• Photo Diary: Shamir

    Shamir Bailey goes by one name now, like Madonna, he’s young, like his labelmates Jai Paul and King Krule, and his voice has been compared to that of Nina Simone, Prince, and a handful of other distinctively androgynous soul singers. 

    But really, none of these comparisons quite suit him, and that’s intentional. The 20-year-old North Vegas native is part of a new slew of artists injecting a fresh spike into the music industry, one that’s unrestrained by common gender or genre ideas. 

    “We all have this brotherhood or sisterhood of just sticking together and hanging out, being really supportive of each other,” Shamir says, particularly of his XL Recordings family. 

    This past May, he released his full-length debut, Ratchet, on the label. The album, a heavy hybrid of dirty acid bass, club bounce, and pop vocal melodies, quickly rose up the music charts and made Shamir a person of interest across the dance, electro, and indie pop spectrums. (Think Azealia Banks circa “212,” but with disco edge.)

    “It’s been a lot of travel,” Shamir says about touring since the release. “It’s stressful in between [shows] but once I’m on stage it makes it all worthwhile.” We gave him a camera and asked for photos from tour, which looks anything but stressful. From meeting up with his label friends Ibeyi in New York to reuniting with his Forever Lesbians group while in Philly, there’s no shortage of support for Shamir.  

    Read below to see what Shamir has to say about performing on stage, turning into a Muppet, and his budding comedy career, and be on the lookout for new tour dates coming soon.
    Photos by Jessica Flynn

    Do you have any rituals that help to get you in the right mindset to be up on stage? 

    I really don’t have too many. Sometimes when I’m full of anxiety before I go on literally the only remedy is just going on. Sometimes I’m begging people at the club like, “Can I go on five minutes earlier? Because I need to go on, like, right now.”

    When you were younger, you used to play solo with acoustic guitar. Then you performed with your punk band, Anorexia. How is performing as Shamir different than those experiences? 

    I think now I just focus on singing, performing, and having fun. When I was in a band — or even when I was on a stoop, I’d have to worry about playing the music and everything else. For most of my live shows now I have a backing band. It’s nice [now] to just be me and do me and not have to really worry so much about the sound, the band, and playing something and making sure everything is going well. It’s just more freeing to perform as opposed to worrying about all of the other things. 

    In your video for “Call It Off,” you turn into a Muppet on camera. Was that like a Build-A-Bear workshop, were you able to help design your puppet self?

    Yeah, I actually was! The Jim Henson studios made it, and they were sending me sketches until I felt it was perfect. Then they just started building it and I didn’t see it until the day of the shoot, and I was just freaking out. It was so funny to see myself in Muppet form. Luckily, they brought it with them when I performed at South by Southwest so I got to perform with it, which was really, really fun. 

    Did they let you keep it afterwards?

    Well, hopefully they’re keeping it safe for you somewhere. 
    I think they said they were gonna frame it or something so I was like, “Yeah, okay that’s awesome.” 

    Outside of music, what other art forms or creative outlets inspire you? 

    I’ve done stand up comedy a few times. I also paint, but I’m not too good at it [laughs]. I really love to cook — I actually really wanted to go to culinary arts school and I’m still planning on it, eventually. 

    I feel like you could do stand up just once and then you’re primed for the stage. It’s such an intimidating experience. 
    Oh, it’s so intimidating! I think it definitely helped me to be a little more fearless onstage. Comedy is really fun to me, it’s either a hit or a miss thing. I don’t think I’m that good, especially concept-wise, but because my voice is really funny and I look really funny people laugh anyway. 

    What was one of your best jokes? 

    People always laughed when I made fun of my voice. I’d usually start my routine on stage and I’d say, “Oh hi! I’m Shamir and I’m an 18-year-old black male with the voice of a 14-year-old white girl.” It was just really funny and definitely something I want to get back to eventually. Also, just like with music, it was something I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to because most of the places were 21 and over. 

    All-ages shows are so important. You can miss out on so much great music when you’re young if that scene isn’t so visible.  
    Yeah, I just know how it was. Coming from Vegas, I always put myself in other people’s shoes. I’m still under 21 so I still can’t go to some shows! 

    Shop Shamir's Ratchet EP and check out his tour photos below.