SHAED IN NEW YORK, DECEMBER 2016. PHOTOS: DAVID NEEDLEMAN/JONES MANAGEMENT. STYLING: JOSHUA LIEBMAN/HONEY ARTISTS. HAIR: NATE ROSENKRANZ FOR ALTERNA HAIRCARE/HONEY ARTISTS. MAKEUP: JUNKO KIOKA FOR CHANEL ULTRAWEAR/JOE MANAGEMENT. SPECIAL THANKS: RUBY BIRD STUDIO.
At a time when most of the news coming out of D.C. is on the gloomy side, electro-pop group SHAED (pronounced “shade”) is a reminder that there’s still plenty of vibrancy left in the nation’s capital. Under the tagline “we make colorful music,” twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst and singer Chelsea Lee combine bright and buoyant beats with smooth vocals, resulting in a vivid groove. The three-piece met during high school through the D.C. music scene, and few years later began writing together. They introduced themselves on SoundCloud as SHAED in March of 2016 (the Ernst brothers previously released music as the Walking Sticks), and by June they were signed to Photo Finish Records. “It was amazing,” says Max Ernst of the rapid turnaround and the release of their debut EP Just Wanna See in September. “We fell in love with the team [at Photo Finish] immediately. We fit right in.”
Earlier this fall, not long after SHAED wrapped up their tour with Marian Hill and VÉRITÉ, Interview spoke to the trio about their experience thus far and their first full-length album, which they’re currently writing. We’re pleased to announce that come April, they’ll set out on the road yet again—this time on a national tour with Bishop Briggs.
NATALIA BARR: The tagline on your website and social media is “we make colorful music.” What about your music makes it colorful?
SPENCER ERNST: We said that because when we create music, we try to create vibrant tracks. We also chose the name SHAED because a lot of our songs feel like different shades of color to us; that’s why we described our music that way. When we play live, we’ve created our own light show as well; a lot of the colors that we ended up using that felt like the EP were darker shades of pinks and purples and blues.
BARR: Do you three come from musical families?
SPENCER ERNST: Yeah, our mom is a great guitar player, and she had us take piano lessons when we were five. Max and I were crazy twins. We were fighting all the time. The only way she could calm us down was by having us write a song for Santa Claus. That’s how we got our start writing music.
CHELSEA LEE: I was the same way, a very hyper toddler. My mom every night would have to play Frank Sinatra for me so that I would pass out. I would just run around and around and sing to Frank Sinatra and then fall asleep. That was how I started, and then when I was in elementary school and middle school I became addicted to the karaoke machine. I would spend hours in my basement with the karaoke machine. That was my thing.
BARR: Has being from D.C. shaped your music at all?
MAX ERNST: Definitely. I think more than anything, the D.C. music scene is kind of underrated. There are a lot of big musicians coming out of there, and we’ve been able to collaborate with some really awesome musicians, like Cautious Clay and some others. It’s definitely shaped us working with some other artists in the area.
BARR: I know you just finished touring with Marian Hill. When you performed on that tour, did any of the audience’s reactions to your music surprise you?
SPENCER ERNST: Yeah, for sure. One story that comes to mind is, after one of our shows in Seattle, a girl came up to us and hadn’t heard our music before, and she just really, really enjoyed the show and asked us to sign her arm. Me and Chelsea signed it. Max was unfortunately backstage, because the next day, she sent a picture to us—she tagged us—and she had tattooed our signatures onto her arm. [laughs] That was a pretty amazing moment for us. Pretty interesting. Now we feel like we definitely need to stick together as a group.
LEE: Right before the tour we had to put another song into our set, so we wrote a song called “Call Me Crazy,” and started playing that live and had a really great crowd reaction. Now it’s a lot of people’s favorite, so we’re going to try to record it and get it on the upcoming album. That was one song that people really responded to, which was nice.
BARR: What was your writing process like for your EP?
LEE: Generally, how it happens is Max and Spencer will make a track or make a beat, then show it to me, and we’ll collectively try to come up with the melody and lyrics. Sometimes we’re dancing around the mic, sometimes we’re just passing around the mic, trying to figure out ideas. It’s very collaborative.
BARR: Is there anything you do to get inspired to write or record?
MAX ERNST: The good thing about producing our own stuff is that it’s not like we’re at a studio where you’re under the clock, you’re under the guns. Whenever we’re feeling inspired, we can just go into our little makeshift studio and create.
SPENCER ERNST: After the tour, we went down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s a little beach town and we rented a cottage there; that’s been really inspiring, just walking to the beach. We’ve written some songs there as well.
BARR: Is there one underlying message or theme of your EP?
SPENCER ERNST: When we wrote this EP, we didn’t really have a certain message. We were just writing about stuff that we connected with at the time; there are things about relationships, and each song takes you through different aspects of a relationship. The title track, “Just Wanna See,” for example, was about the feeling of wanting to be with someone that you’re separated from.
BARR: I read that for “Just Wanna See” you sampled Chelsea’s laugh from a Snapchat. How do you come up with that?
LEE: We were working on a song, and I was trying to do a Snapchat video of us playing around with the song, and I ended up laughing at the very end. I went to go play the Snapchat, and it was a sampled, cut-off laugh, so we ended up using that within the track, which is cool.
BARR: Do you use sounds like that, from everyday life, often in your music?
SPENCER ERNST: For this EP especially we did a lot of that. Sometimes we would use the microphone on the iPhone and take that sound and alter it a lot in the recording software we use, which is Ableton.
MAX ERNST: Right now we’re writing songs for our album at the beach. In [our cover of the Weeknd’s] “Starboy,” we were just recording the crickets outside and it was a cool layer, so you can hear that at the end of the track.
BARR: I feel like the song “Thunder” stands out from the rest of the EP lyrically, so what does that song mean to you all?
MAX ERNST: When we were writing that song, it was in the early stages of the primary elections. In D.C. especially, a lot of our friends and artists in the area were feeling really inspired and getting involved. That song is mainly about just standing up for what you believe in. We haven’t really voiced our opinions too much on social media, but after this election, we feel like it’s definitely more important for us and other artists to speak out.
BARR: Do any other mediums inspire your music, like film or literature or art?
MAX ERNST: For sure. One example is that we all started reading this fantasy series called [The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, which begins with] The Name of the Wind, and this is before we had chosen the name for our project. In the book, there actually is a “shaed,” which is a cloak made of shadow and light, and that is a big reason why we chose the name SHAED.
BARR: Is there any specific music you like to go to as a group?
MAX ERNST: There’s nothing too specific. We’re always listening to new music. Some artists that we’re really into right now are Anderson .Paak, this group called Kllo, and Christine and the Queens, too.
BARR: Chelsea, do any singers inspire you?
LEE: I think that it varies—whatever we’re listening to. Right now I really like NAO. I would say strong, female, fast music, so it’s really nice to listen to a bunch of different music for inspiration. When I was in middle school and high school I loved Patty Griffin and that was a really big thing for me.
BARR: Now that the EP is out and you’re going on this tour, what are you looking forward to next? I know you mentioned working on your album.
LEE: I think we’re looking forward to keeping up with writing and getting new music out there as quickly as possible, and being creative.
FOR MORE ON SHAED AND THEIR TOUR WITH BISHOP BRIGGS, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.