On the Manic Episode That Gave Shamir Hope — And More
Six months ago, Shamir Bailey disappeared into his Philly bedroom for 48 frenzied hours with a 4-track, performing a kind of musical exorcism of the last year-plus of his career. It was a last-ditch Hail Mary before potentially quitting music for good, as Bailey felt pulled in all directions — musically — except for the one he wanted to go in.
He emerged from what was admittedly a manic episode with the lo-fi masterpiece, Hope, which he released directly to SoundCloud — then he checked into a hospital for a week. The countertenor was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a realization that ultimately altered his life and crystallized his sound.
“If it weren’t for that manic episode, I wouldn’t have Hope and I also wouldn’t have that diagnosis and have had the time off to take a look at myself and everything,” 22-year-old Bailey tells TIDAL mere weeks before the release of his newest album Revelations (out now), a call-back to his original musical roots and a noted contrast to his 2015 breakout record, Ratchet.
The disco-influenced, synth-y Ratchet was decidedly a record for after-breakup booze binges and confident bedroom Vogueing. From his debut single “Call It Off” (an upbeat goodbye to a relationship gone sour) to standout track “On the Regular” (which appeared in various commercials), it was a strut of an album. It was also released on XL, home to acts like Adele, Radiohead and Jamie xx. It was quite a jump for Bailey, who had cut his teeth at DIY venues like Brooklyn’s Silent Barn.
“A lot of people who were close to me, who knew me before Ratchet — they were probably, for the most part, surprised by Ratchet,” he says. “Because it was such an experimentation for me. I never thought it would get to this level.” Bailey grew up in Las Vegas, where he initially fell in love with country music and legends like Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard. He wrote strictly country from age 12 to 16, penning Ratchet when he was only 18.
So, after the release of his 2015 splash, Bailey was feeling the strain. He was done with experimenting with dance music, but that’s what he was expected to make. He reflects on this in Revelations track, “Games”: “They say you wanna want this/I said it just no fun.” The track, he tells us, is about his label — his own version of Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song.”
“I was tired of having to keep up something that was only temporary in my life, anyway,” he says of working with XL and making dance music. “It had reached this level where I felt pushed to try to continue to do the same thing. I’d rather not do music at all than have to continue doing something that doesn’t matter to me.”
XL dropped Bailey prior to Hope. He’s now signed to Father/Daughter Records, a smaller, family operation, also home to bands like Diet Cig, Vagabon and Hiccup — acts with whom he feels much more of a kinship.
Revelations is much more befitting its DIY brethren than the more polished sheen of Ratchet. The tongue-in-cheek “’90s Kids” (“We talk with vocal fry/We watch our futures die”) is what I like to call “gel pen pop,” a kick of nostalgia overlaid with Bailey’s characteristically soulful vocals. “Straight Boy” is a more introspective look at “whitewashing and queer baiting in media,” as he told NPR Music. The ‘50s-esque “Blooming” shows off Bailey’s voice to full effect, calling back to one of my favorite Shamir tracks, “Lived and Died Alone” (off of 2014’s Northtown EP). That song is gorgeous — if you don’t mind the undertones of necrophilia.
“When I revealed Hope and when I started showing my friends stuff from Revelations, it was just like, ‘Oh, this sounds like you,’” Bailey tells TIDAL. “Hope did what it’s called. It gave me hope. It gave my career this weird resurgence, which was really cool.”
(Photo credit: Jason MacDonald)
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