Shamir Bailey is a hugger. I know this, because once his press coordinator Caroline and I discuss the interview and exchange a quick handshake five minutes before we sit down, I’m enveloped by all five-foot-ten of Shamir’s helplessly lovable frame. I’m immediately disarmed, so I return the sentiment.
That’s not to say Shamir is a pushover; on the contrary, Bailey’s sweet, excited words are almost always bordered by subtle skepticism. You can tell he’s the kind of guy who knows when he’s being jerked around and will react fiercely if it’s ever tried. He gives willingly but is mindful of exactly what is taken from him. His reservation, when there is any, derives from his gut, because aside from his voice, it’s the strongest weapon he’s got. This is self-awareness at its freshest and least compromised, and it’s a treat spending time with this dude.
Pretty Much Amazing: You’re one of the few artists on the Fun Fun Fun Fest bill whose late-night set actually comes before the festival set. How was it getting to celebrate your birthday on stage at Empire Control Room last night?
Shamir Bailey: Austin crowds always know how to turn up. Last night was fun, and I can’t think of a better way to begin my birthday than on stage!
PMA: Touring is still a pretty new thing for you. What’ve been the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered so far, and how’s the progress going?
SB: I think my biggest problem so far is learning how to perform when the crowd vibes aren’t what I want them to be. If the crowd is shut down, then I shut down, and I’m still learning how to get an adult crowd to get pumped. But that’s been very few and far between, you know? Everyone’s been great.
PMA: Ratchet didn’t really shock anyone by how great it was, because what came before it was so good. Northtown EP was huge, and we all loved the pre-released singles. Your genre is very distinct. What about this disco/R&B/hip-hop sound is you-doing-you versus you responding to a trend?
SB: Most of those hip-hop undertones you hear are from my producer Nick [Sylvester]. He has such a love for old-school house music and disco music and 70’s soul. I went into the studio hoping to just experiment, and that sound became the glue that tied all of it together for me. I’m everywhere with my music, and if it were up to me, every damn song would be every damn genre. But I also feel like there are elements of everything that I love and listen to—punk music, country music and pop—wrapped into that glue.
PMA: Pop music derives from the concept of popular music, which makes it more of a qualifier than it does an actual genre. But over the past six years, “pop music” has become more of a genre designation, regardless of whether a song is popular. I think what you’re doing on Ratchet is taking the best of pop music as a genre and taking it in a direction that just so happens to be popular.
SB: Exactly! When people ask me what kind of music I perform, I always say, “I play pop music.” It’s a bit of a blanket statement, but it comes from every genre you can think of!
PMA: Most of your lyrics involve talking very colloquially about certain situations that teenagers and young adults, trite or not, go through every day. But you’re doing it in a very eye-level way, so much so that it almost comes off as satire. Does the semi-hilarious concept of being young and having these young experiences fade away as you get older, or will the concept of youth always be something you can poke fun at?
SB: I really just write about where I am in my life. There will always be something that someone else can relate to. People who hear my music span ages, so whether it’s someone between ages 18 and 21, or someone who’s not—
PMA: That’s me. I’m between 18 and 21.
SB: <laughs condescendingly>
SB: But the thing is: I love coming-of-age things, and that’s what I consider my music to be. I also think my music will always reflect where I am in my life.
PMA: Coming-of-age is a perfect way to describe your music.
SB: Thank you!
PMA: So what’s next for you? Are you excited about continuing the tour? Are you ready to get back on the road? What’s big on your radar?
SB: I’m going to Australia for the first time next year for Laneway! I’m really excited for that; I’ve never been. I have a good friend who was a foreign exchange student back in Vegas who I haven’t seen since graduation, when she moved back home, so we’re gonna hang. Like, so hard. So hard.
PMA: Hard hangs.
SB: Like, so hard.