Cold Brew"

Yeah, that title is a real dog whistle to the queer community. I've always loved coffee. I've always loved cold brew, but I really fell in love with cold brew over the pandemic. It was really my only drug of choice that I had. I had quit smoking cigarettes and weed right before the pandemic in 2019. It was so annoying because I live alone, so it was just me and my thoughts months on end by myself. And the only thing that made me feel like anything, and my dead inside-ass body, was cold brew. And I would drink, I mean, I still drink a lot of cold brew, but like gallons. I'm telling you that people were like, "How did your heart not stop?" During that time of not smoking cigarettes and weed anymore, I think a person's brain chemistry kind of changes when we quit anything, or are working through anything. One of the side effects of that is it unearthed traumas that come up in your fucking dreams. And I think in the early month of that, like the first six months of me quitting nicotine and weed, I was having these crazy fucking nightmares that were very clearly unearthed traumas. And it was really annoying, but also kind of a blessing because I was like, wow, these are things that I did not work through, even though I thought I worked through a lot of things. And so, that's what that song is about.

"Marriage"

So "Marriage" is also an older song, actually. I had the idea when me and my friend, my best friend since the eighth grade, Theresa, were messaging each other a bunch of our favorite old-school '80s and '90s R&B — just having a full-on nostalgic moment and geeking out about new Jack Swing and how amazing it is. And I don't know why, but I thought of marriage. I'm like, oh my God — marriage can easily be this really cool R&B song.

"Reproductive"

"Reproductive," I think, is the best song I've written to date. The opening line, "Returned Venus, love is meaningless / For the first 25 and I guess that's alright with me," are lyrics about the day I wrote it. I found out that it was my Venus return, which I thought was weird and funny. And so, that's when I ended up writing it. It was about a lot of things. It was about generational trauma. And maybe I spiraled a little bit, because I'm just like, hey, I'm in my Venus return, I'm 25 years old, at least at the time, and I feel like I know even less about love than I did before. And then I started to think about generational trauma, and how literally both of my parents have never been married. Not only have they never been married to themselves, or to each other, I should say, they have never been married to other people. Just literally, and probably will never be married. And so it was just like, of course I don't know how relationships work. I've never seen it, you know? Is that a generational curse? A lot of the time, the idea of relationships and love literally makes my skin crawl — is that something that's worked through to break a generational curse? The song is just literally lyrically me just spiraling about just life in general, honestly. Not even just specifically love, but just how my life dictates my relationship to love, basically.

"Nuclear"

I knew that I wanted it to have this jazzy moment, and I knew I wanted it to be at the end because it's no secret that I like to end my records off on a softer note. It's something that just started because I can definitely see that very new-age Bossa Nova vibe, but I actually was literally trying to do my best Karen Carpenter impression. I feel lyrically, it is the answer to "Reproductive" because I think I'm questioning a lot of things about love on "Reproductive," and "Nuclear" is about the insecurity that I feel when I'm in love. And then, also me leaning into the bravery of being in love. That's why I say in the last chorus, "listen to your heart," even though it's very much a sketchy source. I think it is very positive in that sense. I like to leave people on a positive note. I like to think of myself as a pessimistic optimist. I think I'm pessimistic in my nature, but I think I'm really good at doing the work to stay optimistic.

Heterosexuality is available now.