Vibrant and earnest, SHAED is the sort of band that feels just right. Consisting of twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst and Chelsea Lee, the Washington D.C.-based band has shared the stage with VÉRITÉ (one of my personal favorites), and Marian Hill (with whom they share a label, Photo Finish). Chelsea is a soulful frontwoman who resonates just the kind of nonchalant feminist power we so desperately need these days. Simply put, this band is excellent. I had SHAED over to my garden to talk music, and life, shortly after I played cello on their most epic song to date, “Lonesome.”
Michelle Rose: How did you three decide on the name SHAED?
Chelsea Lee: When we were looking for a name, it took us forever. I can’t even describe it. We eventually got to looking through all these books. We love this one fantasy novel that we all read – it’s called Name of the Wind. We were looking through that and we saw SHAED, which is actually a cloak woven by a goddess. It’s woven out of shadow. So this was a name we loved. It’s spelled that way, and it looks great in all caps, it looks very symmetrical. [The book is] by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s part of The Kingkiller Chronicle. It’s really nerdy.
Max Ernst: It’s cool because at a couple of shows people will come up to us. It’s pretty rare but they’ll be like “Hey, did you read the Name of the Wind?”
Do you feel like it’s taken on a symbolism of its own?
CL: I think that we loved the meaning behind it in the book, we loved shades from a tree, shades of a color. But I think also, because they’re twins, everything has to be very even, very symmetrical, and I think that was one of the main reasons why we picked it. If you’re looking at the name, it looks really symmetrical, at least to me. For them, they’re psycho about symmetry and being even. One is taller than the other.
ME: For the record, Spencer is taller. Just put that in there. Slightly.
You guys travel and tour a lot. Do you feel that the traveling has influenced your music?
CL: Definitely, it’s such an inspiration. We started touring in September of last year. We hadn’t been to a lot of places, we hadn’t seen really anything. Being able to go on tour and see 25 cities in a two month span. And be able to travel and see all these places that we’ve never been to was amazing for us.
“Lonesome,” the song we just released, is the song we wrote in Death Valley in an Airbnb where there was nothing around. You walked out of the back door and it was desert and mountains all around you. I think this song come out of being in that place.
I also thought the way the gender pronouns changed in “Lonesome” was really interesting and universal. Do you want to explain that narrative aspect of the song?
CL: Yeah, I think that, I mean we’ve had all these different kinds of interpretations. Someone said it’s a bisexual anthem. I think from my perspective at least, it’s no matter who you’re with or what kind of relationship it is, you’re still feeling the same feelings as any kind of relationship. Whether you’re in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, or whatever. You still feel loneliness, you still feel happiness, it’s just this—we’re not different at all. We’re pretty much the same.
It’s unifying and universal.
CL: Yeah. It’s just like, that was one of the things I thought of. We also wanted to touch on different relationships. A song is generally focused on one relationship and it kind of boxes you into a certain vibe, I think we’re into making it more open.
I think that’s really powerful. Do you feel, as you grow as a band, the songwriting is taking on a more serious tone? You’re realizing you have this platform to reach such a wide audience, so why not explore themes that are more serious.
ME: The song “Thunder,” that we had off our last EP, was definitely written during the election. We were living in DC and there was just a really—especially among the artists that we know in DC—there was this powerful feeling of, “Hey, let’s try to do something together that captures the energy right now.” That song, we wrote with that kind of feeling in mind. And we featured a bunch of DC artists in the lyric video that we did.
How do you feel the political climate of America has affected your project, especially since you’re based in DC?
CL: It was really intense in DC. But during the actual election, like when the election results came in, we were in LA and it was just as intense. I feel like everywhere it’s been kind of…
Spencer Ernst: I mean it was interesting, because when the election results came in we were in Los Angeles. It was just the strangest feeling, walking outside that day. When we were walking by people, it was awkward to even make eye contact or something. It was just extremely awkward for us. I wished when the results were coming in that I was at home, for some weird reason. It felt strange to be in this random hotel room in Los Angeles. It was weird.
Let’s bring it back to music. I need to know, what are your top 3 musical influences?
CL: For me, I’m so alternative 80s, it’s not even funny. Love The Police, love Peter Gabriel— Truly anything alternative 80s is so up my alley. When I was a teenager, I was really obsessed with Patty Griffin. So I was all into that kind of, more the country vibe. Focusing on vocals and stuff like that.
SE: Tough for me to say a top three, there’s just so many artists that have inspired me. An artist that I’ve definitely spent a good amount of time listening to is Tom Petty. RIP. Max and I got into one of his newer records actually, Mojo, which is a really cool record. You should check that out. I mean Radiohead is definitely way up there. Max and I, we’re twins, we listen to a lot of the same music, but I’d say Kid A and Rainbows are some of our favorite albums and The King of Limbs is really cool. But definitely Radiohead and honestly, Kendrick. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to his records, and the new record.
You look very stressed.
SE: It is stressful.
ME: I kind of vaguely remember being really young, like 3 or 4 and listening to Talking Heads and being like, tripped out by “Burning Down the House.” That shit was crazy. My mom has videos of Spence and I hugging the speakers in the family room. Just rocking our entire body to Talking Heads. Same thing for The Police. Tom Petty, like you said. Michael Jackson, “Rockin’ Robin.” We would run around the pool table, just freakin’ crazy.
Do you guys like Paul Simon?
SE and ME: Yes.
SE: It’s funny that you say that because for Max and I, harmony has been very important to our sound. Just growing up, we were always harmonizing. Simon & Garfunkel were obviously the best.
ME: I guess, more recently, I was very influenced by the D’Angelo Voodoo album. Listened to that like a shit ton, like a lot. I really liked the grooves of the record, and the interaction of the drums and the bass and stuff. I don’t know, that album is pretty influential.
SE: If you love Radiohead, you should check out a Here We Go Magic record, A Different Ship, produced by Nigel Godrich.
CL: It’s a band and it’s produced by the same guy who produced the Radiohead stuff.
Do you all play instruments?
CL: My first thing was the drums. I was in the 5th grade. I was with some of my friends on the playground. We all made this pact that we were going to form a band. We were just playing with sticks.
Was that when Josie and the Pussycats came out?
CL: Probably. Literally probably.
ME: Spencer and I both started out on piano. Our mom taught us how to harmonize very young. But piano is definitely the first instrument that we invested a lot of time into. From there, we switched over to guitar for a few years. We were songwriting for a few years and just stopped taking lessons all together. Had the foundation, started writing songs and also playing in teenage bands. Playing cover songs and original songs and stuff.
If you were to book a tour with any band, dead or alive, who would it be? You’re bringing them with you, any generation.
SE: I would say, definitely Beethoven. For sure, 100%. Beethoven and I recently watched video footage of Etta James performing. In the 70s or something, it was so powerful, I would, just right now, be on tour with her. I’ll go with those two.
CL: We cook dinner every night. When we’re home, all we do is cook. We only play jazz music when we cook. I love Frank Sinatra. I would do Frank. If I were to choose now, like someone current, SZA has been my dream. So that would be incredible. I haven’t gotten into an entire album in a while. I could listen to that entire album and know every single word.
Any concluding thoughts?
ME: We play in New York at Public Arts on December 5th. I would add that we want to thank you, Michelle, and your sister Sarah for playing strings on our song “Lonesome,” for our Vevo performance. You guys crushed it and made it really special.