On the Road with The Shacks
We caught up with the duo as they got a well-deserved break from touring to discuss new music and helpful inventions for on-the-road, as well as to exclusively premiere their brand new track "Audrey (Spending All My Time With You)" and debut a photo diary from their travels.
Where are you guys right now? I know you have a pretty intense touring schedule.
Shannon—We’re in Princeton, New Jersey right now. We just got back a week ago from tour, and we’re just relaxing right now.
Max—Relaxing and recording. I’m from Princeton, and I have a little studio here, so we spend a lot of time working on new tracks, day n’ night.
New tracks separate from the new album?
That’s good that you’re so ahead.
M—Yeah, in a couple months, we’ll probably have the next album done. Because stuff on the album that’s gonna be coming out in March, some of that stuff is two or three years old. I guess that’s just the way it goes.
You kind of have to catch up. Can you say anything about the new sound?
M—It’s different than what the first LP is gonna sound like. We just started touring this past February, so basically all of the LP was recorded before that. So the new stuff we’re working on now definitely sounds more stripped down and has more of the live experience we have now. Kind of like a 4-piece band vibe, as opposed to the new album which is more production-based.
Is there anything that caused that shift, or did it happen naturally?
S—I mean, I think we’re just two years older, so we changed our style a little bit. It’s still the same, but we just kind of evolved.
M—Yeah, and I really like bands who are constantly evolving and changing their sound moving forward and making a lot of material along the way. The album coming out this Spring really reflects the first couple years of us as a band, which is really cool. The track listing for that roughly shows the evolution from our earliest stuff to our newest stuff.
I interview a lot of artists, and if they have music coming out that was made a long time ago, a lot of them say that it’s hard to listen to. Is that the same with you guys?
M—[Laughter] I don’t know about you, Shannon, but we’ve definitely listened to the music so many times. Once the song is finished, after all that mixing and mastering, at least for me it can be hard to go back to and listen to your old stuff. In general, it can be hard to listen to your own stuff. I had to listen through the whole album the other day to approve the vinyl test pressing, and I was definitely really happy with it. If I’m in the right mindset, I can definitely appreciate it and dig it. I think like any other artist, it can definitely be hard.
It definitely sounds fresh, so no need to worry.
Would you say you guys are more comfortable on the road? What’s it like constantly traveling and being displaced into new cities?
S—It’s pretty cool. I mean, it’s hard work because you’re traveling a lot and living out of a suitcase for two months, which can get a little hard, but it’s really cool to travel and see all these places and play shows there. Personally, I’m still working on my live—what’s the word—persona? I think I’m more comfortable just recording, but I think also just playing shows every night, you automatically keep getting better.
How do you stay creative while on the road?
M—That’s a hard one. The road’s “creativity” part is keeping the show fresh and staying inspired playing the same songs every night. So what we’ve been doing is mixing up our set a lot. I know a lot of other bands find a nice groove and kind of play the same thing every night. So we try to mix up the setlist, but also mix up our interpretation of the songs and try to have a pretty big degree of variation and room for interpretation. We can play one song really fast and funky one night, and then the next night it might be super chill. We try to take it where it kind of wants to go instead of sounding the same every night.
In the car, Shannon has been writing a lot of melodies and lyrics to tracks we’ve been working on at home, but I know for a lot of artists it can be hard to write on the road since you’re getting up and moving every five seconds. That part is definitely a challenge, although we have written a lot of things on the road.
S—And we have a friend who moved out of the city to LA, and he has a studio there now. We were there for four days because we had two shows, so in between, we got to hang out in his studio and record some new rhythm tracks, which was fun and felt like we were just hanging out.
M—His name is Tom Brenneck, who is Charles Bradley’s producer and also played guitar with Amy Winehouse and all that stuff. He just took over, with Mark Ronson, this old studio in Hollywood called The Sound Factory. So that was awesome because, on the road, I was trying to book studio time but we were never in one place long enough. Our real passion is in the studio. That’s where our home is.
Are there any unexpected innovations that help you on the road? I know some touring musicians take mobile studios with them.
M—In LA, we were going all over Craigslist and stuff, because we got an AirBnb, and I bought a really cool mic. We were trying to find a 4-track cassette machine, which is really easy to set up and record on, but we couldn’t find anything on Craigslist. If we’re putting a song together, GarageBand on the iPhone is really good. We use that a lot to make demos.
Any non-music related inventions?
M—Argan oil. Great hair product.
S—The Radiooooo app. It’s this app where you can select a country and decade, and it will pick a random song from that time and place, which is really cool because we find a lot of new songs that are awesome.
I love the video for “Left It With The Moon." It’s very idiosyncratic and beautiful. Being fairly young, would you say that your visuals and aesthetic come naturally, or is it something that has developed over time?
S—I think it comes naturally. Like, that’s just kind of what we like—polaroids and old vintage photos and stuff. We never specifically sat down like, “This is going to be our image,” or anything. It’s just who we are.
M—We kind of take the philosophy of using whatever you have to do what you want to do artistically. For the “Left It With The Moon” video, we shot that on an iPad because we decided we wanted to make a video. And all we had was an iPad and some flashlights. So we had to accept that those were the tools we were working with, although some people may see that as amateur or whatever. If you use a unique medium, though, you can get unique or interesting results with any kind of music.
It’s interesting. Nowadays, I feel like even bigger artists are going towards more “amateur” mediums for videos like VHS.
M—Totally. You can do anything with CGI and editing that it’s kind of like, what’s the point? I think there’s a value in just capturing what’s actually there in your life and not trying to make something with technology. When we record, we record basically all analog to tape. It does go into the computer at certain points just so that we can bring it into the studio and mix it, but we try to be minimalistic in the way we use the computer. Even if there’s a timing thing messed up in the song, when we put it on the computer, we could go in and fix it, but if it’s a “good mistake” that feels natural with the song, we’re not going to do that. I think we apply that philosophy to the visual part of things, too. And also, we just like analog media like film and tape.
What can you tell me about “Audrey”?
S—It’s a new version of an old song. On our EP, there’s a song called “Audrey Hepburn” which is the same song, but when we were playing it live, we would play it differently and more upbeat and jazzy. So we just decided to record a new version that way. It’s pretty different from the old one, but I really like it.
M—This single is coming out on 45, and for me, it’s the thing I’m most excited about that we’ve released so far. We have so much music that’s unreleased and, like I said, on a lag, but we recorded this whole track in Princeton. It’s the first single where I’m the producer on the A-side, so I’m really proud of that. And this really reflects our sound currently as a band because we recorded it only a month or two ago after Danny from our record label told us he liked the live version and suggested we record it. I thought that was a really good idea. It’s got 12-string guitar and a lot of acoustic bells and stuff. It reflects where we are now as a band, as well as the environment where we were working in New Jersey—a lot of nature and birds and stuff, some crickets in the background. More soulful, funky, and organic.
Purchase "Audrey" here. The Shacks will be playing December 15 and 16 at Brooklyn Bowl.