How Shamir Abandoned the Pop Machine & Found Hope in Lo-Fi, Bedroom Music

Shamir

Shamir Bailey first rose to viral fame with his colorful electro-funk singles, "On The Regular" and "Call It Off," which were released on XL Recordings and later included on his 2015 debut album, Ratchet. The breakout project, an eclectic assembly of disco-house, synth sounds, saw the queer artist maintaining full control of songwriting, while relinquishing some power on production—a creative imbalance he'd later become unsatisfied with.

For Shamir's sophomore album, he wanted total involvement and an updated, authentic sound, but industry pressured more of the same and urged an accessible archetype. A self-declared "accidental pop star," Shamir was eventually dropped from XL and embarked on his ambitious path to becoming the independent, mature musician we hear on his new album, Hope, released today.

Related | OUT100: Shamir

This weekend, Shamir was ready to quit music, feeling hatred towards the art form he loved most. But this energy somehow manifested into an intense creative streak, as Shamir locked himself alone in his Philadelphia bedroom to write, produce and mix 10 new songs using only a 4-track. Hope, which was mastered just hours before he premiered the project online this morning, is a massive shift from Ratchet and a daring step towards Shamir's outsider interests. His pop melodies are intact throughout, but the instrumentation is noticeably lo-fi, drenched in sludgy guitars and fuzzy percussion.

Fresh off the release of Hope, we called up Shamir, who was still in bed and surrounded by all the instruments he used to create the new album. Listen to his daring new project and read our candid conversation, below. 

OUT: Morning Shamir! You just surprise dropped a new album this morning. What’s the story? 

Shamir: The whole idea and concept for this album came after I was semi-hopeless from not being able to get my ideas out working with other (very talented) people in the industry. I felt very lucky to have worked with a lot of those people, but it was a very specific thing I wanted to do and I realized at the end of the day, I could only do it myself. After scrapping so many, literally albums-worth of songs, this weekend I felt super down in the dumps and over everything. I stayed up, because I have insomnia, and literally made this album from my bed. Half of the songs were ideas I already had, and then I wrote four of the songs this weekend. One of them is a cover by a band, called Blake Baby. 

When I first listened to Hope this morning, I assumed this was material you’ve been sitting on since Ratchet

I actually had an album I was sitting on that was fully finished for a while, and then some things came up. Really, it was stupid and I don’t even want to go into it, but I was just thinking about my fans, too—I felt really bad. This album is me not feeling sorry for myself, because at the end of the day, I have my talent. 

Sonically, Hope sounds so different from Ratchet. Was this intentional? 

I made Ratchet when I was really young, like 18-19, and it was hard for me as a person to raise my voice and really stand up for what I believe in as far as music—having a bunch of people tell me my ideas about music aren’t as valid. “It should be like this,” or, “No one’s going to like it if it’s like that.” It kind of wore on me. I still have a huge part of Ratchet—I wrote every song and only worked with my producer and still manager, Nick Sylvester. 

I love him to death and I love that record to death, but that record, at least production-wise—I’ve made it clear from the beginning that dance music is something completely new to me and something I was experimenting with. I never thought anyone would like Ratchet as much as they did, so I kind of felt stuck. A lot of the producers I was working with felt stuck to making Ratchet 2 or Ratchet Deluxe, which is not what I wanted. I’ve always loved lo-fi music; Vivian Girls is my favorite band ever and I have them tattooed on me. It’s very obvious to read between the lines, but I definitely feel like this new album is my baby. 

There’s a lot more guitar on this new album…

I miss playing guitar. I couldn’t produce an electronic track, I don’t even have a computer. I’ve never had a laptop my whole life, only a phone and a tablet. 

What was the production process like for creating Hope?  

It was pretty much me in my bedroom. I took a lot of ideas I’d already started, so I was cleaning some of those up and adding a little more instrumentation. I still have some of the instruments in my bed as we speak—I made the whole album from my bed. I did everything: mixed, played, produced, sang and wrote everything. There’s so much bad shit going on in the world, right now, and I think I owe it to my fans to give them something real. 

Lyrically, the new album is very emotional. What inspired these songs? 

Up until very recently, I thought I was a sociopath until this one day I was hit with a slew of emotions. I never thought I was going to be able to love or care for someone as much as I care for myself—not saying that I’m a selfish person, but I’ve always been very introverted. I do very well by myself. 

Album closer, “Bleed It Out,” is one of the project’s most intense cuts. Tell me the story behind this.

“Bleed It Out” is actually one of the older songs. I wrote that in high school in my room at like 16 years old. I just wanted the album to be the rawest, realest piece of me, and I always sang that song to myself. I tried to get it produced, together and done multiple times and it just never worked out 3 years later, so I decided to drop it raw. Other than “Bleed It Out,” none of these songs, idea-wise, go much further back than December. 

How was the songwriting process different on Hope than on Ratchet

Ratchet was a collaborative effort. We camped out in a basement studio in Brooklyn and made it. When it comes to album-making processes, that was very intimate and even that was a lot for me. I just feel better when music feels of the moment, and I do better when I’m able to push myself more alone—it’s like dancing by yourself in your room. I live alone, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone barging in on me, and I think it shows on Hope, when I do music completely by myself. It feels more real than me trying to convey that same emotion for a bunch of takes, for all those takes to be comped and put through autotune—all that shit. Like, it’s cool if you want to wear makeup, but I just prefer natural, and it almost felt like people were judging me or being mean about me wanting to go natural after wearing makeup literally once on my first album.

Is this album a message to the music industry? 

This album is kind of, I don’t want to say a “fuck you” to the industry, but also kind of. I really, really, really tried to work with the music machine and industry machine, but I think it was in the cards for me not to. I think everyone was shocked—only my close friends knew—when they saw I was dropped from XL. This record is why, because this wouldn’t have come out if I was still signed, right now, and I’d probably be super fucking miserable. 

I wanted to make something real, and I knew that if I did something real, it would be in its own lane and completely different. Everyone around me thought the next step was for me to be more accessible, and I’m not trying to be inaccessible, but I also want to bring something real into the world. There’s so much fake in pop music and it really took a toll on me. I still think of myself as a pop artist, but I don’t see why I can’t be a lo-fi pop artist. 

Now that you’re defining yourself outside of the music industry, who is Shamir, the artist? 

I think me as an artist is self-sufficient. I’m best when I’m alone and can literally have all hands. Relying on everyone was really hard for me. It was hard for me to not even be able to touch a single hair on production for Ratchet. Being young and 19, I just felt blessed to be able to write my own album myself. But I didn’t spend my whole childhood teaching myself literally every instrument to not be able to play on my record or produce myself. Most of the people I look up to produce their own records, like Mac DeMarco. I fucking love Mac DeMarco—he’s literally my shower curtain, right now. I see him every day.

How’d you decide on the album title for Hope

Hope came to me in a crazy way—it’s the opening track also. I literally wrote the lyrics, music and chorus, and pretty much did that whole song in a half hour. It flowed through me, and especially in the breakdown, it felt like a prayer to me. This whole weekend has been big for me creatively. I’ve never done anything like this in my life and didn’t know I was able to do it. It came at a moment of desperation and I think that song solidified everything for me—that’s why I wanted to make the album. I mastered Hope a few hours ago; I literally called my friend yesterday afternoon and was like, “I wrote a whole album this weekend and I think I’m going to drop it if you can help me master,” and he was down to. I didn’t even think he was going to say yes. Everything just kind of worked out, even though it sounds so crazy. 

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