01/03/2016
"I’m not an advocate. I’m just being myself."

Words by

Veronica Stanford

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is done and dusted, giving us time to reflect on the international talents that graced our shores.

Hailing from Las Vegas, Shamir Bailey is one of those talents. The 20-year-old singer/songwriter made his Down Under debut at Laneway, as well as playing two headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney. 

Perhaps most well known for his adrogynous voice and upbeat nature, Shamir would rather you know him for his killer pop tunes.

We sat down with Shamir during his Laneway schedule to chat being a role model, thrift shopping and the naughtiest thing he’s ever done.

So your album has been out for a while now, are you finding the response was as you wanted it?

It has been way more positive than I ever imagined, are you kidding me? I never could have imagined what it would be like.

Did you have any expectations?

Absolutely not! I was like ‘I’m just going to do this.’ I was surprised that people even listened to the EP, because God knows my voice was not really loved to begin with. So to hear people appreciate my music for what it is now, was very humbling.

People didn’t love your voice originally?

(Laughs) No, it’s very weird...

Was it not accepted in your hometown?

And when I was growing up, yeah. 

But now it’s all good, yeah?

Yeah, now I’m just like ‘whatever’ (laughs).

I’ve also heard you say people get annoyed when they can’t figure out your gender. How do you react to that? Does it bother you?

No, it doesn’t bother me. The only time it does bother me is when it overshadows the actual music. You know, being almost forced to be a poster child for something that you didn’t sign up for... I’m just here to do music and although that plays a part, in my life and in the way I’m writing in general, it doesn’t deviate from any other aspects of my life. 

So then how do you find being a role model for others, who are maybe struggling with their own gender identity and with being themselves? As you said, you didn’t choose to be a poster child for that.

Yeah, I didn’t choose to but I am definitely glad. When I think about it, I never really had anything like that growing up. To be that [role model] for someone is amazing. More than I can ask for. But at the same time, I’m not an advocate. I’m just being myself. But hopefully by me being myself, it inspires other people to be themselves. I’m not here to tell people what’s right and what’s wrong and to do certain things, it’s just more... making people aware.

Your music is pretty fun and upbeat, though lyrically it is a little more serious and personal. Where did that contrast come from?

I just really love that formula because you really get those negative things off your chest but still are able to produce something positive. I just like to put positivity out there at all times. Of course you can make a sad song sound sad, and make everyone sad with you. But that’s expected.

And you used to write and perform country music? Can you tell me a bit about that?

Yeah, I think most of the songs on Ratchet started off as country ones.

Oh really? I feel like many people would be really surprised to know that.

I just grew up on it and it was pretty prominent in Vegas. It was always around me. My first instrument was an acoustic guitar, so it was a natural thing for me to write in that style. I did it until about 16 when I started up my band. But even then when I was writing for Anorexia (the duo in which Shamir played guitar) and even writing now, a lot of the time stuff still starts off very folk and country. 

Obviously I have to ask about your wardrobe. You always seem to be sporting some cool threads. What are you attracted to and where do you shop?

Most of my stuff is vintage, if not all. 

Do you have any tips for op shopping? Well you call it 'thrift' right?

(Laughs) No, i’ve actually been really bad at it lately. I don’t do it anymore because I have a stylist. She also runs her own second-hand store. She goes across the country, to all these markets and sales and everything and has all these findings that she’ll sell or use for her styling. If she find something she won’t use but knows I would like, she gives it to me. 

You have such a strong personal style as it is, how have you found handing over control of your wardrobe to someone else?

That’s the thing. I first started working with her when I did the video for ‘On the Regular,’ as that was my first real video with a budget. They said, ‘You know we have the budget so we might as well get a stylist.’ And I was like ‘NO. I know how to dress myself! I know what I want. This person will have me looking like all kinds of stupid.’

She emailed me and asked for my Instagram, so she could get a feel for my style. We met the first day of shooting and we were like the same person. It was like... almost cosmic. Her style is really similar to mine. She's now one of my closet friends and I completely trust her.

Let’s talk about your videos. Do you get an input into the concept of those?

Definitely, but I am in a position where it's hard for me to get bothered with visuals. That's why I love having people around me that really get me, like the director for pretty much all my videos is my producer's brother. So he is a friend and he gets everything I like or whatever.

Did you get to keep the puppet with your likeness from the ‘Call it Off’ video?

No... (laughs and nods head).

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?

I am a really good child (laughs). I’ve done so many things, it’s hard to think about the worst thing... In high school I used to take the spray bottle from the whiteboard and spray my trig[onometry] teacher with it, when she wasn’t looking. She got really mad (laughs). Somehow I made it back to my seat by the time she asked who did it, so obviously I got away with it and kept doing it. When I got caught the second time she yelled that she'd call the principal and send me away. But I got off because I gave her puppy eyes.

Once you head home, what’s next for you?

Once I finish Laneway I head back home and go on tour with Troy Sivan, then with Duran Duran and then a bunch of other festivals like Coachella.

Any new music?

I have some new material I’m thinking about, but it’s still in the works. I’m just thinking about the plan I guess.

twitter.com/ShamirBailey

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