Throwing SHAED: Budding group SHAED discusses rise to fame and Buffalo show in exclusive interview

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SHAED hasn’t quite hit household-name recognition yet, but that may not last much longer. The D.C.-based electro-pop group’s new single, “Trampoline,” overtook Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend” for the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Alternative Radio chart this summer. 

With a musical style that BlackBook described as “infectious, magnetic charisma,” the group’s elaborate sound design, whimsical tone and deeply meaningful lyrics leave listeners craving more.

The trio, which consists of lead vocalist Chelsea Lee and twin brothers/ multi-instrumentalists Max and Spencer Ernst, have a six-year history of development which has changed their sound and aesthetic to an almost unrecognizable degree. The Ernst brothers’ 2011 debut saw them as The Walking Sticks, not introducing Lee to the family until 2013 and rebranding as SHAED three years later. These early days consisted of dabbling in styles one wouldn’t expect from the group in its current form.

The group will perform this Saturday Sept. 28 at Buffalo RiverWorks alongside Dashboard Confessional, I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME and Marquee Grand at Alternative Buffalo’s Birthday Show 2019. We caught up with SHAED to discuss the group’s change in sound, life on the festival circuits and thoughts on tackling the tour headliner position.

Our interview with SHAED, lightly edited for length and style, follows below:

The Spectrum: Over the course of your career you’ve produced songs that fit in a wide range of genres. How do you feel being categorized as an “electro-pop” group? Do you think that label adequately describes your group as a whole?

SHAED: Yeah, I think more so we’ve been kind of called more alternative pop because [of] “Trampoline.” We’ve been super lucky that “Trampoline” has done this well in alternative radio. I think we think of ourselves as more of an alternative band. You know we lean more toward pop melodies and pop structures of songs, but I think we’re a little more left of center of that. But we try not to focus too much on the labels and continue to produce all the music here and record everything, so we try to create songs that have their own unique feel and that’s what we try to do.

TS: Your music videos often have an ominous and eerie feel. Is this simply to match the mysterious tone of your music, or do you aim to send a message to your listeners through paired visuals?

S: Once again, I think it’s more about thinking about each individual song and what fits the tone of the song. Like for “Trampoline,” you know the song has a very floaty, airy, kind of other-worldly sound to it, which is why we went with the more spacious kind of visuals with Chelsea. [With] the floating visuals, and with Chelsea as the statue, we thought like, ‘That’s it.’ So, I don’t know, there’s no conscious decision to have an overall ominous tone to our videos. I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do. I think [we] kind of just look at each individual song and just think about what kind of visual fits with it.

TS: In 2016, you changed the group’s name from The Walking Sticks to SHAED and listeners can hear a distinct stylistic difference in the music you performed under each name. Do you think changing your name allowed you to change your sound as well?

S: I think it was the other way around. I think we envisioned SHAED as a whole new project. The Walking Sticks started as more of a folk project with my brother and I, and that name more fit stylistically with the music. So when Chelsea joined, we were kind of evolving and changing and incorporating more electronic, you know ‘80s, synthesizer tones and we saw we were changing stylistically and then that led us to wanting to start a new project with SHAED.

TS: From what I’ve read, you have a very hands-on approach when it comes to your music. Do you like to have a lot of control when producing your songs?

S: I think a lot of our best songs to come out of us three [have been from] sort of keeping the production in house, but I don’t know how, we’re definitely not tied down. We’re very open to working with other producers and we’ve done a lot of that this year, collaborating with other artists and it’s something that we love to do as well.

TS: Much of your early career was spent opening for artists including Bishop Briggs and X Ambassadors. Although your upcoming Buffalo show isn’t part of your current tour, how does it feel to have transitioned to headlining rather than opening?

S: It’s really been an amazing [experience]. Honestly, this year has been so incredible for us with the Apple commercial and everything. It’s been so great to headline these great shows and [have] people actually coming out and singing with us and having a great time. 

So that’s been really, really cool. We love opening, we have Marian Hill and Bishop Briggs and X Ambassadors, all those shows really helped us get to this point, helped us become inspired and get practice and get stage presence. It’s been a journey.

TS: Your group has really blown up on the festival circuit, with performances at Lollapalooza, Governors Ball and Firefly. How do these experiences compare to headlining your own shows?

S: I mean the festival experience is just so different because you’re playing much larger stages and for much larger audiences. I’d say our shows feel a little more intimate. People are there to see us and you definitely feel the love, you know, when you see people singing your songs. The festival is a good opportunity to make a good first impression on a ton of people that have never seen you before and I think we feed off that too. Everybody’s just so happy and excited to be there that everyone just wants to have a good time and we love those types of crowds too.

TS: “Trampoline” is probably your most well-known track released right now, but what would you say your favorite song is that you’ve produced over the course of the group’s existence?

S: We’ve said this before but it’s sort of like saying what your favorite kid is or something like that. I think each of the songs has a special place in our hearts, you know. So I don’t know if we could choose. I think we’re just going to have to say we can’t choose just one song.

TS: “Trampoline” recently claimed the No. 1 spot on the Alternative Radio chart. How does it feel to have dethroned major artists like Billie Eilish and Catfish and the Bottlemen from their long-held spots?

S: It feels really amazing. Honestly, alternative radio has been so kind to us and now we’re No. 11 on pop radio too so the fact that the song is doing so well on radio is just really, really cool for us. And we’re among some of our favorite artists, which is amazing.

TS: You’ve spent the last 32 weeks on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart and the last two weeks in the No. 1 spot. Has this helped you develop a kind of momentum for the future? 

S: I mean it’s just cool to know that we’re on people’s radar now. Like with “Trampoline,” we try not to read too much into each individual chart. … You know charting on something is impacting our career but it’s really cool to know that people are paying attention to us right now and we have a platform to keep building.

Reilly Mullen is an Asst. Web Editor and can be reached at Reilly.Mullen@ubspectrum.com.

REILLY MULLEN


Reilly Mullen is an asst. features editor.