Is this what hard work sounds like? Mere survival is a staggering feat most musicians need to deal with. It’s not even about “making it” in terms of getting gigs and going on tours. Sometimes life just happens and the next thing you know, you’re living in a different continent altogether, away from everyone: you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Such circumstances make any musician’s last-ditch efforts to keep on keeping on, a grand, beautiful endeavour on its own. This is why Shelves‘ long overdue EP deserves your undivided attention.
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Tell us about yourself. What are SHELVES all about?
Noel: We were all from different bands before, and so Shelves was decidedly not really about anything other than the music itself. No look. No manifesto. I mean, all that would come naturally once the music is locked, so to speak. It’s also why we were named Shelves. It doesn’t really mean anything. No built-in meaning. Unlike say, “Vicious Bootleggers,” which I don’t think exists – hang on – yeah, they don’t. I just checked. Kinda like “Pavement,” which didn’t mean anything until the band Pavement came along making Pavement-like sounds, so now you can go, ah that sounds like Pavement. We wanted that clean slate.
Brian: For me, Shelves has always been about making music as honestly as possible. Since day one, when Noel first recruited me, he’d been honest and earnest about his approach to music, and when I first met Robin and Mel, that came through as well. After that first jam session, I knew that we had something special and that these were the people I wanted to make music with. So that also further translates to life, when people needed to leave the band for their own reasons, it was never taken as betrayal, but we all gave our blessings because they were honestly living their lives at the point in time. In that sense, it transcended the ego of music.
What is your ethos? What excites you?
Noel: We started with no ethos, but slowly through our live shows, it became apparent what clicked for us. The more open we were about the music, the more we throw ourselves in it, the more we got back. That open-hearted honesty. That soon became our centre. Just as we are earnest in our musical expression, that in turn taught us to live the same way – to live with open hearts. No cynicism. No doubts. Just pure, honest intentions.
Brian: Definitely those moments of creativity and performing. When we’re writing or performing, we’re all still communicating with each other, and with our audience. We give a lot, and that also means we receive a lot. For example, during writing and rehearsal, it’s a very open forum. We give each other suggestions, and we take feedback as well. When we play live, somehow reckless abandon always enters the fray, and our fans like that, and they let us know in their own big and small ways. It’s that dynamic, of unspoken energy that excites me a lot.
Music-wise, what is your music-making process like?
Noel: The band started because I had a bunch of songs that needed to be worked on, and that hasn’t changed. Me, being the songwriter, and the band helping it bring to life in that Shelves-like way. The songs get to the band in various levels of completion. We learn along the way what works for us and what doesn’t through sheer practice. We tried keeping to a weekly schedule where each session is three hours long. You iron out a lot of kinks that way.
Brian: Noel sketches most of the songs and pens all the lyrics. So it’s pretty much, Noel sketches out some outlines, and the rest of the band colours and completes the linework together. It’s very collaborative, and everyone gets to bring something to the table. We work on all our arrangements as a unit.
Let’s talk about the new EP. Five years is a long time! What is it all about? Background stories?
Noel: The universe conspired to tear us apart. That’s the romantic answer. In reality, the drummer got hit by a car. I moved overseas. Something happened to our guitarist that I can’t even remember now. Life got in the way. The songs were mainly done right back in 2013, which is why if you’re familiar with our debut album, it’d feel like a natural extension. It has the same verve. It was the overdubs and what not that took time.
Brian: It was the result of a long-distance relationship. From being such a collaborative unit to needing to do things remotely, it was very challenging, motivation-wise.
Dream gig/ collaborators? Sky’s the limit.
Noel: You know, now that I live in New York, a dream gig would really just be a Shelves gig. It’s near impossible to get together to play anything. This EP might just be our last gasp for air.
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On that note, the best way to support a band is to keep listening to their music, no?