This time last year, Shamir Bailey was a Las Vegas kid recording in New York for the first time, with the premise being that he’d head back home with his very first cassette. A few weeks before, he’d sent his demos to tape label GODMODE. A couple of songs would be recorded, this niche release would circulate, that would be that. But label head honcho Nick Sylvester had bigger ideas. Cut to 2015, we’re being told that Shamir is the ‘Sound Of’ the year, a breath of fresh air on top of an already exciting crop of pop.
“I’ve still never released that tape!” says Shamir, one year on. “For the most part, I’ve had complete control over my whole life. I’ll see something, I’ll work hard at it, I’ll get it done. I had this feeling of not knowing what’s next but knowing that it would be relatively good. Not crazy and out of my hands, like this.”
When things started turning Shamir’s way at 100mph - the response to his debut ‘Northtown’ EP was huge - he locked himself in his bedroom, didn’t come out for a whole week. “The pressure sunk in,” he claims. But since then, the course has been embraced with nothing but big, confident strides. A few months after those New York sessions, he’d signed a deal with XL. Aside from studio time, he was spending his hours interning at the label’s office. “I was still relatively unknown. I sat at the intern desk with all the other interns - we were all normal. Eventually I started coming in and they were looking at me all crazy going, ‘Are… you signed?!’”
‘Northtown’ paved the way, but it wasn’t until 2014’s ‘On the Regular’ single that Shamir became more than a hyped-up newcomer. Here was the voice - and face - of 2015, a dynamic twist to the pop formula. On record, he’s already flipping the book, avoiding the everyday pigeonhole by backflipping from electro-house to acoustic balladry, with quick trips through R&B and funk territory in the process. His stage game resembles a more eclectic James Murphy, a live sound resembling the absorb-everything approach of LCD. But when it comes to a 2015 full-length, Bailey is promising a very different story. “I made a checklist of all the types of music and genres that I wanted to cover in the album - and I ticked it off,” he says, neatly summing up this attitude into the slogan: “Everything for everyone”.
"I made a checklist of all the types of music and genres that I wanted to cover in the album - and I ticked it off."
Do you discover new music as a hobby?
A lot of people think that because of my vast music knowledge, that I’m a hobbyist when it comes to looking up music. I didn’t really know about half the blogs until I was on them. I like to find music through osmosis. If I’m listening to someone that I heard of through a friend, I’ll look them up and I’ll see the related artists on a page. Sometimes I like to read pieces about certain types of music, like punk from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But when it comes to new music, I mostly get that from friends or people around me. I don’t really search for it.
Is there anything about New York’s musical heritage that you’ve been obsessed with?
I’ve yet to meet a Vivian Girl, which makes me sad. But we have so many mutual friends, it’s ridiculous. This guy I know had just moved from Portland - he was staying on my couch for a new weeks. He knew Cassie Ramone. I told her I loved the Vivian Girls and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I was just hanging out with her today’. He pulls up all these pictures from his Instagram. I’ve been close with Matt Molnar from the band Friends - he’s doing Kissing Is A Crime. I’ve been over his house almost every week. He’s super cool. Russell from Rush Midnight - his girlfriend made the shirt that I’m wearing tonight. I’m meeting a lot of musicians that I look up to. Kitty Pryde - I love her, she’s crazy. She’s singing now. She was practicing in my room - I lived about a music venue, and she was working it up there. She’s really great.
Every song so far feels like it’s from a different world. Is that reflected in the album?
Oh yeah. I made a checklist of all the types of music and genres that I wanted to cover in the album - and I ticked it off. There’s country, dance, R&B, there’s pop. Everything for everyone. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed to one type of genre. And I told Nick from the get-go - I’m gonna do this electro-dancey thing, but we’re gonna have an acoustic song on the album. I think it’s scaring writers, that sort of thing. Every piece that I read about myself and they mention the influences - they’re all different. And that’s cool for me. They are different. I grew up listening to R&B and rock music. I got a knack for country music, I used to be in a punk band. I’m glad that it all ranges out and the people are hearing that. Almost like it’s a homage to all the music that I listen to.
Anyone your age or my age can listen to any decade and genre of music. I don’t know if that’s a unique thing for our generation.
It’s great for people our age. We have so much information on our fingertips, and we can’t be pigeonholed. That’s great. Other generations weren’t able to do it. You could pinpoint a decade, where a song comes from. You get into the new millennium, and I’m trying to carry that torch.
All photos: Phil Smithies & DIY. Taken from the February issue of DIY, out now - order your copy below.