In the few short years since Shamir jumped onto our dance Spotify playlists with the punchy banger “On the Regular” off his debut LP Ratchet, he has stretched his talent to all corners of the music industry. At 24, Shamir has bounced from disco to synth pop to indie-rock to folk and approaches each genre with a conscious fluidity that transports you to his world. Growing up in Las Vegas, the Philly based artist refuses to be defined by gender stereotypes and swears that his music will never fit in one box. His latest album Resolution tackles Black Lives Matter while paying tribute to the late civil rights folk singer, Odetta. The indie rock album albeit a leap from electronic roots is an audio version of Shamir’s stream of consciousness in which he also plays every instrument on the album. The authenticity conveyed in all of Shamir’s records up to now leads to his next project, launching his own record label later this month. I spoke to Shamir moments before his Brooklyn Bazaar debut about representation in the music industry and his love for folk music.
You have been called the pop artist for introverts and those who identify as genderqueer. When Ratchet was released it was a carefree break from reality and also happened to be a solid record.
SHAMIR: I try to give the girls both.
How do these praises play out when you are creating music?
S: It’s what makes my career. I think that my music can be alienating to people so the fact that this many people like it is very cool. And it makes me feel less alone when i write about very poignant things and feel like I’m really putting myself out there and people are like, I’m going through that too. I’m like this is why I do this.
On Resolution you have spoken on how Odetta was a huge inspiration for the album. Your video for “Larry Clark” mirrors her 1959 “Waterboy” video. How has her work impacted your own? Was she your gateway into folk music?
S: I have always been into folk, americana and country. I kind of grew up on that. My aunt used to always play Janis Joplin and Reba and you know all that stuff, Merle Haggard. So yea, I kind of always grew up around soul and country. I feel like they are such kindred spirits. It’s naturally ingrained within me.
But Odetta was someone I found myself as I delve deeper in and become the music lover that I am today. It was just such a beautiful moment cause i was like damn, she looks like me, she’s been through the stuff that I am into and she’s doing it. I was watching the video [“Waterboy”] and I was like, I should recreate this. I saw myself in her, like our afros are similar, you know, I look like her! So I was like i could recreate this and it would be a homage to her and also to Larry Clark, to kill two birds with one stone-Two people that I love and helped me become the artist that i am.
I read that you have plans on launching your own label. What pushed you to want to represent yourself?
S: One of my artists is here, thats so funny! This is the artist, Mama Grass.
MAMA GRASS: Hello!
S: It kind of started with this one [Mama Grass] and they send me a demo via Instagram. I always surround myself with artists and artists always seem to find me. Especially artists that want to get started in the industry. I would love to be their first healthy go, to guide them and not have them go through the same stuff that I went through in the industry.
When is your label, launching?
S: The first single comes out the 22nd [of February] by my first artist- her name is Southwick, she’s iconic.
What’s it called?
S: Accidental pop-star.
What’s the vibe? How do you find your artists?
S: I honestly only work with homies.
How did you meet Southwick?
S: She’s from Detroit and we originally met in Philly. The first time we ever met is documented. She is seen sitting on the floor next to me when I did my NPR Tiny Desk Session and yea you see her sitting next to me and we reconnected because we have a mutual friend and I randomly went to brunch with him and saw her and she was like, actually we already met and I have receipts and she pulled up the video. One day I was hearing her sing and I was like yo, whats good, should we do something? And we made an EP. She had never written songs before that. We wrote a song together and she came back with three more. It’s amazing to see someone go from co-writing their first song with someone else and then going off and writing these amazing songs about themselves immediately after. I feel happy that I was able to harvest that talent and be there to see it.
You have a soulful singing voice. Did you ever do school plays in high school?
S: I tried to but I didn’t like any of the kids and they didn’t like me. They thought I couldn’t sing because my voice was so weird. Especially when i had to do mens choral stuff and my voice is so high-pitched. After I got signed to XL they paid for me to have vocal lessons so thats nice.
How did your music change once you were east coast based?
S: Of course it changed. It changed dramatically. I always did more guitar based stuff before I did the electronic pop stuff but it was something about moving to Philly as I was going to basement shows that kind of ignited in me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, you know, I can’t keep doing this or other stuff that doesn’t make me happy. This is it.
There is an unapologetic IDGAF theme in Ratchet that I related to at the time of its release. How did you become comfortable with yourself and the music you wanted to produce?
S: When I was doing Ratchet I was like, Im going to make a record that millennial’s can relate to. I was trying to write a record that was a snapshot about what its like to be a 19 year old in America.
Upon the release of your self-released sophomore album Hope, you wrote to fans you were worried about your accidental pop stardom which made you feel sad about music as a medium in general. How do you feel about your representation now?
S: I do everything that I do- it might seem rebellious to some people but I do it so that people can have trust and confidence in their interests and who they are as people and not mold yourself for the masses in any aspect. Ive always said since the beginning that every single one of my records is going to sound different. And I think a lot of artists say that but its still you know-I actually mean it when I say it. I’m always in different mindsets when Im writing and I don’t try to think about cohesiveness when I write, I just write.