An Interview with Shy Girls — we talk debut album and preventing himself from being pigeon-holed as alt-R&B

Shy Girls Set to Release Debut Album “Salt” via Hit City Records on January 20th

 
Here’s a riddle for you: If twenty people record demos on a synthesizer and guitar in their bedrooms, and someone labels it all alt-R&B, does anyone hear the difference between them? At the expense of some really great DIY artists, alternative R&B (or for the more sarcastically inclined, PBR&B) has become an ironic punch-line to describe a genre that has become so oversaturated its swelling has now even leaked into the mainstream canals of the music industry. Discussing the term’s irony is a bit of a double-edged sword; on one hand you have music critics who carelessly toss the term around in their word vomit of reviews, unnecessarily pigeon-holing artists in the process, and on the other, you have artists regurgitating the sounds of a scene they’re inescapably consumed by. There are plenty of exceptions to both instances, and Portland/LA singer/songwriter and producer Dan Vidmar’s project Shy Girls is one of them.

At first glance, Vidmar’s productions have all the hallmark tenets of alt-R&B, and while he doesn’t deny that he’s been influenced by the things he’s surrounded by and listened to, his music shouldn’t be so easily shoved into a single label. Like many, Vidmar is a product of early introduction to music–at fourteen his parents gave him a guitar and he used it to play classic rock covers in his early teens, as well as in all kinds of bands throughout high-school and college. Growing up in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t much of a music scene for him to thrive on, but after a move to Portland, that all changed.

“The music scene in Portland is great and it was super inspiring to just be part of any music scene, because where I came from there wasn’t a scene. And it was just inspiring to see these people doing wildly different things, all kinds of house parties with noise shows part of the DIY scene,” Vidmar explained. “I think musically I was inspired by stuff that wasn’t part of the Portland music scene, it was almost like I felt a certain void of something I wanted to hear that wasn’t happening, and sort of filled that void myself in a way.”

That void Vidmar experienced would eventually bear into existence his bedroom project Shy Girls, filling it with an expansive etherealness that seems almost criminal in labeling; his tunes are rooted in the intangible, touching tenderly on unspoken emotions and raw lushness that relies on its jutting beats as much as his crooning. Pinpointing his influences for his upcoming debut release Salt isn’t hard, but they’re also not buzzwords with which he expects to give his music any sort of credibility that it hasn’t earned itself.

“When I was in Portland I’d been listening to a lot of Smokey Robinson and was really inspired by this more smooth and funky sound that were not really part of the social consciousness at that time. So I was just listening to a lot of music that directly inspired what I was doing for years and it gradually seeped into what I was doing,” he said of his influences. “When I was a kid listening to the radio when I was growing up, there was a lot of Aaliyah and TLC, and a lot of that stuff was deeply ingrained in my childhood bones. Nowadays it’s such a saturated thing that it’s almost funny to talk about at this point, but that wasn’t the case five years ago.” 

Vidmar has an appreciation for some of the greatest navigators of R&B, but that doesn’t make his music instantly an alt-R&B product. Even looking to his inspirations, Smokey Robinson was a master of pop, soul, and everything in between, while TLC effectively changed the way we listen to and think of hip-hop, soul, and funk–bringing isolated music scenes like new jack swing to the rest of the world. It’s easy to pigeon-hole an artist and even easier for that artist to get stuck in the term themselves, but that’s never been a problem for Vidmar.

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“It sounds super cliche but I had all these influences when I started and now I have a bunch of influences that I listen to now, so I don’t think I’m making the same type of music that I was back then. I’m like anyone, I evolve and change over time, so to me it’s easy to look at some of the artists that were categorized four, three years ago and kind of pigeon-hole them for a long time,” Vidmar said of labeling artists as solely alt-R&B. “A lot of us are making totally different music now, but I think once you get thrown in a sort of world, term, or scene it’s hard to break out of that. But if you really listen to the music people are evolving way outside of that bubble.”

One of the ways he’s been able to maintain an ever-present touch of himself within his music is by having complete control over his production, which he began experimenting with when he first arrived in Portland. Salt was self-produced by Vidmar and a large amount of its instrumentation was done by his hand, and for the growing artist, that was immensely important.

“I’m a little bit of a control freak. I needed to have full control over it, and I think it was better for it. There’s so many people that make albums these days by working with twenty different people and then selecting only the best of like hundred songs recorded, and I made a ton of songs that didn’t make it to the album as well, but having this distinct vision of one person makes all the little mistakes, intricacies, and fuck-ups cohesive.”

That cohesiveness revolves directly around the changes that have occurred in Vidmar’s life, not just since he started crafting tunes for Shy Girls, but going all the way back to when he first picked up that guitar at fourteen. In Salt, he explores the inherent existential angst that many reaching adulthood (like himself) feel at this point in time, which is a bit of a contrast and growth from the content of his earlier pieces.

“I’ve always a bit of a nihilistic, absurdist bend to my personality. I’ve always been a little cynical, and as I get older that plays a bit more into the music. A lot of it is about getting older and the first EP and mixtape were about being in your young twenties in a city, and this album is a little bit more about what happens next, what happens after that as you’re approaching thirty years old.”

Vidmar will be hitting the road soon, bringing Shy Girls and its full live band to Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom at the end of the month for a show that will overflow with intimacy if he has his way. No matter the size of the venue, Vidmar believes it’s his band and his duties to effuse the delicate affections of his music at every concert; to him, it’s the kind of music you listen to in your headphones or on vinyl at home, not necessarily in a club, so he brings the intimacy by the truckload–even when they’re playing in a club.

Words: Steven Ward


Shy Girls debut album Salt is out January 20 via Hit City Records, you can order the album here. Shy Girls recenlty surprised fans this by releasing his debut album Salt three days early. Stream it here.

Shy Girls will perform in Los Angeles at the Teragram Ballroom on January 28. Tickets are still available for Shy Girls East/West Coast tour dates. Visit his website and Facebook for more details.
 

1/24: Barboza – Seattle, WA
1/25: Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
1/27: The Independent – San Francisco, CA
2/08: Rock & Roll Hotel – Washington, DC
2/09: Boot & Saddle – Philadelphia, PA
2/10: Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY

 

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