At first glance, Shamir Bailey looks like your average Vegas teen: lanky and unassuming in a brown T-shirt and dark denim jeans. Look closer, though, and subtle details of the 19-year-old north-sider emerge: the glint of a septum piercing, a tattoo of his record label’s logo and a matching lapel pin. It’s the same creative innocence present in his catchy, lo-fi drum machine hooks and glowing, androgynous vocals. “What’s house music?” he asked his manager at one point. “I was just experimenting.”
Bailey’s stunning and unpolished voice, his knowledge of the DIY punk scene and his self-taught recording techniques (all analog) positioned the singer for his first break as a solo artist, and after sending a demo to Pitchfork contributor Nick Sylvester’s record label, Godmode, he was signed in January. “I only knew how to deal with small tape labels,” says Bailey, who sent the demo on a whim, hoping, at best, to create some connections in New York City. The next day, he was invited to Brooklyn, where he would go on to record his debut EP, Northtown, tinged with elements of old-school house, R&B and soul. Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes comes to mind, especially listening to singles “If It Wasn’t True” and “I Know It’s a Good Thing.”
“The first time we recorded, [Sylvester] gave me this,” Bailey says, pointing to a pledge-like pin on his shirt—the Godmode logo. “It was attached to a piece of cardboard that said, ‘The Internet doesn’t matter, you live in New York,’” he says. “I thought that was hilarious, ’cause it’s like, completely opposite of how I even got there.”
Bailey says he’s been humbled by his experience—he’s the only non-New Yorker on his label, and his songs have already been featured on Pitchfork and Stereogum. “I feel like a character,” the Legacy High grad says of his sudden attention. “It’s weird, but it’s a good weird, I think.”
Bailey’s five-song EP is due out June 11, followed by his first-ever live solo performance, at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival on June 15.