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It’s a typically chilly afternoon in April. I have my earl grey tea in hand, as I wait for the Zoom link from my friend Shamir. The last time I saw Shamir was June 2022, during our (out of character for England) tropically hot summer, where we recorded and produced his new album together. It’s a stark contrast to the dry French ciders, crepes and singing in the courtyard outside my Hackney studio at 7pm, but I’m feeling incredibly nostalgic in my dimly lit studio as I anticipate seeing Shamir’s face pop up on my computer screen. It’s quite fitting, considering nostalgia was such a strong inspiration for the making of this record.

Follow me as I go down all kinds of memory laden lanes with Shamir – The Vegas Native, Philly-based, multi-faceted butterfly of a being. We talk about the making of his new album – Homo Anxietatum (Translates to Anxious Man) – the role of nostalgia in this record’s conception, Rina Sawayama (aka mother), and Lizzie McGuire makeup!

Hoost: It’s so good to see you again!

Shamir: It’s so good to see you! I just got this yesterday…[vinyl] test pressing! So, gonna listen to that later.

H: Oh, she’s so pretty! How are you feeling about it?

S: I like the masters! This is going to be a perfect story to start off with. Rob over at the label is incredible, he does all of the jacket art and everything and he’s just really great and really sweet, and I wanted to keep the colour themes. I think when we were making the record, I told you the main colours were pink, lavender and white. It was really heavy on the pink so I was like, okay, when Rob asked me for the colours I wanted, I was just like, straight-up bone white, I think that will be great. And apparently, in the vinyl community, white is believed to sound the worst.

H: Oh, right.

S: Did you know that?

H: I had no idea the colour affected it.

S: Me too and apparently it does! So I go, is this a suspicion thing or does the colour actually affect the sound? And he said, apparently because of the chemical combinations or whatever, each vinyl colour variant [does] sound slightly different.

H: Huh! The more you know!

S: I learned something that day.

H: I learned something as well. Thank you, Shamir!

S: And we work in music! And we just now learn this? Like, yeah. Anyway, the colours I ended up picking were this really cute lavender one and pink…so, I guess we should talk about the making of the record!

H: We should! So, for any new fans of yours, who is Shamir? Where is Shamir?

S: Oh my god. Shamir is a being who had no business being a human. And where is Shamir? Shamir is in South Philadelphia. Yeah, Shamir is a thing that makes music among other things but you know, is mostly known for music.

H: They’re multifaceted though.

S: Yeah, I mean, that’s such a loaded question for me at this point in my life and my career. I’m not as prolific on Twitter as I used to be but I remember, there are some people that only know me for a Twitter presence. I remember when I was promoting self-titled back in 2020, I was already six/seven years deep into my career and I had posted a snippet and one of my followers was like, “oh my god, you do music?” Why do you follow me? And they were like, “because you’re so fucking funny!” And I was like, you know what, fair. I wasn’t even offended by that because I also think I’m fucking funny and I take pride in being fucking funny. You know what I mean?

H: I can attest to that!

S: Thank you. We make each other laugh a lot. Lots of laughs in the studio.

H: Yeah, and we actually go back to 2017 with Tunnel Vision courtesy of the one and only Rina Sawayama.

S: Yeah, so that’s how we got together. That’s the genesis of us.

H: Shout out to Rina.

S: Rina is mother. But yeah, I remember I instantly fell in love with your work before I knew anything about you. We were just people on an email chain. And I remember getting back that mix with my vocal and I was like, oh my god, this is someone who understands my voice.

H: Receiving your vocal was one of the most memorable parts of that point of my career. It felt like a breath of fresh air. As soon as, “sing it, Shamir.” [-Rina Sawayama] I remember hitting pause immediately like, okay, we’ve got something special here.

S: Little insider thing for the girlies: I felt so deeply – I was at a very insecure spot in my life at that point. I’d just been diagnosed bipolar, I was fresh out of the coocoo hut and I had just done that stark switch from going pop – I was more house/RnB adjacent – to the more guitar stuff I was doing and I was kind of scared that a lot of people thought that my ability to do that music was a lot of smoke and mirrors and then when Rina asked me to do it – and hearing her beautiful voice – I kind of just decided to go in on a level that I typically wouldn’t go in because I don’t want to let her down, I don’t want people to be like, ‘why the fuck did she get Shamir to be on this song when he’s like a grungy, fucking crazy person?’ So, I was just like, I’m just really gonna vocalize and give the girlies vocals in this bridge and it wasn’t until I did that that y’all did - that Rina did - the ‘sing it, Shamir’ thing. It wasn’t because Rina said ‘sing it, Shamir’, it was because y’all heard it and [Rina] was like, ‘sing it, Shamir.’ *Laughs* And I just thought that was so funny. I remember when I got that back and I was like, *laughs* I didn’t even think it would be that noticeable. I just thought, I’m gonna do this little high note and call it a day and that was that.

H: Well, it certainly set some wheels in motion. Fast forward to now. A question I wanted to ask you as well: why me for this album? I mixed your past two records and we’ve built a really great relationship since 2017. But what made you look to London and to little old Hoost over here?

S: There are two reasons, I think you know. And I think one of the reasons – I definitely can talk about our record –

but I will say the second reason is, and I would say the main reason is, this my the first time I’ve had a budget, this is the first time I’ve had a label and an advance to go over to London for a month to work with you like this in this capacity. I knew when I really wanted to do something substantial with you that I didn’t want it to just be through email, through Zoom, like how we worked in the past. Once we did something from scratch, I knew I wanted it to be in person and me getting signed at that time last year made it possible.

H: It’s incredible. I think a lot of people in our industry can attest to it as well. There’s a lot of talk and not enough walk and it was so nice to receive that message being like, 'Justin, I’m coming to London' and then you actually are in London and then we are actually in the room. Because you can be down the road from someone here and you can be like 'we’re gonna link soon, we’re gonna write soon' and it never happens. Three years later, you still haven’t done it. This kind of leads me on to the next question. You’re kind of a famously independent artist. What inspired you to sign with Kill Rock Stars?

S: A lot of people think that I was an independent artist on purpose…I’m not a nepo baby, that was out of necessity! I wanted funding. I was breaking my back funding myself and I only did it because I didn’t want to stop. I also found, making great art cheeply is an art within itself and I found that fun and interesting, but it definitely was not supposed to be the default. And honestly, when self-titled came out and it made all those waves and still no labels reached out to me, I was really really frustrated because I was on so many end of the year lists. Literally the only one who was self-released on those lists. I really felt like it was like fuck me when it came to the industry. And I think that’s still really the case in a lot of ways. For the most part, the industry, as a whole, looks at me as an industry plant that like, went rogue. They’re not 100% off. I went rogue for the sake of my artistic integrity. But you know I’m not an impossible person to work with. I would say I’m the easiest!

H: It was probably the easiest two weeks of my creative career so far. It was great. Did you feel like the change of scenery was important for this record?

S: Yeah! I think I told you that with the last album, Heterosexuality, that we had recorded that not too far away, still in Pennsylvania, but outside of Philadelphia in the Poconos, in the mountains, and that was when I was like, okay, I’m only going to record off location from now on and I’ve pretty much kept true to that. I think it’s because I had made so much music and so many records in Philadelphia quite close to home, either quite literally in my home or one of the main studios I would go to was a walkable distance. And also, I write most of my stuff in Philadelphia. I think I don’t need to make another record in Philadelphia and I’m kind of fine with the idea of making my next records off location. Even with the country ban, we Recorded in Rochester, [New York]. So, unless it’s production stuff for other people or demoing, or just sending off vocals for something, I don’t really want to record in Philly anymore. Even though it’s great! There are great studios in Philly, don’t get me wrong! It’s just that I want to record off location from now on.

J: I like that! Do you feel like the location affects the sounds? Do you feel like you draw something from where you are when you’re recording and producing?

S: I think so. I think I’m very susceptible to my surroundings. I think I just soak up the energy of wherever I’m at and I think it pushes me out of my comfort zone. You can ask any engineer that I work with in Philly, I think being in my comfort zone, I am a little bit more stuck in my ways. I’m a little bit more rigid in what I want and, in my ideas, whereas when I’m in another location, I’m a little bit more free-flow, I feel so much less rigid.

H: That’s great, I feel like that’s so important for not getting stagnant. Especially, what’s this now, album nine for you now? I feel like some people can easily get stagnant when they reach their second album.

S: I can’t relate. *Laughs* People can say whatever the fuck they want to say about my music, they can say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever heard, but they cannot say that all of my albums sounds the same.

H: That’s another thing I wanted to touch on. This album is quite a departure, sonically, from Heterosexuality. We had a lot of fun getting the playlist of inspiration together. What’s kind of interesting is the hot pinkness kind of reflects that mood of basically our birth era to kind of the first decade of our life, the 90s, the early 2000s. There’s grunge, there’s pop, there’s emo, a lot of stuff going on—

S: Even post-punk.

H: Yeah! And it’s a very nostalgic time but it’s kind of Barbie.

S: Mhm, yeah, it’s very feminine.

H: It is! All the stuff we were referencing – movies, there was Freaky Friday, Lizzie McGuire, Lindsay Lohan—

S: Of course! I mean, I have Lizzie McGuire makeup.

H: Incredible, I need to see that!

S: I know I wore it a couple times to the studio! Colour Pop did a Lizzie McGuire collection, and they did a couple things. I got the blushes and the glitter gel. So, most of the eye glitter you saw me in was literally Lizzie McGuire.

H: Wow, so you were really living in the moment.

S: Yeah, sometimes really putting myself in it helps. And I got that [makeup] the year previously. I think it was also just stuff that was already in my interests – calling myself multifaceted feels pretentious but it’s true. I feel like a different person every hour, not just everyday. All of those personalities are their own thing but they all come together as one within me, it doesn’t feel like they clash, they all just kind of get their turn and I think each album sounding different is a perfect example of that.

H: Yeah, it’s very reflective of your butterfly kind of persona. The more you look, the more detail you see.

S: Exactly, yeah!

H: Each angle you see is a different picture, in a way.

S: For real. That is so beautiful, Justin, oh my god.

H: Well, I think you embody that! Maybe that’s another reason why you find yourself drawn to them. Sometimes you see yourself in things you admire. But one thing I noticed through making this record with you is that you’re quite literal with your lyrics and one thing I love about all your records is, no matter what mood you’re in, lyrically or sonically, there’s a Shamir song for that. If you’re feeling some existential dread, there’s a song for that. If you’re in love, if it’s heartbreak, if you want to rage, if you need support, there’s a song for that. This album in particular, I feel like you really approached so many topics of loneliness, there’s a song you wrote when you were thirteen, there’s a song you wrote three minutes before we wrapped, basically. This record feels very much like the life of Shamir, from the child to adult. Was that intentional or do you feel like we just found ourselves in that position?

S: No, it is. I think it’s the record that has the most songs that I always wanted to save for when I knew they would get the right attention. First of all, I never thought I would record and release a song as old as ‘The Beginning’ and that happened by chance, right? Already this album probably has the oldest officially recorded Shamir song and then I remember some stuff, there was 'Crime' and 'Obsession', they were both written around the same time, post 'Ratchet', when I was, quite literally, suffering. 'Crime' is literally about depression and locking myself in my room and not wanting to go out even though when I went out, I was so admired. And 'Obsession' is, quite literally about fame. You wanna be a star? Because that’s something everybody wants to do, you know what I mean? And you don’t know who you are, you can’t have all eyes on you. It was literally me writing to myself, I was nineteen/twenty, maybe twenty-one by that time. I didn’t know who the fuck I was!

H: It’s overwhelming.

S: It’s overwhelming!

H: People take for granted how insane being recognized is when you’re that young. And a lot of people kind of dismiss, especially young musicians and artists, even if it’s Billie Eilish or even Justin Bieber, but you have a spotlight on you regardless of how big or small it is. That stuff plays with your head because most people when they’re late teens and early twenties are still very much brain developing, growing up, having no idea what they’re figuring out, no idea what they wanna do.

S: No idea what they wanna do, and also my sense of self was really kind of like, shook because I was known for something that didn’t feel true to me. I think I would have survived a little bit if I felt like I was following my muse, but I wasn’t and that was really hard. I bring up those songs because, specifically 'Obsession', I’ve always always always loved that song and I knew that I always kept it to myself and I never used it for any other record or anything else because I knew that by the time I recorded it, it had to be recorded well, it needed the intention that it needed because when I had done that demo, I sent it to my producer and, kind of like, head of my team at the time and I remember him basically subliminally like, ‘you have to write about stuff that’s relatable, you can’t write about how hard it is to be famous.’ In reality, yes, no one wants to hear a famous person talk about how hard it is to be famous but, as you know, the song is also not exactly that, you know what I mean? It’s so much more multi-faceted than that and I think it works even better now that I’m not at that level of fame that I was then, and it makes even more sense now that I look back at it retroactively, you know?

H: Yeah, there’s definitely more of a presence of peace within you, and what’s kind of fun is that the music gets to express everything else. Some of my favourite memories were recording the vocals, kind of putting you through your paces a bit, hitting some notes. *Laughs*

S: Oh, yeah *laughs*. I think only truly really that was just for 'Calloused'. That was the only time that I was like, this is challenging, not to toot my own horn. But that was fun!

H: So much fun. I’ve got so many favourite and core memories. Last summer was so good. We were blessed with good weather for the first time in 470 years, I’ve never drunk so much coffee and it’s kind of set a precedent now, I drink so much coffee. This album was built on so much cold brew and French cider *laughs*.

S: Oh yeah, the French cider was nice!

H: Have you got any favourite or core memories from the process of making this album?

S: I feel like it was so chill and non-chaotic which is so refreshing for me *laughs* because everything is always so chaotic for me. I just remember always waking up and it was so convenient because literally the bus to your place was one straight [shot] and the stop was literally right in front of my flat. I’d just wake up and go to my bodega or whatever the fuck y’all call it out there, I don’t know, and get like a water, get like a drink, hop on the bus, meet you. It was just such a beautiful routine that I really honestly got so used to it. When I had to leave it was actually kind of hard.

H: I was devastated. Who was more devastated was my cat, Savino. The day you left, Savino hissed at me like I did something wrong.

S: Well he didn’t warm up to me until the last couple days and then I was like, I have to go now! *laughs*

H: But yeah, I think the process felt so natural, of making this record. It was such a nice feeling to be like, not everything has to be back-breaking or brain-wracking. I’ve been reading this book by Rick Rubin and a lot of it is very flowery, LA kinda vibes but he touches on one thing about the creative process where he says sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path and that two or so weeks that we did, I’ve never felt less resistance. It was very much like, what feels natural right now? Let’s pick this up, let’s try this! We were creative but we were like…I don’t know what the word is…

S: There wasn’t any friction. I think I told you before we even recorded, I trust you. We already had this level of trust between each other that, I don’t know about you but for me, certainly, I’d never had before, working with someone, I don’t think ever. Not with anyone.

H: That means a lot.

S: You were the first producer that I’ve had previous experience and a previous relationship with before making an entire album with. So, I told you, having that level of trust, because I’m such a Scorpio, you know what I mean? It’s just like trust, trust, trust, loyalty with us. I didn’t go into the studio white-knuckling it, I just trusted you. I never said yes more in a studio experience, making a record than while making this record. Like, ever.

H: Thank you for trusting in me. It means so much to have someone’s trust, and this is a personal record as well. It’s precious so I want to take care of it as well as I can and help you craft it to the best of your vision as well.

S: Well, there were times where I felt like you cared more than me.

H: Oh, I care! I care, Shamir, I really care. I really give a fuck with this stuff.

S: When you’d ask me certain questions and I’d be like, sure? I guess? Yeah? *laughs*

H: Thank you for trusting in me. It means so much to have someone’s trust, and this is a personal record as well. It’s precious so I want to take care of it as well as I can and help you craft it to the best of your vision as well.

S: Well, there were times where I felt like you cared more than me.

H: Oh, I care! I care, Shamir, I really care. I really give a fuck with this stuff.

S: When you’d ask me certain questions and I’d be like, sure? I guess? Yeah? *laughs*

H: You did a lot of the hard work already, you know? Like, you came here, presented me with a set of incredible songs. That’s half the battle, at least. If anything, what we did here was the last 10% in a sense. One thing I loved is that basically every song we did for this album, you sat on the chaise and just played it on the guitar, and that is a really important thing for me. If you can’t just play it and it make 110% sense and you feel it, then it’s kind of not worth going down that route. It’s not a fully realized song yet.

S: But here’s the thing. You saying that to probably to a lot of non-music readers, listeners, I don’t know, that’s gonna sound like ‘duh’, right? But a lot of people don’t understand that there ain’t songwriters no more! I’ve been in situations where I’m working on a song for someone else and that’s fine, everyone writes in different ways and a lot of times I’m jealous of top writers and people who have really good lyrics and melodies. And I’m very much a finisher. I write everything the once, I very much just think in terms of whole songs but a lot of times the song writing process is like a puzzle. It’s like a producer and a couple songwriters and an artist putting together a puzzle. And for me, I hate that shit. I can’t stand that shit, I don’t like puzzles. And if I am gonna fuck with a puzzle, I can do it myself. I don’t want help doing a puzzle. I can’t do that. If I’m going into a studio, I have songs that I know at least what they could sound like, what they should sound like or what I would like them to sound like. Do they always sound exactly what I would like them to sound like? No. But I at least know…I have a map of where they should go. To me, if you’re going to the studio to make a record and you don’t at least have that, it’s such a waste of time to me. I can’t stand it. It hurts me.

H: Interesting. That’s an interesting point of view. It’s kind of rare to hear that. S: It’s rare now. I feel like it’s an old school thing. People didn’t have the time and also, they recorded everything in like, one take. When they went to the studio they had that shit figured out and I feel like it’s a very old school thing.

H: So old school. I feel like The Beatles did a lot of that where they had the day to record five or six songs and they were like, in two days we’ve recorded the White album. Tape was limited. Your ethos and approach to that, I’ve really started to take on board and something I love about this record as well is that so much of what we did is played from start to finish, it’s sung from start to finish as well. What I love is there’s variation in everything. Each song is its own performance. I think when people will listen to songs like 'Calloused', even like 'Oversized Sweater'—

S: First of all, the girls aren’t doing three-part harmonies by themselves these days like, all the way through. If I could write myself a three part harmony, I’d love nothing more than The Supremes but all in one person.

H: We’ve got some nice sounding harmonies. I’m so excited for people to hear this album.

S: I do want to say that I sent it to Ruban from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and he described it as my headlining, Lilith Fair era album.

H: I’ll take that!

S: Yeah! Yeah, I was like, that’s pretty fucking accurate.

H: That’s pretty damn cool. I love that.

S: So yeah, I’m calling it my Lilith Fair album because that’s basically what it is.

H: Love it.

S: Well when I first sent it to him and all I assumed he heard was 'Oversized Sweater' because within five minutes of me sending it to him he was like, ‘oh, so this is your Alanis record.’ I was like, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. *laughs*

H: Exactly. That’s so good. It’s nice to hear that people can interpret it the way that you – obviously every song is open for interpretation – but the way that you wanted to present it. It’s very important, you know?

S: Not for me! I feel like I’m never interpreted the way I want to be interpreted. So [I’m] really feeling like we killed it. So many people with the 90s, early 2000s, nostalgic, niche things…the difference between us and how the fucking little zoomers are doing it is, we’re from there. We lived it, we experienced it, I’m obsessed with it. So we hear ‘The Beginning’ – every time I hear ‘The Beginning’ I’m blown away that that song was recorded last year *laughs* and that it’s not even out yet and not a literal lost song from 1994.

H: *laughs* This record is a lived experience. That was the goal. Songs from the 90s that we loved, they weren’t trying to be cheesy, those were genuine emotions that they were putting down on paper. You can’t bastardize it, it’s a lived experience.

S: Well we didn’t go in the studio like, ‘okay, we’re gonna make a 90s song, we’re gonna make a 90s album,’ right? We just have actual love for it. We weren’t making fun of it, there wasn’t any pastiche, it’s just stuff that we already love.

H: Yeah, I hope it resonates with people. Have you got a favourite song off the record?

S: Changes every day. It literally changes every day.

H: Me too.

S: Last time I was asked this I said ‘Obsession’. I think ‘Beginning’ is just in its own league.

H: It’s so pure.

S: I mean, yeah, I was thirteen [when I wrote it]. The lyrics are so unserious, you know, rhyming ‘share’ with ‘Cher’, it’s pure. It took me back to my bedroom in middle school. I literally remember that room, I had my SpongeBob TV, and me trying to be Taylor Swift, it just took me back. That song, to me, is in such a league of its own, I don’t even think about that as being a favourite – it’s a favourite as far as potency but on a personal level, ‘Crime’, I think, from the beginning, has always been a favourite, I like the energy of ‘Obsession’ but there’s just something about ‘Without You’ that is other-worldly.

H: Transports me every time.

S: It’s other-worldly, it just takes you to another place.

H: Yeah, that’s one that I’m gonna be drunk at a house party at some afters like, ‘you need to listen to this song! The whole length of the song! You need to listen to this!’ And everyone’s gonna be like, ‘yeah, man, I feel it, I feel it.’ They’re gonna feel it!

S: Isn’t it like five minutes or something too? It’s crazy.

H: Yeah, we nailed it! We nailed it!

S: Your [guitar] solo, it just fit perfect. Your solo before the bridge was just beautiful.

H: No thoughts, just vibes *laughs*! I think that was the second take, maybe third.

S: I mean, that’s also the thing about us, we’re both very much the type that like, no more than a third take. But then we’ll do like ten and we’re like, yeah, we got it in the first three *laughs*. Every single time. But we also want to beat ourselves, you know what I mean? Sometimes it’s one and done.

H: Sometimes it’s one and done! Sips seltzer.

S: Literally.

H: Shamir, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Just reviving some memories of last year and this record. I’m really excited for you, I’m excited for what this record holds for you. I just want to wrap this up asking you, what is your favourite F Word?

S: Oh, yeah! My evil brain wants to take over…my favourite F Word…I mean, I guess 'fabulous', right? Yeah.

H: *Claps* Fabulous, indeed. I think that’s pretty fitting for you right now.

S: Indeed. Thank you.

Shamir's latest album 'Homo Anxietatum' is out now and available to stream on all platforms.


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