In 2015, Shamir Bailey left his record deal at XL Recordings after the release of his electronic debut, Ratchet. Two years later, he self-released Hope, a collection of songs he recorded in his bedroom — giving a big middle finger to the pop machine and establishing himself as a low-fi superstar. Since then, he has self-released numerous rock records, including his latest in March, Resolution, solidifying his place in the indie scene with honest, raw yet elegant songs that showcase his signature falsetto and cheeky lyrics.
Westword caught up with Shamir ahead of his July 16 concert at the Gothic Theatre to talk about how his sound has evolved and why he rebranded himself as an alternative rocker.
Shamir: I think energy-wise, Stars are obviously an amazing band, but it's still not a perfect match. I feel like the energy of UMO matches our energy a little bit more, because we're a little bit louder, so opening up for Stars, it's kind of a funny thing. Their fan base is ready for nice, soft indie-rock love songs, and I'm screaming about how much I hate straight boys.
The songs on your first record, Ratchet, were almost entirely electronic, and your second album is almost entirely rock. Were you hesitant to change your sound?
Of course there was hesitation, but it's definitely what I needed to do. I don't know how to make electronic music, and I found myself always having to rely on producers for it. But if I just make more organic, instrument-based records, I can produce it myself — I play everything on the record. I play guitar, bass, drums, everything. So it just got to a point where I got tired of paying for dudes to produce my record, so, well, I'm gonna do everything myself. That's what you gotta do sometimes.
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You put your face on all of your album covers, but it’s usually distorted or covered somehow. Is there any specific reason you do this?
I just generally don't like putting my face on an album cover. [On] Ratchet, my face is drawn and straight up, I'm hiding on the Home cover, where my hand's covering my face. It's just a subconscious decision that I've always just kind of done. I think maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that every record is so different — it's all just like, my identity really doesn't matter.
All of them [have] different things on my face, and people are like, ‘Oh, a new Shamir record,” but each one is completely different, so they’re like, ‘Wait, this is the same person, right?’ It's just something I have and continue to do, but Resolution is still me kind of showing my face, just not what I look like currently.
You said previously that you aren't playing songs from Ratchet live. Why?
Just logistically speaking, I can't really do those songs with the three-piece rock band I have, first and foremost. So it's just that. I have three albums' worth of that stuff, so it's kind of easier for me to weed that stuff out, but also...I don't completely ignore them. You have to come to a medium.
Your latest release was a seven-inch that you described as a country record. Can you talk about how Room came about?
It was a one-off thing — a collaboration project for me. It's the first thing I released that isn't self-produced. It was produced by this really good Kiwi producer called Big Taste, who normally does big pop stuff, like Justin Bieber. Whenever we got sessions, we kept writing country songs. I was just like, I really love these. I might as well release them somehow…I've never had my own seven-inch, like, ever, and I've always wanted that. It just felt like the perfect opportunity to do that.
You release a record nearly every year. When is your next album coming out?
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I’m working on my next official release. We're shooting for next spring. You never know. It's hard to put a time on something that's supposed to be done when it comes to art, because you might come back later and be like, "Well…"
What have you been listening to lately?
Literally, right now, I was just listening to the Beyoncé and Jay Z record. There's a part where Beyoncé references Blue Ivy, [their child], and I about died.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra with Shamir
8 p.m. Monday, July 16, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood, $25.