The Weekly interview: fast-rising singer-songwriter (and North Las Vegas product) Shamir

Matthew Parri Thomas

What are you up to? Oh, nothing. I’m in LA; I’ve gotta literally leave for Europe in a few hours, and I haven’t packed a single thing. I’m a horrible packer.

Ratchet comes out on the 19th. Are you nervous or just ready to get it over with? I’m just ready to get it out. I’m anxious. I don’t like buildups. That’s just like a breeding ground for anxiety for me.

I called your relationship hotline the other day. Who came up with the idea, and what happens when someone leaves a voicemail? [My team] ran it by me, and I was like, “Oh my God, are you kidding me?” I’m like all my friends’ therapist anyway.

It’s a 1-800 number, so it goes to a voicemail. I don’t have the budget to have people at a call center for me, I’m sorry. (laughs) But if you leave a voicemail, I will get back. I answer in a video. I already did the first video actually this week, I answered like 20-something questions. It’s gonna come out soon.

You play Leeds on Monday. I remember you talking about all the friends you made when you went to Europe. Is that what you’re most excited for? That might be a good 30 to 40 percent of it. I’ve grown to be really close to Låpsley, who’s on XL with me. We’re some of the youngest ones. Pretty much everyone that they signed on XL recently is really young, like me and Låpsley, who’s 18, and Ibeyi. They’re born a month after me.

A lot of people compared your fast-tracked career path with Courtney Barnett—then you performed with her at the NPR showcase at SXSW. What was that like? She’s so cool. It was insane. I pretty much opened for her, and it was so cool. It was such a change of pace, starting with me and having her end. The fact that we could play together even though it was two different types of music, that’s what I live for. The openers of all my shows have been completely different from my music, ’cause you know, I like variety. [Courtney has] been a huge influence lately. I remember when I was in the process of releasing my EP and hearing of her, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m really rooting for her.” She’s super sweet too. I’m really glad I got to meet her.

You just released “Darkness” as the next single off Ratchet. Why did you decide to release a ballad instead of another dance track? Because I didn’t want people to get comfortable. I’ve [released] two up-beat, dance-y tracks. If I release another one, that’d be super boring.

I read that the video was shot with drones. It was really cool. I was sick as a dog the whole shooting. I [had] to climb this mountain, and then these drones are flying around me. The thing about the drones is they have this little helicopter thing and they’re like little fans and they’re blowing dust in my face, so I [had] to perform while all this dust is blowing in my face, but not look like dust is blowing in my face.

Were you afraid one was going to hit you? Oh yeah. Here’s the scary thing: I get on top of the hill, and they’re like, “Okay, we’re gonna pop in the drones. It’s still kind of developing technology, so if it looks like it’s coming for you, you have to duck,” and I’m like, are you kidding me? So I was like, if I get attacked by a drone this is going to be the end of everything. It was worth it, but I had a few doubts.

What’s your favorite song to perform on the album? “Youth.” it sounds really great live. There’s just something so magical about it live. It was always so on, even from the first rehearsal. It just has this weird, really good live vibe about it.

You’ve openly said you have no gender. Growing up in Las Vegas, was it hard identifying that way? I don’t know. It was fine in North Las Vegas. It was never really a problem. I’ve always been very colorful and out there. What you see in my videos, that’s how I was in high school. It was never a problem. Obviously there were a few ignorant people, but they were never paid attention to.

Would you say Las Vegas is unique in that respect? Yeah. I think Vegas is really, really tolerant. Way more tolerant than places that people think people are more tolerant, like LA or New York.

Vegas is really diverse. I just think that we don’t care, maybe because we have bigger fish to fry. This has been the most tolerant place. Maybe I’m biased ’cause this is my home. Also Vegas is way more safe than like, anywhere. People don’t give it enough credit. I watch the local LA news and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m scared to go outside.” Even in bad areas in Vegas, I still feel more safe walking down the street at 11 at night.

You’ve mentioned wanting to get into a lot of different things, like screen-writing and comedy. What’s next? As soon as I’m done touring I want the next album to be out a few months later. I don’t really like to keep people waiting. I’m really trying to get into the habit of writing for other people. Now I’m starting to write more songs that might not be necessarily for me, but writing to write and give it to other artists or whatever.

Who would you love to write for? I think Rihanna. (laughs)

Ratchet explores a lot of different territory—it’s a party album, but there’s some somber stuff on there, too. My album as a whole is kind of just a life story—starting out with Vegas, which was the beginning of everything, where I’m born and raised. I wrote that song with my aunt, who’s also born and raised in Vegas. “Head in the Clouds” is kind of about leaving your mark after you’re gone, after you’re dead, just wanting to leave something more substantial behind—and everything in between that goes into life—heartbreak, love, frustration. There’s songs for all of that. I just think it’s kind of a life’s body of work.

Is your aunt a writer? She’s always been a writer, but just for fun or as a hobby in her free time. We’ve always kind of written together. I really pride myself on writing the whole album by myself, but when I played the demo instrumental version of that song, she was like, “Shamir, I really love it, let me write to it.” I was hoping it wouldn’t be that good, but then she sent me the verses and I was like, “Dammit! It’s good!”

You still haven’t played a show in Vegas. Last time we talked, you said your release party would likely be here. What happened? Just pretty much timing. In April, I was doing a lot of press and I had to go to Europe and then I had my West Coast tour. The timing was off. But there’s definitely plans of a party in Vegas, probably at the end of this summer or the beginning of fall.

Will you be playing any Vegas festivals this year? Maybe?

If I guessed that you were playing Life Is Beautiful, would I be right? I’m not sure. Honestly. It’s not written in stone, but it’s definitely something that I aspire to do.

YouTube’s comment section is a horrible abyss. How has it been dealing with mean comments throughout all of this? You know what? I am a Las Vegas ratchet. I’ve been in nearly 10 physical fights. At this point in my life, I definitely live by sticks and stones. Words are literally nothing to me. I’m definitely more of a person who pays attention to the positives than the negatives. It’s literally nothing for me. It’s almost kind of unsettling how much it doesn’t move me.

You’ve been in 10 physical fights? Nearly 10. (laughs) I’m telling you, I’m a Northtown ratchet.

You don’t seem like a fighter, though. I know! And I’m not a fighter. Just, people—look. “On the Regular” is real. Don’t try me. ’Cause people try. And I will pop off. I have no problem with it. (laughs)

What have you learned from your instant fame? I think I just learned to keep the people who you are already close with closer. Those are the people that really matter.

What has your greatest experience been so far? Probably coming back to South by [Southwest] for the third time and actually being an official artist. It was a “We Made It Moment,” after a few years of going there and struggling to play. I’m really blessed and lucky to have really amazing people behind me on my team. I just couldn’t have asked for better.

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