SXSW Music Interview: Shamir

Las Vegas singer explains how a breakdown inspired his latest record

Photo by Jana Birchum

“I begged to play any other song,” recounts Shamir Bailey, 23, about being asked to perform his hit song “On the Regular” during his national television debut on Late Night With Stephen Colbert. “After that moment, I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

The song, like the rest of his 2015 debut Ratchet, references everything from four-on-the-floor house, Chic disco romps, and Donna Summer glitz and glam. Despite its universal acclaim, the Las Vegas singer feels himself at an impasse as “the album didn’t represent me as an artist.” He ended his contract with XL Recordings and, on a whim, released his 2017 LP Hope, a lo-fi manifesto, for free on SoundCloud.

Hope was like the bomb, because I didn’t even do it out of confidence,” laments Bailey. “I did it for my sanity, but even after the recording, I suffered a psychotic episode.”

The breakdown landed him five days in a psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His latest effort, last year’s Revelations, encapsulates that trauma. From the buzzing feedback on “Her Story” to the anxiety-driven “90’s Kids” and hardened punk bite of “You Have a Song” and “Blooming,” it recalls his fascination with Nineties rock.

“I’ve listened to Hole my entire life and I’m fascinated that the Nineties was the only decade when alt-rock topped the charts.”

Yet “Straight Boy” reckons with the commodification of queer culture amongst straight men and queer-baiting in the media.

“There’s a stereotype that I’m supposed to be happy and nice,” says Shamir. “But I just want to be as explicit as possible: Queer people are multifaceted people, too.”

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Shamir, Shamir Bailey, SXSW Music 2018

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