Published May 25, 2015One of last year's best new discoveries was a confident debut single called "If It Wasn't True" that sounded straight out of the DFA laboratory. The artist behind this delicious piece of bedroom-bred disco-house-pop was a young, fresh fellow by the name of simply Shamir (née Bailey) from the untapped region of North Las Vegas. There was a homemade modesty to the track's minimal, lo-fi production, but the reason why Shamir turned so many heads was because of his inimitable voice that has a register as high as the sky.
"I always loved to sing, but it wasn't until recently, after all of this stuff I'm doing, that people started to compliment my voice," Shamir tells Exclaim! "I always sang no matter what anyone said about it. It was really hard growing up and trying to sing because of how I sounded. I would try and join a men's choir but I couldn't sing in a lower baritone, so it was hard. That's when I knew I had to take matters into my own hands and sing and write music that was comfortable for my tone. It's very humbling and cool that people think my voice is powerful. It's super crazy."
Following up 2014's debut EP, Northtown, Shamir is now attempting to make an even bigger splash with his first full-length, Ratchet (out now on XL Recordings). Produced by former music critic-turned-musician Nick Sylvester, the album is a major step forward for the 20-year-old, who almost traded in music to become a farmer in Arkansas. His blithe attitude and versatility demonstrate his ability to jump from a banger like "On the Regular" to a soul-pouring ballad like "Demons." But for Shamir, this album was a long-awaited opportunity to make his singing the focal point.
"[Before] I was getting overwhelmed when I was making my voice a focal point, because a lot of people didn't get it or vibe with it or whatever, so I started a punk band as a way for me not to worry about that," he explains. "I could sing the way I wanted to sing and just make pure art with pure expression, and not really about how my voice sounded. The music was supposed to be the focal point. But I knew when I started going solo that my voice could now be the focal point."
Shamir credits his upbringing in North Las Vegas as a major factor in developing into the artist he's become. "I stuck out like a sore thumb in Vegas, but if anything it forced me to be more like myself," he says. "When you're around the norm and cookie cutter stuff, where nothing was unique, you have to find uniqueness in yourself, and put it into your own hands to bring that difference into your life."
Vegas is such an important part of Shamir's fabric that felt the need to name his album after his hometown. Yes, Ratchet is a term of endearment.
"Ratchet is an homage to where I come from, Northtown, which was the name of my EP," he says. "Ratchet is what me and my friends call each other, and how we describe North Las Vegas sometimes. So it's a representation of where I come from. I like to represent it because not too many people are repping North Las Vegas like that."
06/11 Allston, MA - Great Scott
06/12 Montreal, QC - Bar le Ritz
06/13 Toronto, ON - Bestival
06/16 Washington, DC - U Street Music Hall
06/18 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
06/19 Philadelphia, PA - Voyeur Nightclub
07/17-19 Chicago, IL - Pitchfork Music Festival