Shamir has lost his voice, I’m told over the phone by his press agent. It’s his first North American headlining tour, and he’s still got a whole slew of dates left, so he needs to rest up. I imagine he’s been going hard.
It’s been an incredible year for the 20-year-old native of suburban North Las Vegas. His debut album, Ratchet, dropped on XL Recordings in May to critical acclaim, and it’s been nothing but upward since. He’s had his face projected on a Times Square billboard; he's played the Pitchfork Music Festival; he's been shouted out on the radio by Marina & the Diamonds, and more or less become a darling of music critics everywhere.
Shamir makes multicolored electropop that pulls heavily from disco and house. Ratchet is as vivid in its dancefloor rigor as it is in its soulful introspection. Throughout the record, Shamir variously croons, raps, and doles out life advice in a clear, countertenor voice. It’s an immediately recognizable voice — one that isn’t afraid of its own imperfections or its power.
This Wednesday, Shamir brings all of that to the 7th St. Entry. Since he lost his voice, I sent him some questions via email. Topics discussed ranged from writing to rompers.
City Pages: You started your first headlining tour a little over a week ago. How's it been? Anything crazy or wonky happen yet?
Shamir Bailey: No, tour has been pretty chill. I'm just happy to get to see new parts of America I've never seen!
CP: What's your favorite song to perform so far versus your favorite song on the recorded album (whether to listen to or to make), and why?
SB: “Youth” has always been my favorite to perform because it’s a super dynamic song, and the way it builds is fun. My favorite recorded song will definitely have to be “Darker,” because [it’s] my most personal song about my late grandma.
CP: You've mentioned on Ratchet Radio some of your musical influences — disco, Beyoncé, Teena Marie, Stevie Wonder, etc. What about your writing influences?
SB: Country music is a huge inspiration to me songwriting-wise. I actually wrote my whole album in a old Taylor Swift notebook.
CP: In an interview with Rookie, you mentioned that in high school, you'd lost a notebook full of songs you'd written, but how it eventually led to your treating every song like it's precious instead of "just a song." How do you both treat your songs like they’re precious but not let that perfectionism or protectiveness paralyze you when you're making them?
SB: That experience actually did the opposite and made me not really think of my songs as a precious thing. I'm actually learning how to treat my music a with a bit more love.
CP: On Ratchet, one of the things I've always wondered about is that deep voice that recurs throughout (the one that's like, "It's not time to get started; it's time to call it off!"). It's almost like it's a secondary character. Who or what is that voice? Is it like manifestation of your subconscious, a sort of imagined musical partner, or even a sort of friendly Wizard of Oz...? How did it end up occupying the place it does on the album?
SB: Honestly that is my producer [Nick Sylvester] and his idea. I don’t know what the deal is with that, but it sounds good. I think it’s his own version of Mike WiLL Made-It.
CP: You recently dropped your video for "In for the Kill." Tell me about your general relationship to your visuals. Beyoncé says for her, she gets all these visuals in her head when she makes a song and that's why she had to do the visual album. Is that somewhat similar to how it is for you too?
SB: No, I'm very bad when it comes to visuals because I'm just not so much of a visual artist. Luckily, all my videos have been directed by the same person [Anthony Sylvester], who knows me very well and knows what I like.
CP: I feel like you, Empress Of, and Ibeyi are like the 2015 XL Young Geniuses Brigade/potentially Illuminati. I see you all shouting each other out and supporting each other, which is awesome. Have your labelmates become like your friends away from home?
SB: Definitely! I always seem to run into the Ibeyi girls on tour in some way, and Lorely [Empress Of] is like my BFF on the label. When we're together there's nothing but laughs.
CP: You've talked about wanting to get into fashion and other projects, and I saw you were even at New York Fashion Week this year. What is the first fashion item you would put out if you could, and why?
SB: I really like rompers. They're nice, comfortable, and can be casual or formal.
CP: Some of your social media uses the handle shamir326. What is 326? Is it like a 1738 thing?
SB: I don’t know what 326 is. It’s just my lucky numbers.
CP: Shamir, do you listen to podcasts? I love a good podcast.
SB: No, I don’t really. I need to find a good one!
(CP: Shamir, if you’re reading, maybe you’d like Song Exploder.)
CP: Anything else you'd like to share?
SB: Come to my show!!
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 7
Where: 7th St. Entry
Tickets: $15-$17; more info here